Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins are Globe Life Field bound for the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December. They also just did their 2021 rodeo season a big, fat favor by becoming the 2020 Prairie Circuit Team Roping Titlists. All circuit year-end and circuit finals champs advance to next spring’s RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida, which in 2021 counts toward the world standings.
“We’re really grateful that Kissimmee’s come on board and spiced the national circuit finals up,” said Hawkins, who currently hangs his hat in Stephenville, Texas, but still considers Columbus, Kansas, home. “Drew (Horner, with whom Buddy qualified for his first NFR in 2013) and I won the RNCFR the first year it moved to Florida (in 2015), and it’s right up there with Houston on payoff and prizeline.
“The RNCFR in general is a great experience, and having it count toward the world standings is huge. If I’m doing the math right, they’re paying 32 checks to 24 teams. And they usually have an even set of steers. When you look at trying to qualify for the National Finals, the sort of opportunity offered by the National Circuit Finals is absolutely crucial. Looking forward to 2021, the more chances we have for big money, the better.”
But first, the 2020 NFR, which will be Ward’s first and Hawkins’ third. Buddy also roped at the Finals with Lane Ivy in 2018.
“In our age group (Hawkins will turn 34 on November 23, and Ward is 30), nobody’s watched more NFR videos or studied it more than Andrew and me,” Buddy said. “We’re going to set up and practice specifically for the Finals. We’re mainly going to make sure our horses are at their best.
“We’re really just trying to finish 2020 the same way we started. Catching is the key for us. The layout of the arena at Globe Life is a little different than what we’re familiar with (at the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas). We’re looking forward to having that extra room to work with.”
The Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo was held October 16-17 at the Stephens County Expo Center in Duncan, Oklahoma. Ward and Hawkins were 5.9 in Round 1, which finished two holes out of the money. Their 4.9 in Round 2 was one out in fifth place. But their two-run total of 10.8 seconds was good for fourth-place paychecks of $632 per man in the average.
The Prairie Circuit also will be sending Prairie Circuit Finals champs Jake Clay and Brye Crites, who were 9.1 on two steers, to Kissimmee. Clay and Crites won the opening round in 4.7, placed third in Round 2 with a 4.4-second run, and all told earned $5,056 a man toward the 2021 world standings.
Ward and his wife, Hayli, live in Edmond, Oklahoma. Hawkins, who’s married to Hayli’s sister, Tori, definitely does not see roping with a family member as extra pressure.
“To me, it’s like a dream,” Buddy said. “Tori and Hayli pull as much weight as we do, and we’re all doing what we love. Andrew and I have both spent all of our adult lives working on exactly this, so making the Finals together is great. I know when he messes up that there wasn’t one thing more he could have done to be better prepared, and he hopefully knows that about me, too.”
Asked to compare his three NFR qualifications, Hawkins likes to keep looking forward.
“Billie Jack Saebens asked J.D. Yates one time about his favorite win,” Buddy said. “He said he needed to think about it. The next morning, J.D. said, ‘I can answer your question now.’ He said, ‘The next one is my favorite win.’ That, to me, is how we all need to be looking at it. If I’m not as excited about the next Finals as the last one, maybe this should be the last one. For me right now, this is the Finals I’m most excited about.
“I tried to do every single thing I’d ever heard of anyone doing to get ready for my first Finals, and I felt like I probably didn’t perform my best because I’d zeroed in on a tiny target. It was like, ‘If you do all this stuff, you’re going to be perfect.’ At my last Finals, I never really felt like we got tapped off. We never made two similar runs. It was like every night was a fresh rodeo.
“This whole season—from October 1, 2019 through Round 10 of the 2020 NFR—the thing Andrew and I are focused on is keeping it simple. We’ve basically tried to make it just between us and the cow at every rodeo. This summer, we went a long, long time where we got out of the barrier and caught every single cow. This was as tough a summer as there’s been, but in the end you need to catch the cow to have a chance to win. So the way we see it, the first 100 pounds is his, the last 100 pounds is mine, and there should be about a couple hundred pounds between my rope and his rope. It’s that simple. When we get to Globe Life, we’re going to try to go catch them all and see where that leaves us. The first step in the process is to get ’em doctored.”