If you're only vaguely aware of team ropers Ty Blasingame and J.W. Borrego, don't fault yourself. These two youngsters (25 and 26 years old, respectively) haven't taken the rodeo world by storm. While both their families have ranching and rodeo roots, they're not legacy ropers-the kind who turn 18 with the horses and resources waiting to carry them to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
These two are the kind of guys who start with little and scratch out a career. Both from southern Colorado, they've roped together off and on since high school. In addition to a couple Mountain States Circuit Finals titles, winning the Redding (Calif.) Rodeo is their first upper-echelon rodeo victory together. They won $3,502 each by roping two steers in 11.2 seconds (each in 5.6 seconds).
Early on in his career, Blasingame developed an aggressive style.
"That's why they call him Blaster, because he'll blast them," Borrego said. "You know with him you've got a chance at winning first every time you back in the box. I like that feeling."
Up until the last few years, Blasingame's heelers also had an equally good chance of not throwing their rope at all.
"I'm kind of wild in a way. I'm a reacher and I reach a lot. That's about what I do at the rodeos. I go for first. I've really worked at getting better in the averages," Blasingame said. "I've tried to ride my horses more, not reach as much. I still reach, but I don't bomb out every time. I've gotten to figure out where I am in the arena and what I need to do and what I don't. I just really worked at getting better in the averages because a guy's got to win the averages to get there."
There, of course, is the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this December. Last year, after hovering in and around the top 15 for most of the late summer months, Blasingame dropped to 20th when the season ended.
"I started roping with Cody Hintz late in the year last year and we won a lot in a short period, but what really hurt me last year was in the Northwest I had a real good shot of making it and my horse got sore," he said. "I was trying to ride other horses and it just didn't work out."
For as long as he's been roping, he's had one horse. Carla, a 23- (or so) year-old mare that Blasingame could anticipate and she could anticipate him.
"My mom and dad raised her," he said. "She's been phenomenal, she's a real tough horse, but I don't even know how old she is. I said she was 18 for six years, who knows? She's just old and got to where she couldn't handle it all. When I didn't have her, it left me afoot, if she got sore or whatever. I still ride her today when I need her."
But if you're going to make the Finals, one 20-plus-year-old mare isn't going to do the trick-and Blasingame knew it.
"I've always had a good horse, but I just had the one. It was all on her shoulders," he said. "I'm riding a 7-year-old horse that J.W. McCuistion started and got him to where he was ready to rope on and had been roping on him. I've only been rodeoing on him for a year. I partner on him with my mother- and father-in-law, Terry and Debbie Rusher."
He calls the horse Sgetti-an inherited name that Blasingame's not too fond of-but hasn't changed it because, after all, it's bad luck to change a horse's name.
"He scores real awesome at the rodeos," Blasingame added. "He breaks real flat and he's easy for me to rope on, it's just like roping the dummy. He faces real good, he's not too strong with the cattle and he shapes the steers up real easy to heel for my heelers. He fits my style is the biggest thing."
In Borrego, he's also found a partner that fits his style. Interestingly, Borrego didn't pick up heeling until after high school-and during high school he headed for Blasingame.
"J.W. is like my brother, we grew up around each other," he said. "We're best friends, which is good and bad when you rodeo. He's a great guy to travel with and he's awesome. We'd been wanting to rope, but we both had different commitments this winter and we just started roping again."
Blasingame started the season with Bobby Baize while Borrego roped with B.J. Campbell.
"He has so much talent. He's never scared to lose, he goes full out all the time and that's what makes him so good. We roped last year at the Circuit Finals and won one go-round and the average," Blasingame said.
While Borrego doesn't have a rodeo pedigree, he's surrounded himself with world champions-both from within the sport and outside of it-in an effort to move his 2008 30th-place finish into the top 15.
"My brother-in-law is Six-Time World Champion Ultimate Fighter Randy Couture," Borrego said. "My sister and brother-in-law both fight. I fought when I was little. My whole family is a fighting family and I grew up on a ranch and fought, too. When I was a little kid, my parents always watched the National Finals and that's all I've ever dreamed about is roping at the NFR.
