One roper who had no problems adjusting to leaving at the sound of clanging gates is AQHA jockey G.R. Carter.
"It was an electric atmosphere," he said. "The biggest difference was the No-Barrier system. The barrier's always been a detriment to me. Just being able to ride my horse and concentrate on roping really works for me."
Carter, who has won the AQHA title six times and the All-American in 1998, is just shy of going over the $20 million mark for his career and is second on the all-time earnings list in AQHA history. But he is a rodeo cowboy at heart.
"I grew up in Oklahoma riding horses-ranch life-and my heroes have always been cowboys. I got into the racehorse business because I was small enough to do it and it was a way to make a living. It's been really good to me and I've had a lot of success with it. What you grow up doing is always in your blood, and I love to go back and rope and compete and have a good time."
Heading for fellow Oklahoma native Cody Doescher (Oklahoma City) Carter had practiced and prepared himself for the chance at a big-stakes roping. Yet for a guy who runs in 1,000 races a year-a half-a-dozen of them being million dollar races-roping at the WSTR was pressure packed.
"In my business, there are no nerves involved anymore," he said of his racetrack approach. "But I will admit I was a nervous son of a buck in that roping the other day. It was something that I really wanted. It wasn't just my job, it was something I was going after."
As it turned out, Carter and his 17-year-old partner wound up roping four steers in 32.76 seconds and won $40,000 a man.
Perhaps young Doersher was inspired. On the Thursday night prior to the WSTR weekend, Carter took him to his first-ever live Wrangler NFR performance.
"That was cool," the teenager said. "It drove me nuts, though, I wanted to be there so bad."
There's little doubt within the industry that he could make it. In the meantime, he's got a three-event scholarship from Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford, where he'll rope calves and steer wrestle. After that, look for him in the professional ranks.
Also be on the lookout for Carter at PRCA rodeos. Only he won't be competing in the team roping. After filling his permit in the steer roping last year at the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo, he has ambitions to become the first-ever 40-year-old steer roping rookie of the year.
"I was born and raised in Pahuska, which is steer roping country," he said. "I followed my dad around and grew up watching guys like Walt Arnold, Arnold Felts and Roy Cooper trip steers. This last year, I had a real good friend, Keith Swan, who had a good horse and said he'd let me borrow him if I wanted to get my permit. I entered Guymon and ended up placing seventh in the average.
"Everybody was asking if I'd buy my card and go to Cheyenne and Pendleton. I decided that if I've waited this long, I'd wait one more year and try to become the first 40-year-old steer roping rookie of the year."
At press time, Carter had just entered the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa, Texas-his first ever steer roping as a card-carrying member of the PRCA.
If he wins, he might even have a trick up his sleeve.
At the WSTR-after he and Doescher locked up the win-he surprised the crowd by doing a back flip off his head horse.
"If I win a big stake, I do a back flip dismount off the race horse in the winner's circle. It's kind of a trademark," he said. "I took gymnastics as a kid. It's
at a junior rodeo and somebody dared me to do it off of a racehorse one time and it's kind of become a trademark ever since. I'm fixing to have to retire the back flip, I'll be 40 in February."
The Bloomer Trailers No. 10
To say that Donny "Bear" Pipes had a lot going on during the Wrangler NFR might be an understatement. Not only was he entered in the WSTR with his dad, Billy, as the marketing manager for Duster Conversions, he played a large role in the company's first-ever booth at Ariat Country Christmas gift show.
"I asked my boss, Terri Sjostrom, if I could have the day off to go roping, and she said, 'Yeah, that'll be alright,'" he said. "I'm really thankful she said yes."
He's thankful because in one day off from a new job, he won a brand new buckle and $75,000 by roping four steers in 39.89 seconds.
As a newlywed 24-year-old with his first job out of college, the money came at a great time.
"I put it in the bank, but I just graduated in May and got married in September and we're living in an apartment, so this will probably go toward a house," he said.
