When Derrick Begay answered the call for this story, he was riding across a Navajo Nation desert horseback, dogs clamoring after a cow in the background. After all these years we’ve written about Derrick Begay, and after all the articles you’ve all read about him, that imagery might even seem cliche.
But that’s Begay. It’s hard to get a hold of him not doing something like that. Thankfully, for all of us who work in this business, he’s got service out there in those deserts, and he’s cowboy enough to do most of the work he’s got to do while he’s visiting.
“Yesterday, I realized I have one month to get ready for the NFR,” Begay said. “I’m going to try to ride Swagger every day, which is not possible, and try to rope every day, which is also not possible. That’s the mindset I have though. I will get to doing other things and run out of time, but that’s at least my goal.”
That’s not much different than how Begay has prepared for the National Finals Rodeo in his other eight appearances. With 30 days to go until he’s got to back into the box for his ninth NFR, he’s got some muleys in his arena in Fort McDowell, Arizona, and on Nov. 2 he got his horse, the ageless wonder Swagger, out for a ride for the first time since Puyallup in September —long enough to trot a few laps with his daughter Brindle Mae bouncing around in his arms in front of him. He will enter the Finals 11th in the world with $70,893.20 won, roping there with a new partner in Brady Minor, whose brother Riley just missed the NFR cut in 2021.
“The night after San Bernardino, I text Brady and said, ‘Quinn and Joseph, you and me?’ because I’d already heard that Quinn Kesler and Joseph Harrison were roping,” Begay said of the other odd-man-out team. “We decided he was stuck with me, and then when it was time to enter the Finals I text Brady my card number. But other than that, we haven’t even talked about it.”
That’s OK—both Begay and Minor are in the veterans class of this year’s Finals, with Minor having 11 Finals under his belt so far.
“I probably don’t do the things I probably should do,” Begay admitted. “I think about it a lot—more than ever. Even just in every day life, I was out cowboying this morning and my horse got away from me and I thought I need to be more careful. I’m more cautious of doing things—I was putting tin up on a roof yesterday, and I thought of the NFR, so I hung onto the pipe more than I probably would, but I guess that’s not preparing for it.”
For Minor, NFR preparation has been about the same as Begay. With brother Riley out with a broken leg from an infamous wreck in Pendleton, and lots of cows to work at home in Ellensburg, Washington, Minor has been horseback, just not roping—even though Begay is usually the one who gets all the cowboy-cred in this new partnership. But Minor, who’s 14th in the world with $61,878.45 in earnings, just got to his place in Wittman after getting all the family cows shipped, so he and Begay are on the same pre-Finals wavelength.
“All these neighbors in Arizona keep asking about if we’ll start roping,” Minor, 36, said. I’d like to practice with him a time or two, and I consider us the older guys now. I’m not saying I don’t want to try hard, but we know how to go in there and not beat ourselves and set our minds to it.”
They’re both gearing up to ride great aged horses who’ve been in that little yellow arena plenty. Begay will stick with Swagger, who he guesses to be around 25, the horse he’s ridden for seven of his nine NFR appearances and in his last appearance with Cory Petska in 2018 won three go-rounds aboard. Minor plans to start on his famous 15-year-old gelding Leos Highbrow—better known as Sug—unless things change in the few practices he and Begay have together.
“I have a horse named Cruiser that’s ratier and cowier,” Minor said. “If Begay wants to hold the steer up in the corner, he might be a better fit behind Swagger. But then again I might have to ride a different position myself, and I’ll know it going into it to stay away from the steer a little more. Cruiser does finish better, too, so he will make the run come tight after. Derrick and I are going to have to talk about it to decide.”
Coming into the Finals in the bottom third of the pack, Begay and Minor have a different NFR goal in mind, even though they’ve yet to talk to each other about it.
“I’m not thinking about a gold buckle,” Begay said. “When I first made the NFR, I had two goals. One was to try to beat the world record when I was young and thought I was fast. The other is to beat Jake and Clay’s average record. Nobody has done it and it’s really, really hard to do that. If a guy can break that record, that means he’ll be doing good and the rest will take care of itself.”
“Those guys going in one or two have us by $70-$80,000,” Minor added. “If I were going in in the top five, I’d have the gold buckle in the back of my mind. But I’m with Derrick: I’d like to catch 10 and be as consistent as possible and place when it’s easy enough.” TRJ