OK team roping fans, you decide: Which is the sweeter, more fabulous and amazing feat?
Clay Tryan just delivered a one-two punch at the 2010 Wildfire Open to the World Roping. Tryan won the rich roping with Travis Graves, and with Patrick Smith on the back side split second with Shane Philipp and Britt Bockius. The 2005 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion header’s haul for that one February day in Salado, Texas: $66,500.
Then there’s Graves. He bagged $50,000 for winning this year’s roping with Tryan. But take a look at his track record: He’s won this thing three of the last four years—with Colter Todd in 2007 (for $37,500 a man) and behind Turtle Powell last year (for another $50,000). That’s $137,500, and that makes him the winningest Wildfire roper alive.
Everyone’s entitled to an opinion as to which is the bigger deal, and if you toss their rodeo records onto this seesaw it becomes a truly tough choice. The good news is it doesn’t really matter, because Clay and Travis (Graves; not to be confused with Tryan’s little brother and fellow NFR header, Travis Tryan) have joined forces and at press time were a top-five team on the short list of this year’s world championship contenders list.
I visited with each of them the other day. Here’s what they had to say about this 2010 season so far, as we swing into spring.
Tryan, who’ll be 31 on May 7, is a Montana native who winters in Lipan, Texas, with his wife, Bobbie, and little boys, Tyler and Braylon…
Kendra Santos:Talk to me about going one-two at this year’s Wildfire roping and that $66,500 pop.
Clay Tryan: This is one of those ropings that’s eluded me. I’ve roped pretty good there over the years, but things happened and I’d never won anything big there before now. I guess it was a matter of time before my partners and me had a good day.
KS: You’ve just about won ’em all. What, in your eyes, is so great about this particular roping?
CT: The conditions are tough. The steers run hard and this year we were entered three times (Brady Minor was Clay’s third partner), which sometimes makes it tougher. At the big ropings you have to stay focused so long. It was a long day, and under tough conditions, which really makes it feel good when you win.
KS: I haven’t seen Thumper in your last few pictures. Where’s he been?
CT: He’s 18 now and was a little sore, so I’m giving him some time off. Hopefully, he’ll be back, but I’ve bought two new horses to give him a break, which he deserves.
KS: He’s been amazing, hasn’t he?
CT: Thumper’s been everything. I won a world championship, the BFI, Salinas, the NFR average and USTRC Finals on him, for starters. He’s been a warrior. I rode him five straight years, and everything big I’ve won in my career has been on him. This was the first big win of my career where I didn’t ride him. He owes me nothing, and will probably always be my favorite. What’s made him so special is that the two things he was best at are the NFR, which is a short score, and the jackpots, which are long scores. I don’t remember a horse like that. I thought (Speed Williams’s) Viper was the best ever at the NFR, and (Speed’s) Bob was one of the best over long scores. Thumper’s been great at both, which is such a credit to his abilities.
KS: Let’s hear about your new horses.
CT: I rode a 13-year-old sorrel mare, Syndicate, at the Wildfire. I bought her two weeks before the roping, and that was the first time I rode her. She impressed me at the Wildfire. You never really know about one until you get to a tough setup when the money’s up. I ran 14 steers on her that day, which is the most steers I’ve ever roped at a roping in one day in my life. I think she got better as the roping went on. I bought another horse, an 11-yearold bay gelding named Dew, from the same people in November. I bought them both from the Hansen family in North Dakota. I haven’t had either horse long enough to know everything about them. Dew’s a little greener as far as the rodeos go, but he scores good and runs hard. Syndicate does the same thing. She might be better at the short scores, but it’s really too soon to tell. So far, they seem pretty interchangeable.
KS: You are a veteran of eight NFRs, won the 2004 NFR average with Michael Jones, and won the world with Patrick Smith in 2005. What’s driving you in your rodeo career right now?
CT: To win some more world championships. The George Strait is now the only big roping I haven’t won. As far as the rodeos go, I’m really focused on the world championship. I have a great young partner who ropes outstanding, and we’ve been working hard at it.
KS: Since you would know, what does it take to win the world?
CT: Both guys need to have good horses, and you need to win at the right spots. It’s important to do good when it matters, in the clutch, at the big rodeos and jackpots, and to keep working at it as a team.
KS: When did you hook up with Travis, how and why?
CT: We’d roped at some jackpots, and I’d thought about roping with him before. I just thought it was the right time to give it a shot. We decided right after the NFR to try it in 2010.
KS: What makes you and Travis tick, and can you ever really predict which teams will have "it" before they go out there and try it?
CT: Travis has roped so good and so consistent. I’ve been turning a lot of steers, and he ropes two feet. At times in my career I’ve thought practicing together was maybe a little overrated. But the best I’ve done over the years has been with the guys where we’ve worked at it every day...like Patrick and Walt (Woodard). It seems to work for me. I just think you can build a good team that way. I’m kind of a history buff, and all the best teams in history have kind of proven this theory. Jake (Barnes) and Clay (O’Brien Cooper) lived next door to each other in Arizona. I remember going over there when I was 5 or 6. Speed and Rich (Skelton) lived in the same town (Llano, Texas), and for a while across the street. That seems like a good blueprint on how to do it.
KS: You and Travis are a top-five team in the world right now. What are a few of your rodeo highlights in the early going of 2010?
CT: We won Rapid City and second at Denver. We made the semifinals at San Antonio, won second at Mesquite, placed in the second round at San Angelo and placed at Tucson. We’ve been consistent and have placed a lot. We’re going to try to keep that up.
