The curveballs that have come with 2020 and all the COVID-19-related hardships on this country have hit cowboys and the cowboy sport hard. Brothers Riley and Brady Minor will this year miss their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in recent memory. But the family-first mentality at the core of Team Minor has them counting their many blessings, starting with the recent and upcoming birth of baby girls for both brothers. Big brother Brady and his wife, Ashley, have been tested hard with the premature birth of baby Mesa Jeanne on August 15. After Riley and Brady won Round 1 in 4.3 seconds at the Gold Buckle Beer ProRodeo Tour Finale in Rapid City last night, today’s the big day Mesa and Ashley finally get to leave the newborn intensive care unit at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and head home to Ellensburg.
“Mesa weighed 3 pounds, 13 ounces, and was one day shy of 32 weeks when she was born,” Brady said from the cowboy parking lot in Rapid City this morning, where he was watching 5-year-old Maverick rope the dummy in his pajamas. “It’s been a tough year rodeo-wise, but Mesa being healthy is the main thing to be thankful for right now.”
Brady and Ashley have traveled down this tough parental road before. When Maverick was born on February 18, 2015, he weighed only two pounds, and spent three months in the NICU.
“Our girls are good at home, and Maverick’s been home all summer bouncing around between grandparents, so at the last minute he jumped in and came on his first solo rodeo road trip with me,” said Brady, who made the trek from Ellensburg to Rapid City Family Vacation-style with Riley, his wife, Jordan, their 3-year-old daughter, Monroe, and Maverick. Riley and Jordan are expecting their second little girl in November. “I hadn’t planned on bringing him, but he started crying when we were leaving, so Riley told him to go get his clothes. It was supposed to be a 15-hour drive, but it took 17 and we stopped in Bozeman and spent the night on the way, because that’s a lot of car-seat time for Maverick and Monroe.
“We might not have come, but the Wrangler Team Roping (Championships Finals) roping starts Monday in Billings, and that’s only a few hours from here. We’re going to that or we probably wouldn’t have driven all this way. The open is Wednesday night, but I’m roping in the #15 Monday and Riley’s going to do some heeling in the #14 and #13 on Tuesday.”
Riley and Brady—who are currently ranked 26 and 25, respectively, in the world heading and heeling standings—won $2,010 apiece for the round-one win in Rapid City last night. They run their second steer tonight, and no matter how it goes will not be what-iffing their decision to head home in mid-August.
“We started off this year with a bad winter,” said Brady, who’s roped at 11 NFRs to date—his first one in 2006 with Garrett Tonozzi, then 10 with Riley, including the last seven straight. “Then this (coronavirus) all happened, and rodeos were cancelling every week. After it all hit in March, we didn’t start back rodeoing until the Fourth of July. But we just never really got on a roll. We were winning a few checks here and there, but never had any big licks to catch up.
“I could give you 10 paragraphs of excuses, but I don’t believe in them. Almost all of the rodeos this year were one-headers, and there were 100 teams at most of them. We ran a lot less steers, and checks were a lot harder to come by. Nobody even knew if there was going to be an NFR until really recently. To be honest, I haven’t looked at the standings since the NFR last year. We rodeoed this year, and we tried. But we threw in the towel after Baker, Montana (the middle of August). I think we were out of the Top 15 by $12,000-$15,000 when we went home, and I didn’t think we could go nickel and dime them to make up that difference.
“I also had a lot going on at home, with the baby and everything else. Ashley was in the hospital for two weeks before the baby was born, and has been there with Mesa since she was born on August 15 until today. Riley and I were feeling a little silly after winning the round last night, just because Rapid City was only our 40 rodeo and we’re allowed 65. If we win good here, we’ll have 25 unused rodeos left that we could have counted.”
Minor quoted a Hall of Fame calf roper on the subject of accepting and offering no excuses.
“This would have been a great year to win something big at The American, San Antonio or Fort Worth, but that didn’t happen,” Brady said. “Like Cody Ohl always said, ‘Rope better.’ We had chances. I missed the second steer at Dodge City to be high callback, as just one example. That could have kept us within range. Looking back, we’ll never know if we should have kept going or not. And it doesn’t really matter now. We didn’t, and it’s done.
“2020 has just been something else. It’s been hard. I sold my place in Ellensburg sort of unexpectedly this summer, and just bought some land, so we’ll be starting from scratch on that. Ashley was rushed to the hospital while I was still trying to make the NFR, and I have just as many miles on my truck going to 40 rodeos as we usually do going to 65, because we were driving 4,500 miles in one weekend to get to three rodeos that only paid $1,500.
“We’ll be happy to head back home after this next week. Maverick still hasn’t met his baby sister in person, because COVID only allowed me to go into the hospital. We’re looking forward to that, and we’ll be heading south to Arizona to spend the next few months as soon as the baby can travel. 2020 threw a lot of curves. It didn’t hit me until a couple weeks ago that we won’t be roping at the NFR this year. But what matters most—family—is good, so it’s all good. I’m ready for 2021 to happen ASAP.”