Team Roping Classic was full of firsts for Caleb Mitchell. First time entering the BFI. First time roping with Ryan Motes. First time winning the richest one-day open roping in the world, which in 2009 was worth more than $700,000 in cash and prizes.
What wasn't new was the heckling and heartfelt congratulatory slaps on the back from his friends. By interview's end just minutes after he and Ryan raked in $149,410 at the 32nd annual BFI, a quick glance at Caleb's cell phone turned up 49 text messages and 27 new voicemails. He read me a random text right off the top from Mickey Gomez: "Six head: That would have to be a record for you."
First on the winner's circle scene with Motes was his dad, 1977 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Champion Team Roper and 1981 BFI Titlist David Motes. "This win will help him his whole career," said Proud Papa Motes. "This is worth a lot of confidence to Ryan, and it's more exciting for me than if I won the roping. I am very happy. I love it when youth wins."
When Ryan acknowledged his cheering fans with a friendly thumbs up, his gratitude was sincere and complete. His thumb was not. He cut it off at the first knuckle last October 9 at Speed Williams' first-ever Match Roping in Stephenville, Texas. Motes pantyhosed a steer for Keven Daniel, and as he started down to the horn his first coil dropped over his thumb and came tight. It jerked the rope out of his hand, and the end of his thumb went with it.
"It really hasn't bothered me," said Motes, whose doctors didn't even try to reattach it. Two months later, Motes and Luke Brown won Speed's big Match Roping for $30 grand a man the day after the 2008 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo ended in Vegas. "I started back heading two weeks after I cut my thumb off."
Texans Mitchell of Charlotte and Motes of Weatherford joined forces for Reno right at the wire. "We entered the Reno Rodeo the day it closed, and ran our first steer right before we got here," said Motes, 28, on BFI Monday, June 22. Their partnership was short-term by design. After the Fourth of July run with Mitchell, Motes was slated to hook up with Idaho's Derick Fleming at the rodeos. Motes started the season with Brown in the winter, then heeled for Daniel this spring and finally Shane Philipp for a week or two.
Mitchell was headed home to the Texas Circuit rodeos after the Fourth, and planning "to rope with whoever I can talk into roping with me." His run with Ryan was short and sweet. "Ryan's great," said Mitchell, who's 26 and single. "He and his wife (Courtney) are very nice. They have to haul me around, because my truck's broke down."
Winning the BFI was a walk on Fantasy Island Beach for both ropers. "This is something I've wanted to do since I was young," Mitchell said. "I grew up in a trailer park roping dummies. I didn't get my first horse until I was a 16-year-old high school sophomore. This is the greatest day in my career. Hopefully, it's just the beginning and not the end."
Mitchell and Motes stopped the clock six times in 45.49 seconds to top the 2009 BFI and leave the Reno Livestock Events Center with the cash and second-to-none BFI champs' prize line. In addition to the dough, they rode away with Running P saddles and breast collars, Gist Buckles donated by Dodge Rodeo, B&W Trailer Hitches and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., Schneider three-piece buckles sponsored by Coors Original, Boot Barn and Classic Ropes, and Justin full-quill ostrich boots. The BFI, Cactus Ropes, Team Equine LLC and Wrangler again awarded the winning team a $10,000 cash bonus, and 1 Bar 3 presented a $5,000 cash bonus to the winners.
"I've been coming here since I was little," said Motes, who was just a baby when his dad won the BFI. "This has been the big one since I was born. Bob does a great job of putting it on, and the (Flying T Cattle Company) cattle were great this year. Everybody dreams of winning the world and the BFI. One down, one to go."
BFI Champs Mitchell and Motes topped the 100-team field that this year represented 16 states. They were 7.15, 7.95, 7.66, 7.40, 7.34 and 7.99 seconds on their six steers to beat out BFI reservists Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz by just under a second. Arizonans Begay of Winslow and de la Cruz of Tucson earned $95,060 in addition to the reserve champs' prize package that included Coats Saddles, Skyline Silversmiths buckles donated by Boot Barn, Purina Mills Inc. and Wells Fargo Bank after drawing the flag six times in 46.3 seconds.
The third-place team of Dustin Bird and Caleb Twisselman (his parents, Cathie and Rowly, were the steer contractors) bagged $61,110 for their total time of 47.26 seconds, and were followed in fourth place by a pair of past BFI champions, Tee Woolman and Kory Koontz, who roped six in 48.21 for $30,555. Coleman Proctor and Jake Long finished fifth in 48.7 seconds ($16,975), and Clay Tryan and Cory Petska were sixth with 49.62 for $6,790. Wrangler Jeans and Shirts pumped $6,500 in bonus bucks into the Wrangler Round in addition to BFI short-round money. NFR heeler brothers B.J. and Bucky Campbell were the 14th high call in the 15-team Wrangler Round. Their 5.7-second final run was worth $9,500.