KS: I don’t know that I’ve known a guy—with the possible exception of Tuff Hedeman back in his bull riding day—who hates losing more than you do.
CT: I don’t like to lose, and I expect a lot out of myself. I bounce back pretty quickly, but since I was a little kid and I lost a baseball game I’ve hated it. Failure just drives some people, and when I don’t do good it affects me. You can’t always do great. There are too many good ropers and too many variables. No one wins every time. But I still don’t think I’ve maxed out my ability, so I’m still trying to get better every day.
KS: Life is good, eh?
CT: I’m excited about these two new horses and about roping with Travis. He’s very dedicated, and he has the same goals as me. He’s rarely messed up since we started roping. We had a steer that handled terrible at San Antonio, and he got him roped. I joked with him then that if he starts messing up now I’m going to be upset, because I’ve seen him catch the uncatchable. He knows what he’s doing, he’s really roped outstanding and we’ve been winning. It’s always good when you work hard at something and reap the rewards.
KS: Who’s had the single largest impact on your career to date?
CT: My dad (NFR heeler Dennis Tryan). He set the foundation early for my brother and me, and got us headed in the right direction. He’s had a lot to do with my career and what I’ve achieved. He knew what it took. He would get after us when we needed it, and told us we were the greatest when we needed a pick-me-up. I don’t know how he knew back then that it’d be a header’s game in the future, but he was right on the money and it kind of went that way. It’s also been a big help to me that I was around the right people when I was younger, guys like Jake and Clay and Speed and Allen (Bach).
Graves, 26, lives in Jay, Okla., with his wife, Tamika…
Kendra Santos:OK, Mr. Wildfire Threepeater, why you?
Travis Graves: My partners have been great every year. Colter, Turtle and Clay are all awesome. My horse is great, too. I’ve grown up going to jackpots. That’s how I was raised, not to make mistakes and just to catch two feet. Not beating myself has been my mindset all the way through. You just have to focus and be disciplined about not taking bad shots.
KS: I remember you telling me that you won fourth at the 2005 Wildfire with Luke Brown, and spent that money on Tamika’s engagement ring. First of all, I guess I need to change your Wildfire career earnings total to $144,460. I also have to ask—what’d you do with the rest of the loot?
TG: We have a place in Jay, Okla., and also bought a place in Dublin, Texas. I’ve put most of it into real estate.
KS: Consistency is obviously your calling card. What’s the fastest you’ve ever been, when did it happen and where were you?
TG: I was 4.1 at the Finals in 2008 with Turtle and 4.1 at the rodeo in Austin one year with Blaine Linaweaver. I’ve never been 3 at a rodeo—yet.
KS: I also remember you telling me one time that it’s a little frustrating to be known only as a jackpot roper, because a great roper can do it all. What have you done in recent times to up the ante and bolster your versatility?
TG: I practice throwing fast a lot. I try to win every time I back in the box, and try not to just go catch. I’ve really worked on going faster, because I really can’t stand to be known as just a jackpotter. I want to be good at both.
KS: After roping at your first NFR in 2008, how important is it to get back
to Vegas this December?
TG: That’s why we do what we do—to get to the Finals. It’s a real motivator sitting there watching it on the couch. It’s very motivating after you’ve been there, because you know what you’re missing.
Turtle and I won Fort Worth and the Wildfire last year, and did decent at San Antonio. Then we just had heck and couldn’t get anything going. It wasn’t his fault. I roped a leg to win second at Cheyenne. If I’d caught that one steer, we might have gone on to make it. It just didn’t happen.
KS:Tell me more about old Superstar. I know he’s 16, that you bought him from your dad when he was 4 and you were 14, that you’ve won all three Wildfire titles on him and qualified for your first Finals on him too. Sounds to me like he qualifies as part of the family.
TG: Everything I have is because of this horse—my places and everything I’ve won. He’s so honest. He never tries to cheat you, and he can run.
KS: Tell me about roping with Clay.
TG: I’ve wanted to rope with Clay for a long time. He’s one of the best headers there is, in my eyes, and he has a great work ethic. He works at it every day. He’s dedicated, and he’s a winner. Clay loves to win. And he’s got good horses. He does whatever it takes.
KS: You never know about new teams when you consider how they might match up on paper. What is it about you two that works?
TG: We have the same goals. We run at least 40 or 50 steers a day when we practice together. Clay can reach or run close, and I catch two feet a lot. We’ve been staying at his house all winter, so we’ve been practicing a lot together.
KS: What’s the goal for 2010?
TG: To be the world champs. When Clay called and asked me to rope, he said he wanted to rope with me, but only if I wanted to be the world champion. I’ve wanted to do that since I was a little kid, so here we go.
KS:Is there one person you credit most for the success you’ve had in your young career?
TG: My family, Walt Woodard and my wife. My family for their support of what I wanted to do, and Walt for teaching me how to win. He’s taught me a lot, including all the basics. He used to put on schools at my dad’s house when I was 10. Then I went and stayed with him in California one summer. I still talk to Walt all the time. As for Tamika, well, I couldn’t do it without her. She goes with me all year long and supports my goals. She wants me to rope and rodeo, because that’s what I want to do. I’m excited. I’m not satisfied just to be off to a good start. I want the fun to last all year long. We’re working hard and we want to win it, so whatever it takes, I’m in.