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Luke Brown: Lessons Learned From 13 NFRs
"Reality sets in when you head down that tunnel... You’re about to run a cow for $30,000."
Brown’s NFR comeback came aboard 14-year-old gelding DM Jet Off, by Hand Off Boy out of Rocket Jets by Easy Jet. | Click Thompson photo

South Carolina native Luke Brown is roping at his 14th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The three-time NFR average champ qualified for 13-straight Super Bowls of Rodeo from 2008 to 2020 before missing the Top-15 cut the last couple years. He’s 49 now, and ready to return to Vegas and spin for 26-year-old Hunter Koch at the Thomas & Mack. Brown, who’s won more than $2.5 million heading steers, now makes his home in Lipan, Texas, with his wife, Lacy, and 9-year-old daughter, Libby.

Q: How much did you miss the bright lights of Vegas the last couple years?

A: More than you can ever know. It’s been depressing around here. This is the greatest time of the year, but only if you’re there. When you aren’t, it’s miserable. At least for me. 

Q: You headed for Jade Corkill at your first Finals in 2008. What stands out about that year 15 years later?

A: Making the Finals the first time was a dream come true that I actually thought would never come true. Coming from South Carolina and making the NFR is just a shot in the dark. My first NFR will forever be the highlight of my career. 

Q: You were a bit of a late bloomer in team roping terms, and made your first Finals at 34. Why was that?

A: Being from back East, it just took longer to make the decision to move to Texas and not take no for an answer. 

Q: Do you appreciate this 14th back number more than any other at 49?

A: I appreciate the first one the most, but this one might be second best. The last couple years have been tough on us. 

Q: Your last two NFRs in 2019 and ’20 were Hunter’s first two. Why’d you two stay hooked after missing the cut together the last couple years?

A: Hunter’s work ethic is a lot like mine, and we’re a lot alike when it comes to determination, heart and try. He’s super talented and dedicated. This is what Hunter wants to do, and with that being said, there’s no reason not to stay hooked until we get it done. 

Q: Which horse do you plan to ride at the Finals? 

A: I’m either going to ride Buddah, the 14-year-old grey I’ve ridden most of this year, or Tucson, who’s the 13-year-old bay I rode most of last year. One of the two is going to make me really happy, I just won’t decide which one until right before go time. 

Q: You’ve won the NFR average three times—in 2010 with Martin Lucero, and 2013 and ’15 with Kollin VonAhn. What’s your 2023 NFR strategy look like?

A: I don’t know that it’s any different than it’s ever been. I’ll definitely try to turn all 10 steers. Some years I went with the intention of trying to be faster, and ended up making more mistakes. The game plan will be to ride my horse and rope as sharp as I can, and try to turn all 10. That’s what’s worked when I’ve done good there. 

Q: Who do you consider the very best reacher, and who would you bet on in any average?

A: I’m a (Kaleb) Driggers fan, and Dustin (Egusquiza) is phenomenal and so fast at his reaching. I’m kind of torn between those two on the reaching. In an average, I would probably say Andrew Ward. He’s been so consistent in recent years, and is just solid. 

Q: Which header have you looked up to most over the course of your career, and why?

A: Chad Masters, for sure. He’s kind of been there with me since I moved out here to Texas. He’s always trying to get better, and he’s realistic and honest with me about the good and the bad. And he’s always been super easy to talk to about team roping—the horses and the roping. Al Bach’s been huge for me all along also. 

Q: Does having well over $2.5 million in career earnings blow your mind?

A: That’s unbelievable. That I’ve won that at pro rodeos is crazy to me. It’d be so cool to get to $3 million before I start hauling Libby around.

Q: At 49, what team roping goals do you still have left?

A: I’d love to make the NFR a few more times, and it’d be cool to win the average a couple more times. The gold buckle would be a dream come true, but a gold buckle hasn’t ever been really important to me. Making a living and providing for my family means more. And being able to wake up in the morning and rope, and do what I love means more. The roping, the driving, feeding and cleaning stalls—I love it all. My goal has always been to be around my family and friends as much as possible. Rodeo’s let me be independent the last 15 years, and I’ve gotten to enjoy life doing what I love to do. So my biggest goal is to just keep doing what we do. And yes, getting to $3 million while doing that would be great. 

Left to right, that’s Scarlett, Luke, Peaches, Wilma, Libby, Lacy and Fast Time Brown | Brown Family photo

Q: In the midst of making 13-straight NFRs, did you ever take getting a back number for granted?

A: Yes and no. It’s been challenging, but I didn’t ever feel like it was hard to make the NFR as long as I left home each week with the goal of doing my job. When you do that, the money will come. When I didn’t make it, and just barely missed it in 2021 (he finished 17th), then did not have a very good year last year (32nd), it became really hard to make it this year. I went to work and almost started over trying to figure out how to be me again. It stinks to not have the last two NFRs, but the stuff I’ve learned that I didn’t learn when I was doing good will help me in the next few years. So no regrets, and also no taking making it for granted. 

Q: With all that NFR experience under your belt, do you plan to practice for your horses or yourself going into Vegas?

A: Both. I love that place (the Thomas & Mack Center). I’ve always been so excited to run steers there, and my favorite time of the year is practicing for the NFR. I start my NFR practice practicing for myself. It’s always taken me a couple weeks to get myself into a rhythm. Once I get myself dialed in, I start practicing for my horses and get them into a rhythm, too. It’s so fun. 

Q: What are you looking forward to most about your return trip to Cowboy Town?

A: The grand entry. If that doesn’t send chills down your back, nothing will. Reality sets in when you head down that tunnel, like, it’s fixing to happen. You’re about to run a cow for $30,000. The first year I made the Finals, I walked down that tunnel into the arena the first time a day or two before the rodeo started and cried like a baby. I’d never been to the NFR to watch it, so it was the first time I’d ever seen the Thomas & Mack. I couldn’t believe me getting to rope there was real. When they start playing “Cowboy Town,” it’s about to happen. And there’s nothing much cooler than that. TRJ

WATCH ON ROPING.COM: Training Sessions with Team Ropers Heading to Vegas

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