On the rodeo road, people are polite. It's one of the values that draws fans to the sport and keeps people involved in the lifestyle. Sure, no one out there is perfect and no one rodeoing is beyond reproach in every interaction they have. But by and large, there's a polite, respectful attitude among the cowboys both toward each other and outsiders. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that they see one another everywhere they go. Rodeo, in fact, is a pretty small group of performers traveling the country more-or-less on the same schedule. So a polite and respectful attitude can go a long way.
JoJo LeMond and Randon Adams decided during the 2008 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo to join forces for the 2009 season, thus beginning their polite partnership. On paper, LeMond and Adams looks like a highly combustible partnership. Both men are known for their speed. Traditionally, successful teams are made up of one risk taker and one steady hand. With two gunslingers, the results are usually boom or bust.
For the first four months of the 2009 season, that's exactly what was happening for LeMond and Adams. Win a round and go out of the average.
"JoJo and I just took turns messing up," Adams, the reigning world champion heeler, said. "I slipped a leg here and there, roped my horse's front leg somewhere, roped a leg sometime. Denver, the second rodeo of the year, we placed in the first round. In the second round, he spun one off to be really fast-3 something-and I roped him and lost him. Little bit of bad luck and me not being as smart a roper as I could be."
For LeMond, the frustration created a more pressing need for immediate correction.
"It had gotten to the point where we rope good enough that this kind of stuff shouldn't have been happening," he said. "I asked Rambo [Randon's nickname], I said, 'I'm open to suggestions for anything to make our team better.' I kind of thought that it was important not to go to California and to come home to work stuff out and see if I needed to do something different or trade head horses."
So, instead of going on the California spring rodeo run through Red Bluff and Clovis, they went to Andrews, Texas, LeMond's hometown, to get to the bottom of the problem.
"We come home after Laughlin and Logandale to my house for a week and saddled every horse we could find up and went to breaking it down and talking about it," LeMond said.
So, they turned steer after steer, trying to get to the root of their struggles.
"We roped all day," Adams said. "We had five or six horses saddled apiece for a week straight. The guys that reach a lot like him, kind of round their corners. I like a steer to break over a little more."
Even though he realized that was the root of their struggles, he stayed true to the cowboy polite nature and didn't say anything.
"It kind of took some time for me to build up to tell him that. I never told him until the last day," he said. "Heck, it's my job to catch them anyway no matter what they do. But I finally told him, 'The position I ride, I felt like it would be a little better if you could break them over a little better-kind of swing their butt out there a little further and give me a for-sure corner.'"
And for LeMond, hearing that from his heeler immediately swept away the frustration he was feeling.
"He's the best heeler going down the road right now," LeMond said. "I knew there was something going on, and sure enough it was me. The last steer we roped in the practice pen was when we talked about it. He didn't want to say anything to offend me and I was like, 'You're not going to offend me.' We got to talking about it and after that steer it was over.
"We figured out that I was hiding the steers from him in the corner. I was letting my horses go up too much, thinking I could ride closer because he does throw so fast. But the steers weren't hitting on the end of the rope, they were just rounding and rolling up the pen. I got to where, when I was roping them, I could set my horse more and give him more of a snap in the corner so his horse could read it. Before they were just running in the blind. It was nobody's fault but mine."
But, once they quit worrying about one another's feelings, they started to work out other details that opened up the floodgate.
"We talked about setting our run up and where to keep the steer in the middle of the arena, left or right. We talked about all that stuff, trying to give us both a better chance to win," Adams said. "He told me, 'It's my job to catch them no matter where they go.' So I said, "Where do you like them?" He likes them to stay a step off to the right, where some headers like them to come left. We just broke it down and practiced a lot and had a lot of rhythm at the house."
Suddenly, Adams was able to haze the steers in a way that fit LeMond's style better.
"I like the steer to be a touch right or straight and to run the same pattern every time," LeMond said. "I don't like a steer coming into me where I have to push my horse over to get away from it. The speed generally doesn't matter."
Each roper slightly adjusted his approach to allow the other to rope to his strength without sacrificing the good of the team. And it didn't take long for a breakthrough to confirm the newfound comfort the team discovered.
In the first round of the Buc Days ProRodeo in Corpus Christi, Texas, Adams and LeMond roped their steer in 3.5 seconds to tie the world record.
