This year's Hill Rodeo Cattle corrientes will get an extra two-foot head start on the best ropers in the world in Arlington, Texas' Globe Life Field at the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and the some of the top 15 are already making adjustments to their practices and horsepower as a result.
The change was a compromise between the PRCA office and Team Roping Director (and two-time world champ) Matt Sherwood. The PRCA office, Sherwood explained, wanted the barrier even, in an effort to show off the horses and horsemanship in the team roping in the Globe Life Field's long setup.
Sherwood, however, argued that the start should be four under.
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"I didn't want to mess with what's not broken," Sherwood said. "With the arena so big and so wide, if you put the barrier even and the steers get out and go left, you'll never get out and around them. I wanted it to show really good. The PRCA felt like with the start even, it would be more out in the middle of the arena and more fan-friendly."
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But ropers work all year to qualify for the NFR, Sherwood argued, and the relatively fresh, hard-running steers at the Finals can really change their patterns after a few runs in that wide-open arena—putting more of a 'luck of the draw' element into the roping than is usually allowed in Las Vegas.
"Some will slow down, and some that get missed will stay strong. You don't want the draw to play into it at this big of a rodeo. You want to feel like, at the NFR, on every steer, you have as good a chance as everyone else for $25,000 a night. I just wanted it to be as user-friendly as possible. I don't want to move the start out here and guys be 6 and 7 and it look like a mediocre jackpot. The average pays so good that guys will be able to go catch and stay in it with a longer start. I understand the situation the PRCA is in, though, so if this works out, great."
For guys like Brenten Hall, who had the start figured out last year in Vegas, the idea of a change was worth a phone call.
"I gave them my thoughts on that, because I strongly disagreed with making it even," Hall, who will rope at the 2020 NFR with Chase Tryan, said. "Two foot under will change it, but it won't make it a whole, whole lot different now. The steers run so hard, that last year you had to go after them. With it two under now, I don't think it will be more than horn around. There's a lot more left in the arena, but it's more like a diamond shape. So if you get it on them too fast, there won't be a lot of room. But either way, I'll still probably ride Timebomb."
For famous bomber Dustin Egusquiza, who will rope at his fourth NFR, this time with Travis Graves, the longer start might just take the pressure off a bit.
"I actually think I'll like it a little bit better," Egusquiza said. "It would be more of a natural start, where you just see a little then go. Vegas is so short, you have to go with your nod, and that's a different feel that you really have to practice for."
Kolton Schmidt has only gotten one shot (in 2016) at the Thomas & Mack's high-pressure start, but the Canadian header who's used to the ice-hockey-rinks-turned-rodeo-arenas north of the border isn't concerned about the new setup.
"The idea is still the same," Schmidt said. "See a start and turn 10 steers. It just changes the idea of the NFR in our heads is all. It's still a rodeo with a short score—just not the usual NFR start."
Charly Crawford will rope at his 10th NFR this year—calling it his last as he plans to focus his efforts on family life in 2021—and isn't sure what to make of the prospects of the longer start at rodeo's premier event.
"I can adapt," Crawford said. "We see two-foot under throughout the year. I'm interested to see what the arena really looks like when you get out in the middle of it. Texas is wanting the WOW factor, and if you're wanting that, you should go four under so it's the best watching you've ever seen in the team roping. I also get that it's a different place and different arena, so it's changing it up a little bit. But we're professionals, we'll make it work. As long as the steers leave, it will just go from being one coil away when you get a really good start to being two coils away."
The adjustment to the barrier could also change Crawford's horsepower plans. He'd planned to ride Sailor, his Gypsy Starlight-bred gelding with a quick-footed, short stride. But now he's re-evaluating. Luckily, Stephenville is close enough to Arlington that he won't have to make that decision too far in advance. TRJ