"It's two different sports but it's kind of the same. Controlling your mind in these sports is so hard; there are so many ups and downs. You know there are going to be losses, that's part of life, so dealing with your losses and learning how to lose makes you a better winner. Randy has helped me so much with my mind. I know I can rope, it just takes a lot to not get upset and beat yourself up over losses."
Adding to that mental toughness was roping with Three-Time World Champion Header Tee Woolman last year.
"Being out there with a legend of the sport made me a way better roper," he said. "Between Randy and Tee, nothing bothers me."
Nevertheless, after a sub-par winter (before Redding, Borrego had only won $4,600) he contemplated selling his top horse, a paint he calls Cuatro.
"My good horse is 9 years old and I raised him," Borrego said. "I won the [Mountain States] Circuit Finals on him when he was three and I sold him later that year. A month later, I didn't have a horse, and the guy called me up and said, 'Hey, I'm getting divorced, do you want to buy this horse back?' He gave me $8,500 for him. I said, 'Well, all I've got is $4,000 left.' He said, 'If you meet me in Albuquerque tomorrow night, I'll take it.' So I did. Everything I've ever won has been on him."
But this time, he felt he truly needed the money and a fresh start. Allen Bach, however, sat him down, reminded him how hard good horses are to come by and convinced Borrego not to sell Cuatro.
"I'm glad I listened to him," Borrego said. "I guess it's destiny for Cuatro to be with me."
Borrego also believes that a Wrangler NFR berth is his destiny for 2009-and sees the win in Redding as a preview of better things to come.
"We won Redding, which is a huge rodeo," he said of the silver-level rodeo on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour. "But we've got to go face them again and beat them again. You have to do it consistently through the whole year. This is the first year we both feel like we're going to make the Finals. Now it's our time."
For Blasingame, it seems very realistic. After the win, he moved into 13th in the PRCA World Standings. At press time, Borrego was 49th.
"Everybody hits the panic button because they don't have enough money won, but I don't think trying to make the Finals starts until Reno," he said. "I'm behind a lot of guys on rodeos, everybody's been to 24 or 25 and I've only been to 15. I'm playing catch-up right now, but I'm going to catch up fast. I'm not trying to be arrogant, I just got a lot of confidence in our team and in myself and my horse."
What's more, Borrego sits ninth in the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour standings. If he can maintain position there, he'll have a chance to leapfrog into the top 15 later in the season.
But despite better horses and a clicking partnership, the real reason for the team's success might be two women: Blasingame's wife, Mindy, and new daughter, Kashlyn. Mindy just graduated from Adams State College based in Alamosa, Colo., with a degree in elementary education. She encourages Ty to rodeo and plans to travel with him during the summers.
"I had a kid last summer," he said. "Since then I've really took business to the next level. I've always took care of business pretty good, but I try to do a lot better now. Take care of my horses better. I know this is what I do for a living to feed my family, so I took it to the next level. I work at it harder. I practice for sure once a day, sometimes twice a day."
And it's something Borrego noticed as well.
"I know him better than anybody," he said. "He's always been able to rope like that and he still does, but he uses his head a lot better now because he's got a wife and a baby to feed. That's the true definition of roping for a living because that's all he does is rope and he's got to support a wife and a child. He's gotten a lot smarter. He's a smart, aggressive roper and that's what you've got to be these days because the competition is so tough."
Now, it looks like they're among the toughs.
"I know we're going to do good," Borrego said. "They can't keep Ty out of the top 15, and if they can't keep him out, I'll be right there with him."
Other Winners in Redding
Three-Time Bareback Riding World Champion Will Lowe rode Growney Brothers Rodeo's Moulin Rouge for 86 points and $5,087. Blake Knowles, son of Butch Knowles, the former NFR saddle bronc riding average champ and current color commentator for ESPN's broadcast of the Wrangler NFR, won the steer wrestling with an 8.8-second time on two and earned $4,190. In the tie-down roping, Shank Edwards roped two calves in 15.6 seconds to win $4,959. Reigning world champions Cody Wright (saddle bronc riding) and Lindsay Sears (barrel racing) won their respective events, Wright with an 84 on Growney's Hammer Lane and Sears with a 34.98 total on two runs. Wright earned $4,218, while Sears hauled in $3,844. Corey Navarre won the bull riding with a
90-point ride on Growney Brothers' No Glory to earn $5,686.