The Inside Scoop with Dean Tuftin

Spin: A lot of our readers may not be familiar with the guy who is roping with 8-Time World Champion Speed Williams, so tell us a little bit about your roping background.

Dean: I’ve heeled my whole life. Grew up heeling. I won a Canadian title in 1992, Canadian Cowboys Association titles in 1993 and 1994 and won several amateur deals up there. My parents have a winter place in Arizona, so I started spending a lot of time in Arizona in the 1990s and going to Canada in the summers. I worked and rode horses, trained horses and got more into the horsemanship side of it, but would sneak off and go to the rodeos on the weekends.

In 1997, I was going to the rodeos in the fall-that was the first year Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) roped together-and the first one I went to was Caldwell (Idaho). Well, that was Speed and Rich’s first rodeo together. We traded with them and I didn’t know who Speedy was. That week we just kind of hit it off. I had never met Speedy or Rich and we just kind of hung out all fall at the Northwest rodeos. Of course, I play music and play guitar so we were playing music, playing basketball and having a good time.

Spin: So what happened that next year?

Dean: Getting to see Speed and Rich practice I was so blown away by how much Speed did things different when he practiced and how committed he was. I picked up on that and that’s the reason I went to heading. Because there were so many similarities between he and I and he was doing so many things I was into, like stressing the horsemanship part of, being the quarterback and being in control of your own destiny. So that next year, 1998, I started heading, bought a head horse and I think I ended up like 21st or 22nd heading. I’d never headed before that in my life. That year I headed for Chris Green. The next year I roped with Dugan Kelly and we ended up about the same. I won a little bit here and a little bit there, enough to make me realize I needed to go back to heeling.

Spin: So what happened to force you back to heeling?

Dean: Really, I had a good dun head horse I had bought from Joe Lucas and when he went down I had trouble replacing him. I always wanted to heel because my fundamentals were there and I had spent 20-some years working on my heeling. I felt like my fundamentals weren’t as strong heading. I could go reach and be a horseman and stuff, but I always wanted to heel. That’s what I had spent my life doing.

Spin: Earlier you mentioned that you play guitar? How did you pick that up?

Dean: Up until two years ago, I spent about five years writing music and going back and forth to Nashville and I did a lot of radio stuff back in Canada. I released one CD in Canada, had some luck, won some awards and got to play at the Canadian Country Music Awards and it really was a whole different life. That was me in the early 2000s: completely music. I have another album that I did in Nashville with RCA and released one single called “Wide Open Highways” off of it that went to No. 1 in Canada and won some awards. Now I’ve sat on the second album and haven’t done anything to release it, but maybe in the future I will. It’s all pretty radio-friendly stuff, comparable to Lonestar-that’s what I get compared to more than anything. I spent some time going back and forth to Nashville, had a chance to write with some great songwriters and did some videos for CMT Canada. It was a fun part of my life. I’ve done a lot in the past few years.

Spin: I guess so. Can we still buy your album?

Dean: If you live in Canada you probably could. I have a distribution deal up there with EMI Canada. I opened some shows for Sara Evans and did some festivals up there. That’s what I did until a year and a half ago. I’ve got two little girls and it’s just really hard to be gone and doing that. My passion has always been music, but my addiction has always been rodeo and roping.

Spin: I can’t image you travel much less rodeoing, do you?

Dean: No, but the thing is it’s a better environment. It’s more of a family environment. Music is more late at night, in and out of bars, around alcohol and stuff like that. It’s not a good place to raise your kids, I don’t think. For me, I love performing on the stage and writing music and producing music, but I would much rather spend the day out here heeling steers for Speed Williams.

Spin: Before we talk about what it’s like heeling for Speed, tell me more about your family, what are your girls’ names?

Dean: My wife, Leslie, and I have got two little girls, Maysa is 4-years-old and Maggie two-and-half and they’re out here on the rodeo trail with us, too. They kind of hit it off with Speedy’s little girl, Hali Wren, she’s three. Family’s a priority and with Speedy it works the same way. We both have those same goals. They’re a big part of our lives and just to palm them off on the wives and leave for months on end doesn’t really work for us. A lot of guys do, but I just can’t do it.

Spin: Well, back to the roping. How does it work between you and Speed?

Dean: Honestly, right from the beginning, we both spend a lot of time on the horsemanship side of it. That’s always been huge with me-almost detrimental to a point because I’m such a horse perfectionist. I’ve had to put that aside a little bit. Speed told me, man you’ve got to not worry about your horse and prepare and go rope. He’s the same way, he’s a perfectionist with his horses and his horsemanship.

Our styles fit each other. Everybody knows his style and my style compares to Rich. I won the USTRC Open Tour deal in 2003 and that’s just because I’m a catcher. I’m not the fastest guy out there. I sure don’t want to get into a shooting match with Kinney Harrell or Michael Jones or Kory Koontz, but my whole deal is to be consistent and patient and rope every steer by two feet. That’s been our game plan from day one.

Spin: How does that contrast with roping with Jake Barnes last year?

Dean: With Jake, we caught a tremendous amount of steers, but really our two styles didn’t fit. With him struggling with his thumb, he wasn’t in a reaching mode or an aggressive mode until later in the summer. We caught a lot of steers, but in the go-rounds we never placed and we might pick a little out of the averages here and there, but basically, somebody’s got to be the aggressor on a team and for Speed and I, our styles are compatible that way because he’s so aggressive and I’m not.

