At 28, Brye Crites will this month heel at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for fellow Finals freshman Jake Orman. Missouri native Crites lives in Welch, Oklahoma with his wife, Courtney, who is the sister of NFR header and BFI champ Zac Small.
Q: Where did you grow up, and what kind of family did you grow up in?
A: I grew up in Halfway, Missouri, which is a little bitty town, population 73. There’s a post office, a gas station and a school. My dad (Rick) amateur rodeoed. He heeled until the late ’80s, then started heading for my brother (Jeff) in the mid- ’90s. My mom (Susy) announced and my dad flagged for Jeff Smith at his US(TRC) ropings for as long as I can remember. I never high school rodeoed, but I grew up going to those ropings.
Q: Besides making the NFR, what’s been your favorite career highlight so far?
A: Going to all the big rodeos that I grew up hearing and reading about, like Pendleton. I’m literally living my childhood dream right now. This is what I wanted to do forever.
Q: Where were you when you realized you’d qualified for your first NFR, and what did that moment feel like?
A: We left Pendleton (Oregon), drove straight to Albuquerque (New Mexico), back to Mona (Utah), to Amarillo (Texas), Springhill (Louisiana), Stephenville and Pasadena (Texas). I was pretty sure Springhill did it for me, then we caught at Stephenville. There was still a weird outside mathematical chance of getting passed until Pasadena. I knew for sure it was done at Pasadena. I don’t really know how to describe that moment. It was probably a relief as much as anything. I was in the fight right until the end the last two years, and was like, “I finally did it.”
Q: You barely squeezed into the Top 60 in 2018 and 2019, then finished 22nd in the world in both 2020 and 2021. What was behind that breakthrough?
A: In 2018, I headed all winter. I didn’t start heeling until about Reno of ’18. I heeled growing up. But the horse I’d ridden all that time died in about the spring of 2016. Zac had a good horse, and told me I could take him if I wanted to head (Admiral is the palomino Coleman Proctor has now). I headed on him in 2016, 2017 and through the spring of 2018. Then I went back to heeling on a young horse I had. I heeled for Cale Markham in 2018, and we mainly focused on the Prairie Circuit.
Q: When exactly did you join forces with Jake, and what do you like best about your team?
A: Jake and I started roping in the spring of 2020. We decided to start roping right about the time COVID shut everything down. I like that when we catch, we win. We’re a pretty fast team. When he turns them, if I catch the cow we generally always place. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing my guy’s going to turn the cow fast enough to win something. We have a wild run, but when it works, we win.
Q: This is the first NFR for you both. Has this been your team’s goal since the start?
A: Yes. I had never been super serious about making the Finals until Jake and I started roping. I wasn’t sure I was good enough before we started roping, then I thought, “If this guy has enough faith in me, I should have faith in myself.” I’m so excited for Jake. He’s been so close five or six times.
Q: Tell us about your wife Courtney, who’s a team roping badass in her own right.
A: Whenever we started dating in the summer of 2015, everybody around me told me how much better my roping got immediately. Courtney heads for me every day—everything from NFR practice to riding colts and roping futurity practice. She can do it all, and better than me most of the time.
Q: How many years have you been out there hitting it hard, and why is this the year you finally made it happen?
A: Cale and I rodeoed pretty hard in 2019, and that gave me a good introduction. Roping with Jake is the first time I’ve started the year at Odessa (Texas) with the goal of making the NFR. We had an exceptional winter. That started the year off really good, and we caught more this year than we ever have. We knew our run was fast enough last year, but we caught more cattle this year. We got it put together, and when we needed to catch, we did.
Q: What do you plan to ride at the Finals?
A: I’ll ride the little sorrel I rode this year. His name is Cherry, and he’s 10. I think I ran five steers not on him this year. Cherry’s really fast, and he’s little bitty. He stands 14.1 (hands) at the biggest. He can run, he’s fast-footed in the turn and finishes strong. For a little horse, they don’t hardly ever jerk him around.
Q: Do you expect the Thomas & Mack to suit your team’s style?
A: I think it’s going to, and I’m really excited about it. Jake heads fast extremely well. With my horse being that quick up around them, I’m super excited about it. His gray’s (Frank) really good in tight setups, and I think that’s our setup, I really do. I think it’ll just be an extension of our normal run.
Q: What have your NFR practice sessions looked like?
A: I haven’t ever been to the Thomas & Mack, but I heeled for Zac for a month before his NFR (in 2016; the same year he won the BFI with Wesley Thorp). We set the NFR arena up, so I have an idea what I’m getting into. Jake went and bought a set of steers that are pretty well mates to the NFR steers, and set up the Thomas & Mack dimensions at his house.
Q: Is there anyone you seek advice from most?
A: I’ve mainly been talking to Jake Long and Logan Medlin about how I need to practice. Those are the two guys I try to compare my roping to, because we have similar styles. We’re all aggressive. We get up around the cow a lot, and take a fairly fast throw most of the time.
Q: Did you grow up with a roping hero?
A: Other than my dad, the Champ (Clay Cooper), obviously. He’s the best heeler ever. We didn’t have cable until I was 8 or 10, so I grew up watching Clay on roping tapes.
Q: What’s your ultimate goal as a team roper?
A: Before right now I’d have said my goal was to make the NFR. Now it’s to continue to compete until I don’t feel like I can win anymore. I never expected to get this far. I really am living my dream.
Q: Do you see yourself as a rodeo lifer?
A: I would like to think so. The day comes when everybody has to quit, and after rodeo I’ll be home working cows. My in-laws have Flying Cow Genetics, which does IVF work in cattle. Courtney runs the lab, which is why she can’t be on the road with me. We live in cowboy country, and when I’m done rodeoing, I hope I can continue to rope with my family and make heel horses, which is my favorite thing in the whole world. If I had the means to have six or eight young prospects to ride, train and sell, I’d never leave home.