"The steer was straight, maybe a step to the right," Adams said. "JoJo hit the barrier, threw and squared up real fast. He was kind of a quick-handling steer, we roped him and that was it."
LeMond, who won Corpus Christi last year, agreed.
"It happened really fast. That's as close to a perfect run as I've had," he said. "You have to hit the barrier at the right time, that steer has to set up perfect and then my guy heeled him right there when he turned."
But the real test for the new approach would come in the second round. Sure, the guys had tied the world record, but they'd been fast before. Could they follow it up?
"We knew we had a little time," Adams said of the cushion a 3.5-second run will give a team in a two-header. "JoJo was a little late on the barrier and that steer tried a lot more than our first one. We just knew we had to catch him, so we ran him down there, and he took an extra swing and I took an extra swing, and it just kind of worked out. That's what we haven't been able to do all year, is make two clean runs. It feels like we have our confidence up a little bit and we'll be able to start over and go try to get everybody."
In the end, the two were 8.2 seconds on two head and each pocketed $3,398. After the weekend, LeMond moved to 12th in the world standings and Adams moved to 14th.
"I wish I'd have beaten it," LeMond said of the 3.5-second world record. "That's a deal I wanted. I like going fast. But the win was the biggest deal to us. We had kind of gotten off to a slow start. We'd been winning a lot of go-rounds, but we haven't placed in the average much. Finally winning an average was pretty exciting."
Nonetheless, he joins Blaine Linaweaver and Jory Levy, who first set the mark in San Angelo, Texas in 2001, Clay Tryan and Patrick Smith, who tied it in 2005 at the Wrangler NFR, Colter Todd and Cesar de la Cruz, who turned in the time at the Wrangler ProRodeo Championships in Dallas in 2008 and Travis Tryan and Cory Petska, who stopped the clock in 3.5 at the NFR last year.
"Even after Corpus, we went out to his house and were working at it," Adams said. "He ropes so good, I'd hate to lose him because I wasn't doing my part. We get along good too, so it's worked out. I just got to sit down and realize that when I have a partner that throws as fast as JoJo, I can take an extra swing or two. I think I was trying to throw so fast every time to try to be 3 or 4. He even told me it wouldn't hurt for me to take an extra swing from time to time."
LeMond, too, feels that the boot camp session-and the candid expression of what each needed in order to be their best-might have turned the tide on a season.
"I feel like we have good chemistry together and we get along great and we'll do really well together, we just had to work through these deals," he said. "I'm really excited about going. I hate to say this, because I don't want it to come back and bite me, but I think he and I should dominate as a team, with the horses he's got and the horses I've got."
In fact, there is a chance that this partnership could continue raising the bar in team roping. Few, if any, teams have been able to consistently go at top speed.
"It comes with the head horses that I ride," LeMond said. "The three good horses I have right now, as soon as my rope leaves my hand, they start getting ready and getting down and stepping out. I think a horse has got to be stepping out. I don't think my horses duck. They go forward and step out-widening. Speed [Williams] was the originator of that. He was so far advanced at having his horses going forward and pushing instead of having his horses dropping back and washing those steers out. It just makes the steers hit in front of your guy. Randon wants the steer to switch just a touch more than a lot of guys because he throws in the switch a lot more-or the first available hop-he's throwing."
Those horses are allowing these guys to take those chances and push the edge of what seems possible in the arena.
Since giving him a month off after the Wrangler NFR, Adams is riding his reigning PRCA/AQHA Heel Horse of the Year, Diesel.
"I'm still trying to get his belly rode off. He's been working good, but some places he's not as sharp as he can be," Adams said. "I never grain him, but they turned him out and grained him, so when I got home he was like a totally different horse: pretty fresh and wanting to go. We weren't riding him enough after the Finals to keep him in shape like I should have been, but I wanted him to have some time off. I feel bad for running a lot on him, but if I don't run him two or three times a week, he gets like me: fat and out of air quick."
LeMond is riding Bull, the horse that carried him to his first Wrangler NFR last year.
"I rode him when we were 3.9 at Austin and when we were 4.0 at Denver," he said. "That's what I try to ride all the time. I've got a horse that [Randon's] brother Jay rode, called Hollywood. I've got another horse-a full brother to Diesel-called Propane coming on really, really well. I call him Propane and Randon calls him Farm Diesel because he looks like something you wouldn't take off the farm."