The owners of the Best BFI Head and Heel Horses received Lazy "L" Saddles and CSI Pads. BFI officials gave the nod for the Best BFI Head Horse to Begay's 14-year-old sorrel horse Swagger. The Best BFI Heel Horse in 2009 was Ryan Motes' Starbucks, an 11-year-old sorrel horse his family raised out of one of his mom's mares. (Danny is the daughter of the late and legendary Lex Connelly, who had a huge hand in helping professional rodeo get to where it is today.)
"You need a horse that'll score and run up there every time and not cheat you at this roping," Begay said of his unregistered long-score specialist. "A horse needs to give you a good go every time at a six-steer average like this. The main part of team roping these days is the head horses, especially at this roping with the long score and hard-running steers. I'm excited."
Motes' American Quarter Horse Association-registered CD Starbucks is the one he rode at the 2007 Wrangler NFR. "He's cool," Motes said. "Everybody who rides him gets along with him and wins on him. He's just easy. You can head, heel and ranch on him. He does it all, and I love him. This is a tough setup. This horse scores good and runs. He's fast, and he never cheats you. It's especially neat to win this, because everybody's on his good one horse at this roping. This is great. He deserves it."
Mitchell rode his 8-year-old gray horse Gaucho. "The head horse is everything here," he said. "To have one that'll score, run free and just let me catch is just what I needed. He's not a world beater, but he's honest and he never cheats me."
"To win this roping takes a good partner, good steers, smart runs and good horses," said Motes, who's sponsored by Reata Equine Hospital, FSR Cattle Company, Professional's Choice, Justin Insurance, C.D. Lights, Fast Back Ropes and Stetson Apparel. "Caleb did a really great job, and I think a lot of people underestimate his horse."
Mitchell and Motes placed third in the opening round with a 7.15-second run. They took command of the average after the first three steers, and never let up. After roping with his dad twice and Jimmy Edens once, it was Motes' fourth BFI. "This is outstanding," Motes smiled. "This is something I've always wanted to win."
His header can relate. "I just wanted to go rope six steers," said Mitchell, whose sponsor partners include Cactus Ropes ("Barry Berg believes in me"), Pro Equine, OCO Pressure Control, Rhino Construction, Misty Salon, Challenger Equipment and Anderson Pollution Control. "After the first steer, I told myself I was going to win it. I knew my horse would let me. This is a great roping. I thank all the sponsors who get behind it, and thank you, Bob Feist, for putting it all together. There are so many people who've helped me it's pitiful. I can't believe this." Mitchell dedicated the biggest win of his life to a fallen friend, B.K. Dillard, who died in a hunting accident a few years back.
Classic Ropes and B&W Trailer Hitches awarded Mr. Roping Show, Tyler Magnus, and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Clay O'Brien Cooper a $2,000 bonus for being the team that finished just out of the average race in seventh place. Magnus and Cooper roped an awesome roping, after duking it out with runners all day long. Nick Sartain and Kollin VonAhn roped the second fastest steer in BFI history, a 4.79-second scorcher in round five, to cash the $2,000 Fast Time bonus sponsored by Justin Boots, Priefert, Silver Legacy and Coors Original. Sartain and VonAhn also won the second round with a 5.57-second run. A BFI Fast Time honorable mention also goes out to Ty Blasingame and J.W. Borrego for striking back-to-back in rounds three and four in 5.23 and 5.04 seconds. The 4.46-second BFI Fast Time record was set last year by Coleman Proctor and Jake Long. Champion's Choice buckles were again awarded in every round.
The "BFI 32 Club" is alive and well. Team roping icons who haven't missed the BFI books in 32 years include Allen Bach, who won the 1979 BFI with Brian Burrows and this year roped with his son Joel; Denny Watkins, who won it with David Motes in 1981 and heeled for Pat Boyle, who subbed in for Ron Darnell, who hurt his thumb over at the rodeo; Mike Beers, who won the 1987 BFI with Dee Pickett and this year roped with Keven Daniel (they placed in round one); and Walt Woodard, who won last year's BFI with Clay Tryan and this year roped with ProRodeo Hall of Famer Jake Barnes (they placed in round five).
The BFI is "Open to the World," and held in conjunction with the "Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West," the million-dollar Reno Rodeo, which this year ran June 18-27. Announcers Bob Tallman, Reed Flake, Ross Wagner and Lane Santos-Karney (Thank You, Bobs, for giving my baby a shot at something he's been doing for fun while roping the Fast Lane dummy in the living room with his little brother since his diaper days) called the BFI action, and Harry Rose and Philip Murrah flagged the roping. Steve "Pooh Bear" Branco and Danny Martinez served as the line judges.