Clay Tryan—the money-winningest team roper of all time—discusses folding early this season, what went into the decision, how it felt to pause the thing that’s consumed his life for 30 years, his opinion of his legacy, and—of course—his pick to win in Vegas in 2023.
How happy do you suppose the teams were at the Texas amateur rodeos this year seeing “Clay Tryan” on the day sheet?
The same Clay Tryan fresh off a $264,955 2022 PRCA season. The one with three gold buckles, four reserve world titles and two NFR average titles. Who won Salinas four times and the BFI three times, and who also won the George Strait twice and matched the world record. That Clay Tryan.
WATCH ON ROPING.COM: Clay Tryan’s The Perfect Spin complete DVD
Back in April, as quietly as he could, the Montana native stepped away from ProRodeo. He went home to Lipan, Texas, to rope with his kids. No announcement. No fanfare. The 44-year-old walked away in his prime, having banked well over $3.5 million with his favorite Fast Back ropes.
One of only six headers in history with 20-plus NFR qualifications, Tryan only missed the Big Show once since 2001, on an 18th-place finish in ’08 (plus the ERA world championship that got him blackballed in ’16). Clearly, he’s had a bit of practice at knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
By Clay Tryan:
At some point, you’ve got to slow down and be around more. I needed to haul these kids.
It didn’t matter that I was roping with Jade (Corkill). Wouldn’t have mattered if I had the best horse I’ve ever owned. Even if I had the three best horses in the world, it didn’t matter. My oldest son wants to go pro next year, and he’s just coming off an injury and I needed to help him get ready.
Plus, my age. Rodeo is a young man’s sport. Personally, I felt this coming for a few years. I probably would have stopped a year sooner but, in 2022, my son was hurt and couldn’t rope anyway. And, I won Houston.
It feels a lot different, being home, but it’s better. I’ve been roping a lot since I was about 15 years old. Just to experience other things has been fun. It’s been refreshing to not have my life attached to the world standings. My wife, Bobbie, used to go with me a lot, so it’s a change for her, too.
I didn’t talk about [retiring] because, honestly, I never thought I was that big a deal—I just wanted to win at roping. I truly did. So, I tried as hard as I could. And then when you’re done, you just move on to something else with life. You can’t live in the past. It’s not going to bother me as much as people think it would.
I’ve been amateur rodeoing with [two of my sons]: Tyler, who’s 17 and is heading, and Braylon, who’s 15 and heels for me. In October, we all three made the UPRA Finals, and Tyler also made the CPRA Finals. They’ve never been to a high school rodeo. My brothers and I never went to any in Montana, either. My dad always felt like the best way for teenagers to learn to beat adults was to rope against adults. So that’s what we do: amateur rodeos.
My boys seemed to love roping from the start—since they were tiny. I never really pushed it. I think people who love it don’t do it for anyone but themselves. And I’m not going to get in their way for any reason. I probably won’t head for Braylon when he turns 18. These boys need the best guys they can get. Old guys aren’t good at heading. It requires adapting so much over time. People now are throwing three coils at the first steer.
Our little one is just starting to rope, and I’ve been hauling him to golf tournaments. I’m terrible at golf, but Dash just won the West Texas Junior Tour Championship in his age division. So, I’m at golf tournaments Monday through Wednesday and amateur rodeos Thursday through Saturday. That’s my life. Being a caddy for my 9-year-old is one of the coolest things in my life. He knows how to win. He wants to win.
Everybody thinks I miss the big rodeos more than I do. I’m weird: If I know I’m not going to be doing something, then I’m not going to miss it. My brain works that way. I’m not bothered about not being at this NFR because I knew I wouldn’t be at this NFR.
But I’ll watch it. These guys are good. Four gold buckles are hard to get. But I can see [Kaleb] Driggers and Junior [Nogueira] winning their third straight, because they are truly the best team I’ve ever witnessed. It’s crazy how, most of the time, the best header and the best heeler don’t rope together. But those two are doing it at a level that I’ve never seen.
I honestly don’t know if rodeo has ever had a G.O.A.T. What I do think—and why I’m so impressed with Kaleb—is that I’ve never seen the competition as tough as its been the last three or four years, just with the number of guys who have good horses and how fast the heelers are throwing, and those two are still being dominant.
I was able to win for a long time because I had some good heelers. Me and Jade had a good run. I had some good horses, and they lasted a long time. And I felt like I changed with the times. Roping didn’t look nearly the same at my first NFR in 2001 as it looked in 2022 at my last. You have to change. One key might be that, even though I [wasn’t] known as a horseman, I was able to make my good horses last a long time. That helped a lot. I did have a few superstars along the way, but they didn’t just last two years—they lasted six to 10.
Mostly, I just wanted to win. Losing bothered me. I enjoy what I’m doing now. And I enjoyed the 20 years I made the NFR. I didn’t have a final number in mind when I set out. It was cool to make 20. But if I’d have made 19, I wouldn’t be bummed. I do wish I’d have won more gold buckles. Absolutely. Why not? But even if I’d have accomplished more, I’d have probably wished I’d have done even better than that; there’s no end to it. I don’t think I’d ever have been satisfied with what I did. TRJ