But no matter what you call their horses, this pairing could be changing the way teammates choose one another and, as a result, the face of the sport.
Like LeMond said, "When we connect, it's so fast."
If they connect consistently, it could be lightning in a bottle.
Every year, there are new faces that win big rodeos in the winter then, as the season progresses, for whatever reasons, they disappear from the scene. On the other hand, some new faces make a splash at a big winter rodeo and it propels them throughout the rest of the season.
Barrel racer Mattie Little was one of those new faces in San Antonio. As the daughter of barrel and rope horse breeder, Jud Little-who let her have one year to rodeo before getting a real job-the odds of success tipped in her favor with great horse available to her. But still, the rodeo road takes a certain fire in the belly to withstand. Would Little have that?
After wins in Montgomery, Ala., and now Corpus Christi, Texas, it appears she's got the moxie to make a run to the NFR, and the horse to carry her there in a mare she calls Bugs.
"I was able to make it to the finals of San Antonio with hitting a couple of barrels, but we found out after that she was needing some injections really, really bad," Little said of her horse. "I felt really bad. But once we got that figured out, she hasn't been hitting nearly as many barrels. Now I know her issues and I know how to fix them. Now that she's sound, everywhere we've gone she's just been great every time, working hard."
In Corpus Christi, a one-header, she stopped the clock in 13.30 seconds. The run confirmed that with the right maintenance, Bugs can excel in short setups as well as longer ones
"My horses are the priority, not making the NFR," Little said. "I don't want to hurt her in any way, so I'm just not going to push her limits in any way. If I do good, great, but I'm not going to expect anything."
She might start raising her expectations a little. After a $4,700 win in Corpus Christi, she's got $33,976 for the season, and sits third in the WPRA standings.
Saddle Bronc Riding
Bradley Harter might be putting together the best season of his career. After wins in Denver, Austin and Lufkin, Harter came to Corpus Christi for a rematch with Frontier Rodeo's Let 'Er Rip.
Last year, Harter drew the horse in Amarillo and missed him out. Since then, no one has gotten a score on the horse.
"That horse is one of the buckingest horses in the PRCA," Harter said. "He's not big, but he's a psychotic little sucker."
So psychotic that last year in Jackson, Miss., he jumped out of the back pens and ran through the parking lot.
"I tried to make sure I got a good spur out," Harter said of the rematch. "He almost got me bucked off right there, but I got sat back down and felt like I made a good ride. Still, it felt like I could have gotten bucked off at any time."
The judges liked it and awarded him a 91 for his efforts, matching a personal best for Harter, earning him $4,760 and putting him in a solid third place in the world standings.
"I've just been staying healthy and keeping my head up," he said. "I want to be a world champion."
All-around: Joe Beaver, $4,494 team roping and tie-down roping; Bareback riding: Wes Stevenson, 86 points on Frontier Rodeo's Badlands Bay, $5,465; Steer wrestling: Jule Hazen, 7.6 seconds, $5,035; Tie-down roping: Bubba Paschal, 17.0 seconds on two, $5,096; Bull riding (tie): J.B. Mauney on Frontier Rodeo's Leprechaun and Bobby Welsh on Frontier Rodeo's Lightning Bug, 90 points, $6,325 each.
Meanwhile in California
As JoJo LeMond and Randon Adams made history in south Texas, Chad Masters and Jade Corkill-another team capable of changing how team ropers compete-showed their dominance on the west coast.
The two roped three steers in 20 seconds to win $5,141 each.
Masters, who at press time was third in the PRCA World Standings, was excited about the success since reuniting with Corkill in late March.
"We've had a lot of good luck so far. I ran 13 head once we started at Logandale and our goal was to catch all of them and see what they paid us in the end. Jade missed the first one and rebuilt and we were still 11," Masters said. "He roped a leg at Oakdale and I missed one at Red Bluff and, other than that we roped them all.
"I drew as good as we could draw all month. At Clovis, we drew the best one and won the second round. We probably could have done a little better on the last one, but I took an extra swing. A guy doesn't want to get too selfish."
In sum, Masters, the 2007 world champ, figures they won $14,000 apiece during the month of April.