Sometimes a winning edge comes down to experience and maturity. As the 2010 season began, one of the most exciting pairings on paper was Matt Sherwood and Allen Bach. Sherwood’s got two gold buckles to his credit (in only two Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearances), while Bach’s got four titles in 30 trips.
They both ride good horses and have been around the sport long enough to know the ins and outs. So the team’s slow start to 2010 has been somewhat of a surprise. Sherwood, in fact, began to get frustrated.
"It was a real disappointing winter," he said. "We caught a lot of steers, we just were too long, so pretty frustrating. We caught all three of them at Houston. We would have won a round and the average in any other set, but we didn’t win a check in ours. We were 6.5 on the first steer and we were ninth out of 10 teams. We just got in a really tough set. So, frustrating when I didn’t rope great and frustrating when we did make some good runs and the rodeo happened to be tough or whatever."
Bach, too, was not pleased with the lack of success during the winter, but he was less concerned about it than Sherwood.
"It can go one way or another in the winter," Bach said. "If you catch the right ones at the right places, you can win a lot of money. We actually caught most of our cattle, but maybe didn’t draw that good."
That’s why winning the Clovis (Calif.) Rodeo, a Silver Tier stop on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour and $5,017—by roping two steers in 12.1-seconds—came at such an opportune time.
"It wasn’t going too good until then," Bach said. "Clovis was a huge deal for us. It’s a tour rodeo and we hadn’t won anything at a tour rodeo and we won around $5,000 there. So that should put us in the mix for the Tour. We’re just wanting to go to good rodeos and put on schools together, so being able to go to Puyallup and Omaha [for the Justin Boots Championships] is a big strategy of ours. If we can win good at those two rodeos we can make the Finals."
The Clovis rodeo, however, was not shaping up to be any sort of cakewalk. First the rain fell.
"The Clovis rodeo committee deserves so much credit," Sherwood said. "They did such a great job packing that arena surface and then when it quit raining they went in there and hauled mud out and brought dirt in. It was barely boggy for the first slack. The arena dried out so good for those last two performances."
Second, the cattle were fresh.
"I think they did something real unique, they started off with fresh steers, that only had one or two runs on them, so that makes the level of difficulty much higher," Bach said. "We love that kind of deal, so long as it’s fair for everybody."
With the degree of difficulty raised significantly before the cowboys even rode their horses in the arena veteran savvy immediately became
"Year after year, there are several places that are that way," Bach said. "Already, the writing is on the wall. If you’ll use your head and use your horsemanship and use your horse and go and be consistent and catch your cattle, that’s all it’s going to take to win the thing."
With the game plan in place, the first steer tested the team’s veteran patience immediately.
"The first steer just kind of walked and trotted out there so I just scored, scored, scored," Sherwood said. "Then you blow up on them and they’re not going very fast and I stuck it on him and Al shaped him up to rope. It’s pretty narrow right there and I almost got in the fence and had to go down the arena to face right there."
In Clovis, the boxes are at the center of the arena and the wall extends diagonally out from them on either side in the shape of a V, with the chute at the point.
"The key to some of those two-head rodeos is the kind of start you get on the first one, and Matt got a real good start," Bach said. "We had a good steer and he didn’t run real hard. He got it on him fast, but because they were fresh, the steers weren’t handling very well, and there weren’t a lot of them getting heeled by two feet. So I let the steer get collected and gathered up instead of roping him on the first jump. We made a really smooth run on our steer and won second in the first round. When you do that, that just sets you up for pretty much anything you come back and draw in the second round, you know if you’re clean you’re going to win something good in the average."
They ended up with a 6.0-second run. Sherwood and Bach were in the first set of ropers for the rodeo. Two other sets remained with the arena conditions quickly improving. They knew an aggressive run would be necessary to stay in the hunt, but they also knew a clean run would more than likely result in a check.
"On the second steer, you think they’re going to take off but you never know," Sherwood said. "Our steer didn’t start very fast, but then he took off and I run, run, run and reached at him and Al roped him real good. We were a little further down the arena so we had time to finish."
"We were both pretty aggressive," Bach added. "The steer did run on pretty good and Matt reached and roped him and I tried to heel him as fast as I could. We took a bit of a chance to make a fast run. With two more sets of guys, who knows how tough it was going to be. We went down there a ways and were just as fast as we were on the first one. The veteran deal probably worked out there, knowing when to be smart and catch two feet and when to be aggressive."
With a 6.1 on the second run—and seventh-place finish in the round—the duo’s time on two came to 12.1. Amazingly, their time on two was one of only three clean runs on two out of the 70 teams entered. The others came from Jake Barnes and Matt Garza, who were 13.1 and Colby Lovell and Richard Durham, who posted a 16.4 time on two. The win brought Sherwood and Bach’s world standings total to $13,417 and $12,516, respectively at press time and moved them into the top 30.
Allen Bach is famous for breaking the ProRodeo season into quarters and conceding that at least one quarter of every year will be bad. The timing of the win signaled the beginning of the second quarter and the end of the first-quarter drought.
"I’ve made the Finals 30 times, but I probably haven’t had five good winters," Bach said. "So if I’d have given up after the first quarter, I’d have only made the Finals five times. Most of your money is won from now on. There’s still $75,000 out there to be won."
The slow quarter, however, was affecting Sherwood.
"I’ve really rodeoed four years now and I’ve had two good winters and two mediocre or bad winters," he said. "I know how beneficial it is to get to Reno with $30,000. It’s a huge difference. But Al does a real good job of reminding me that the season doesn’t start until Reno and we’re not doing that bad. And that’s true in one regard, you can do real good from Reno through September and still make the Finals, but it makes it easier when you get to Reno with $30,000."
Bach’s influence on the fast-paced, fast-talking and fast-thinking Sherwood doesn’t end with rodeo strategy, however. The two are forming a relationship outside of the arena that includes plans for clinics and youth camps.
"Al is a different kind of partner," Sherwood said. "He’s real spiritual. I feel like I’m a good Christian guy, but Al gets up everyday and reads. He’s real mellow, almost too laid back. Real casual and relaxed, which is real nice. It’s a new twist to a partnership. We read scripture a lot and I have opportunities that I haven’t had in other partnerships. Roping-wise, Al is real methodical, I have confidence in him—and I’ve had that with all my partners—but Al never wants to take a bad shot."
For literally decades, headers have seen Big Al’s value. Over the years, he’s been able to rope with almost anyone he’s wanted, but there’s one header out there that Bach still feels like he’s got some unfinished business with. Last year, he and his son Joel came a hair’s breadth from the Finals as a team. For Al, it was important to partner with his son for his first serious campaign for the Finals. He wanted to help him get there. But for the 2010 season they decided to part ways. Allen would team with Sherwood, go to fewer rodeos and put on schools. Joel would get a chance to spread his wings with a new partner.
"Him and I have been in the arena working on his roping since he was eight years old," Bach said. "I really believe he’s roping as good as anybody this year. I think he has turned like 33 out of 35 steers and only broke one barrier—and a lot of them to be really fast. I’m really proud of him. In one sense, I wish I was getting to heel for him, but on the other hand, sometimes with the pressure of the father-son thing, it was probably good to get some space. But, we’re already talking about roping together next year. It’s really neat that he would even want to rope with me."