Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins stayed strong on a herd of tricky cattle at California’s Red Bluff Round-Up to take home the average win on Sunday, April 23, 2023, with 27.0 seconds on four head.
Age and oft-roped cattle made for a tougher set in Red Bluff. The herd was roped in October of 2022 at The Capitalist and have been going ever since, including being roped at the Broc Cresta Memorial the day before the slack started in Red Bluff. But, at least when the entire herd is equipped with tricks, the field is fair.
“It was evenly tricky,” Ward, 32, of Edmond, Oklahoma, said. “So, I don’t think anybody was disappointed or anything; we knew what we were getting into. We knew we were going to have to get by some tricks. We were just able to get by a couple tough cows and, then, we drew good in the third and fourth and it made it easier on us.”
Ward now sits No. 3 in the world with $57,240 while 36-year-old Hawkins, of Stephenville, Texas, is second with the same amount won.
The Red Bluff Connection
Ward and Hawkins were out of the first-round money but still made an 8.0-second run on the trickiest steer they ran all week.
“He was probably a medium or medium-minus type cow, but he was low-headed and kind of stepped underneath me,” said Ward, a three-time NFR header. “I felt like I did a good job of getting him caught. He was probably one of the harder ones out of our four, and Buddy did a good job.”
A 6.7 on their second steer split last hole in the second round, good enough for $106 each. They drew a steer that was more on the trying side, so they made the best run they could on him. The third round brought a better cow for the team, allowing them to split the round with a 6.3 for $2,268 per man.
“We had a pretty good idea that he was one of the more honest ones,” said five-time NFR heeler Hawkins. “The herd was generally tricky, but we thought he was a pretty good one and he ended up being that way. He was kind of medium minus, and Andrew got just a safe start on him. When we took off, we were overrunning him pretty good, so I didn’t put a lot of pressure on him. We kind of just let him be a little bit straighter, and it made for an easy run.”
Championship Sunday saw their best run of the week with 6.0 seconds bringing them another round win and $1,283 each. Ward nailed the start—almost too good, Hawkins added.
“He took off and he pulled to get out,” Hawkins said. “Our steer wanted to check off a lot, which is kind of what we were expecting there out of those steers toward the end. So, I just kind of tried to stay back that way he didn’t stop or make the heading really difficult. Then the heeling ended up being easy. Anytime a head horse runs off on a steer that’s wanting to be heavy, the heeling gets pretty simple for us.”
Biscuit and EZ
To no surprise, Ward was aboard his 12-year-old, race-bred gelding Biscuit—a perfect match for the nature of the California rodeos.
“He’s really good, and he makes the rodeos like that, where you see them out there a ways, easier,” Ward said. “He came off the racetrack and he can really run, and he scores good. So, he really gives the team a big advantage. If we can catch four, we’re going to be fast enough a lot of times to win in the high places in the average and win some in the day monies.”
The bay by Okey Dokey Dale and out of Streakin Polly Beed is Ward’s best horse in his lineup and makes a world of difference for Hawkins on the back end.
“The heeling, with regards to getting in a good spot and roping the steer, it ends up being pretty simple on those type of steers because of Andrew and Biscuit,” Hawkins said. “If I could get every header to pull steers the way Biscuit pulls them, I would rope a lot better all the time. It’s really easy.”
Hawkins called his 13-year-old gelding EZ up from his arsenal of rank horses. EZ, registered as JAJ Dual Rey Pete, is like the heel horse version of Biscuit in Hawkins’ opinion.
“He scores good; he looks at the cow good,” Hawkins said. “He pretty much wants to run off every run. He felt good on the first one, amazing on the second one and, then, when we got into the lopers, I had enough chemistry with him that I stayed on him. When you draw the best cows, he’s not the best horse I have. I just wasn’t willing to change in the middle after I’d already gotten by the worst cows, so I stayed hooked on him.”
The brother-in-law team’s dynamic is in part so successful because of the open flow of communication.
“It’s truly the easiest partnership I’ve had outside of my marriage,” Hawkins said. “There is criticism within the partnership if we think there’s something we can modify on the run or a horse, but we’ve really removed judgment where I feel like I can be really transparent about what I think the run should look like, and he can too.”
While not everyone can partner up inside their family, they can take a lesson from Ward and Hawkins on how important chemistry is.
“As a heeler, truly, I’m just following the best guy I can follow and the guy I can follow best,” Hawkins said. “And I think that’s where a lot of young partnerships go astray. They’re trying to get the guy who’s the highest on the standings or has the best horses with most accolades or whatever. But at times, it’s not the best suit for that particular partner. And a lot of people don’t realize the great headers, they head good for everybody, but they head a little better for certain guys, and there’s a reason. And same thing with the heeling.”
Ward also recognizes the importance in chemistry.
“We’re out here trying to make a living, so you’re going to have an equal amount of pressure with whoever you rope with,” Ward said. “We’re just trying to make money and doing what we love doing and that means we need to win. And so, that adds a little pressure, but it would be the same if I was roping with family or not. We’re friends, too: if he got a better run and was winning, we’re going to be excited about seeing each other win with somebody else, too.”
The 2021 NFR average champions will rope at California’s Clovis Rodeo this week. As for the rest of the year, the duo will pick and choose, to an extent, where they will go.
“We’re backing off a few of the places and certain events that we don’t feel like give us an advantage, and we’re going to double-down on the places that we do,” Hawkins said. “A lot of Prairie Circuit rodeos, a lot of big, outdoor venues. We’re not really concerned about missing out on a few of the smaller, tighter setups that are knife-fight rodeos.”