Entering Round 10 of the 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Oklahoma's Andrew Ward and Kansas's Buddy Hawkins are poised to eclipse the legends Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper's 1994 record of 59.1 seconds on 10 head—a feat that has seemed nearly insurmountable until Ward, aboard a long-bodied bay named Biscuit, rode into the Thomas & Mack.
On the bay son of Okey Dokey Dale out of the Streakin La Jolla mare Streakin Polly Bee, Ward has turned all nine steers in 48.3 seconds, earning $46,576.54 along the way. They can fall to no lower than third in the average after Round 10, meaning the brother-in-law team will take home at least another $44,414.37 a man.
[Related: Buddy Hawkins' X]
"I’m super proud of the way Biscuit worked," Ward said of his 11-year-old gelding. "Biscuit stays close to the cow. I go out the front, he finds the wall, slows down and makes it easy to heel. I’ve not done my best toward the end of it because of us leading the average… but they’re rooting for us to beat Jake and Clay. They have everybody talking in the warm up and you can hear it every night, and there’s no way of staying out of the loop on it."
Ward rode Biscuit in 2020 at his debut NFR in Arlington, Texas' Globe Life Field, and he won $160,180 in 2020 and $115,810.71 in 2021 going into Round 10. But the horse has an uncommon background in the rope horse business, and Ward's unique personality clicked with him from the start.
Off the Track
Biscuit was started out in All-American Champ Clint Crawford's race horse barn, among some of the best 2-year-olds in the country. But pretty quickly, he didn't fit the mold.
"He was too immature to be running as a 2-year-old," said the Oklahoma City-based trainer. "He wasn’t very fast, but he was very, very smart. He won one race, and earned about $4,500 in his career."
[Related: Running-Bred Head Horses]
Crawford, a 5 header, 5+ heeler in his spare time, wanted to keep the big bay for a head horse, but he had heck finding the time for him.
"I sent him to Earl Thomas for four to five months, and he got him started," Crawford said. "He called me and said he’d make a really good one, that he’s a natural. I got him back from him and hauled him a little bit. Brock Demaree was buying horses from me at the time, and I told him he’d make a good one, but I couldn’t finish him with my job. He wasn’t going to get an opportunity to be a good horse as long as I owned him."
Into the Roping Pen
Demaree bought him as a 3-year-old, and pretty soon he was turning steers on the colt.
"The horse was really, really good," Demaree said. "Kaleb Driggers seen him and wanted him. I ride a bunch for Kaleb anyway, and Kaleb took and rode him."
Driggers first saw the horse when Kollin VonAhn borrowed him from Demaree—at just 4 years old—to turn steers for him all day at a roping school.
"I ran 30 to 40 steers on him, and he was a dang good horse," VonAhn said. "I told Driggers he needed to buy him. I told him he was fast, and he might get strong, but he needed him. He didn’t have him very long and said he was too green. I told Andrew he needed to get him."
Driggers left the horse at VonAhn's for Ward to try, and Biscuit left a big impression.
"He was a little radical and he still is," Ward said. "The longer we’ve been out here rodeoing on him the better he’s acclimated to it."
Ward spent a lot of time on the horse, getting to know him in a way that less-patient ropers might not.
"Andrew ropes so good, and thinks about it different," VonAhn said. "Andrew likes to figure out how to ride each horse, in way that I wouldn't. That’s been their relationship. Andrew has given in a lot of areas and taken in others, and that works really good for them. A lot of people would have failed that horse."
The horse was tougher-mouthed and harder-sided, Ward said, and the harder he'd pull, the more the horse would run. Just another thing to work around for Ward, but something many wouldn't have put up with.
Ward has been a PRCA member since 2013, and he started his career with his brother, BFI Champion Reagan.
"Me and Reagan were in the Northeast and Great Lakes," Ward said. "The rodeos were simpler and the barriers weren’t real long. [We] developed a run that way six years ago. I could use my feet and get to the steers. But you get around the best guys and they push you to go fast."
After having success in the circuit and winning the Ram National Circuit Finals in 2018, the Wards set out to try to make the Finals and go head-to-head with the best in the world.
"When it’s 100 teams at Odessa, you have to have stuff going right," Ward explained. "I was beginning to open up too early and using my horse’s foot speed to be fast. Then, I got out in the summer time. We have $40,000 won after the winter time. We’re second or third in the world, and everyone is saying we’re making it. I get out there over the Fourth of July, and I can’t catch again. I was letting my horse go out the front, and I still have and he still has those habits. They come out from time to time, and we make mistakes by opening up. But that’s the way I’ve created my run to be. I’m learning how to ride better and probably will until I’m done roping. I think I’m learning little things. I was talking to Clay Smith, and I had no idea he had the same story with Marty. You don’t know what you’re experiencing until you do it."
In the Thomas & Mack
Biscuit's signature move as the rope goes tight around the horns is less-than-traditional.
"It was a habit I created early on in rodeo, and I am just trying to go back the other way and really focus on my riding over my roping and learning little things that are helping me make the run faster and controlled to catch for a whole year," Ward said. "What’s weird is, I’m not trying to take that out of him. I put that in every horse I ride. I’m just trying to understand where I lose the control and do little things to adjust to where I can do it for a whole year. Going out the front was caused by spending a lot of time at Kollin’s to develop a run we could take out and win against the fellows out here. Jackpotting is so hard, and Kollin started second-partnering with me, and we’d go to his house every day and rope fresh cows. We were trying to learn what Clay Tryan and Driggers and Clay Smith were doing. We were trying to figure out how they weren’t wasting any time from when the head rope leaves their hands to when it hits the horns. I had to set in the lab a little bit and him critique how I was pulling him through the turn. We’re trying to shave lines all the time. Me going out the front and making them easy to heel worked really good."
VonAhn, for his part, is at home waiting with bated breath for the flag to drop in Round 10 when Ward and Hawkins rope at third team out.
"He’s done it the hardest way ever," VonAhn said. "He figured this whole deal out on his own. He’s the epitome of how you should act. When they say you shouldn’t take a day for granted, he lives that. He’ll humble you because of the individual he is. That is Andrew Ward to his core. He’s a little kid that’s happy the sun came up. When the cows are out and there’s a Ranger sitting there, Andrew will walk to go put them back in. He says, 'When I go at night, I got to spend a full day.' He appreciates being tired. That sucker never has a bad day. One of the neatest individuals who will never get credit for it. He will never tell you how to live his life or tell you how to live yours. When you start realizing it, he loves life and that’s the kind of guy he is." TRJ