While he might be a fresh-faced kid, he's roped plenty and prepared meticulously for this roping despite a history as a header.
"I headed forever and ever," he said. "My brother always heeled. My last year in college, I started heeling just for fun-riding my brother's practice horse."
Incidentally, Donny's brother, Buck, won a Shoot-Out in Oklahoma City heeling for his dad three years ago.
"I had a game plan going into it that's what we practiced for: To make practice-type runs," Donny said. "We weren't trying to beat everyone, we just wanted to place in the average and it worked out good. We drew four pretty good steers."
While he wasn't there to witness it, as high call, the roping fell apart in front of he and his father. The 10th call back team moved up to the number two spot in the average. But despite the drama before their eyes, the high call team stayed cool, stuck to the plan and caught two for dear old dad.
"Anytime you're roping with family, you don't want to be the one who messes up," he said. "He's usually pretty automatic in those situations, I wasn't worried about him at all, I was worried about me."
And by the way, Duster Conversions won Booth of the Year.
Meanwhile, his father, Billy, who owns an interest in Bloomer Trailers, was at the WSTR to rope with his business partner, Randy Bloomer.
He told Donny that he was going to rope with Randy, but if Donny wanted to come along, he had a spot for him.
Donny, in turn, told his dad that he'd love to rope but he was tired of catch riding and wanted a horse he could practice on and then use. Almost accidentally, Billy found a horse they call Bud from Johnny Phillips. It worked.
"It was a great day to have a good day," Billy said. "As a father, you back in there and you say, 'Please, Lord, if you ever let me catch a steer and handle him, let it be this last steer.' I was nervous about that."
When the flag dropped, Billy realized that he's accomplished about everything a hobby team roper could.
"I don't know what else I can do at this point," he said with a laugh. "Stick a fork in me, I'm done. To win two deals with your kids, what else is there?"
The Priefert No. 11
If the other two ropings were won by stars, future stars or industry notables, the No. 11 was won by two guys who represent the heart and soul of team roping.
Jared Udy and Bill Stuart are both ranchers from northern Utah who make their livings horseback and pursue team roping as a passion. Still, even winning $78,500 a man wasn't enough for them to lose the cowboy humility.
"We were very lucky," the heeler, Stuart said. "We just happened to put four solid runs together and things worked out. It was just a No. 11 roping, just go make four solid runs and that's all we did. We didn't do anything spectacular."
Stuart and his wife, Cindy, and son, Louie, left the ranch in the hands of his father Louis for a short vacation to warmer climes. While ranching takes up most of their day, they ride colts and train horses when time allows. And as a true horseman, Stuart had more to say about his horse's performance than his own.
"My heeling horse is just an amazing little mare," he said. "We raised her. When I was a boy, my dad had a mare that had some Morgan blood in her and some thoroughbred blood in her and that's where we started our horses. She was unregistered, but she had 10 colts in her lifetime and every one of those was just a spectacular horse. Anything out of that mare was a great rope horse and this is the last one. This one's 10 now and I really want to get some colts out of her eventually."
While Stuart has a friend with an indoor arena where they were able to practice, his header, Jared Udy, had to prepare in the Northern Utah winter elements.
"I really don't like roping this late in the year because we've got all this business with our calves and we're starting to feed. It's hard to rope in December, we usually quit roping about September when we start gathering and shipping," he said. "We'd get home about a half hour before dark and harrow the snow in the sand and scrape the snow away. It wasn't real cold-usually it's froze and you can't do anything-but it was real mild and you can work the snow in and it wasn't bad until 10 days before Vegas. We ended up getting some good practices in, went down there and lucked into it really."
While luck had little to do with the win, Udy did have a big-picture perspective of the event and was singing it's praises. More than likely he'll be scraping snow again next winter to go again.
"It was sure a good win," he said. "It's unheard of. It's fun that there's always somebody out there trying to do something to improve things."