Spin: Who would you count as your mentors and people you admire in the roping game?

Dean: Al Bach. When I was a kid I went to Jake and Al’s schools. I probably went to three or four of Al’s schools. Whoever would come to Canada, I’d go to a school. My mom and dad were very supportive. Team roping just wasn’t that big a deal in Canada back in the 1980s. Clay (O’Brien Cooper) was always my idol, along with anybody else who watched team roping back in the 1980s and ’90s. Mike Beers has been an influence on me definitely, living in Oregon. We’ve practiced a lot and I’ve headed for him and heeled for Brandon (Beers, Mike’s son).

Spin: The Northwest is producing more and more great team ropers all the time. Tell me about your family, what kind of business are they in?

Dean: My wife’s family is a big player in the tire business in the Northwest. Les Schwab is the name of the company and he is my wife’s grandpa. Her mom passed away so now she and her sister kind of run it. She’s pretty involved that way and that makes it a little more challenging when we’re out here rodeoing.

Spin: I’ll bet she’s got some freedom to work wherever she’s at, though.

Dean: Exactly, she takes her laptop with her and her Blackberry, and every once in a while she’s got to fly home for meetings and that kind of stuff. We definitely stay involved.

Spin: How about your side of the family.

Dean: My family all lives in Canada. They’ve been involved in rodeo. My mom’s been to the Canadian Finals in the barrel racing, my dad’s won the Canadian Old Timers team roping, my brother is a bull fighter and has fought at the Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Finals. My family’s very rodeo-oriented.

Spin: How did you and your wife meet?

Dean: We met at the Pendleton Round-up.

Spin: In the Let ‘er Buck room?

Dean: I hate to say it, but kind of. Actually, we met through a mutual friend way back in 1998, started dating in 1999 and c’est la vie.

Spin: We keep getting off on tangents, but back to the arena, how did you and Speed end up partnering for 2007?

Dean: We talked a little bit about it last fall. I’d made a commitment to not be out here this year, but then I was able to buy Chili Dog (two-time PRCA/AQHA Heeling Horse of the Year) from Rich. Rich and I have done some horse swapping back and forth over the last few years and I always told him that if he ever wanted to sell that horse I’d be interested. Then he called me out of the blue last June and when the opportunity came up to buy him I took it.

Speedy’s recommendation was with the best heel horse out there, I shouldn’t just give myself one year, one chance, to make the Finals. Because I didn’t make it last year, I thought I needed to change things around where I had a partner that was more aggressive and allowed me to rope the way I rope. One of the things I brought to the table was some sponsorship for him so he didn’t have to be out there doing schools. So we made it work that way, so he can work on his roping, have some security and not have to go do schools, and Jake and Clay can get back together and do schools. Plus they’re obviously a great fit for one another. We basically swapped partners.

Spin: Tell us about Speed’s practice regimen. I’ve heard it’s pretty intense.

Dean: Speed works so hard at it. As I’m talking to you he’s in the heading box working on his horse. His level of commitment and the way he practices is amazing. I’ve known it, but to be his partner and be in that same mode is impressive. He takes it to a whole different level and that’s why he’s had so much success. I’ve never practiced so hard and so intense in my whole life. I’m physically sore: my hips and my shoulder. He’s got seven head horses and I’ve got six heel horses and we rope fresh, hard-running wild muleys every day.

Spin: Really? Why muleys?

Dean: Well, it’s easier on the horses, he gets them lighter, and basically he raises the difficulty in the practice pen. The higher the difficulty in practice, the easier it seems when we go somewhere. With heeling it makes a huge difference. They’re so fast and waspy on the back end, if you can heel them, you can heel those big old long-strided corrientes. It’s definitely been a change, but it’s been great.

Spin: Well, it seems like it’s working well so far. You won Fort Worth and San Antonio and at press time were 1st in the world standings.

Dean: Yeah, we had a little luck in San Angelo in the second round, too, and San Antonio was special.

Spin: Off to a great start. I guess the goal is like everybody else, make the Finals, right?

Dean: Make the Finals, rodeo hard and give ourselves an opportunity to compete for a world title. Look at Chad Masters, he didn’t really have a chance until the last steer and all of the sudden he’s one steer away from winning the world title. If you get there-especially roping behind Speedy-you’re going to have an opportunity. That’s my goal, and to enjoy the year and enjoy my family. Like tomorrow, we’re all headed to the San Antonio zoo.

One of my deals too, this year, is my friend Marty Becker. I grew up going to the Canadian rodeos with him and he is doing well this year. He’s riding one of my horses. Both of our goals are the same: to make the Finals and be the first Canadians to make the NFR in the team roping. Nobody’s ever done it and it would be fun to do it the same year because we’ve both been out here trudging along a long time. In fact, I’ve even headed for him at a few rodeos.

Spin: That would be a great storyline. How about long-term goals?

Dean: Truthfully, I’m going to take it one year at a time. My oldest girl is going to be in preschool next year and for me, the thought of traveling around while they’re in school probably won’t work. I’m going to need to be home.

I’ve been raising horses. My mother-in-law started it with a barrel horse she invested in that went to the Finals in 2000 with Marlene McRae. He was a Native Dancer stud and so we bought a bunch of reining horse mares and we’ve had a breeding program for five or six years now. I’ve got about 15-20 head of colts that are really the beginning of a breeding program. So that’s probably my future.

Spin: Well, thank you for the interview and best of luck.

Dean: Thank you. SWR

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