For many members of the Fort Hays State University Rodeo Team, rodeo is beyond a hobby and something they do for fun. In fact, if enough time and effort is put into an event, it can lead to some pretty hefty paychecks—and national championships.
Take, for example, freshman Gage Blair, who won $2,234 at one team roping event this year and $2,938 at another.
Along with competing in college rodeo, Blair also ropes in the United States Team Roping Championships, as do junior Bret Daly, sophomore Colton Stueve and FHSU Rodeo Team assistant coach Ross Russell.
According to USTRC Online, the USTRC has been known as the leading association for championship team roping events for amateur ropers since 1989.
Back in 2005, the USTRC put out nearly $25 million in cash and prizes for its members, making that season the largest and richest team roping event in history.
Blair, Daly, Russell and Stueve all qualified for the USTRC National Finals this past weekend by winning a national “shootout” in the 2009 USTRC season. The finals were in Oklahoma City, where over $5 million was on the line.
Although the four from FHSU did not do as well as they had hoped in Oklahoma City, their season’s successes are enough to prove just how talented they are.
In order to win one of these shootouts, the team must have four consecutive clean—and fast—runs. They must correctly and legally catch both the steer’s head and heels four times in a row.
This is not easy to do. These cowboys have to put all distractions aside and focus on the task at hand.
“My partner and I wanted to get to nationals, so we knew that we had to rope everything that came to us one run at a time,” Blair said. “It’s not easy traveling so far to a roping and rope four head clean with the fact that you’re roping for a lot of money. You can’t let the fact that there’s a lot of money on the line get in your head.”
Blair not only won two regional shootouts, one in Topeka and one in Hutchinson, each with total payouts of around $15,000, but he also won a national shootout in Tunica, Miss. That one had a total payout of nearly $23,000.
“I was pleased with the way my horse worked and the way my partners roped,” Blair said. “It was a good experience to rope in Mississippi because I’d never roped there.”
Topeka also proved a successful event for Stueve, who won a national shootout there. This is Stueve’s fifth year in the USTRC.
“It was pretty good to finally get one (national shootout) after five years. It was exciting to be down there (at the national finals),” Stueve said. “I just wish things would have gone better.”
Daly, on the other hand, won his national shootout in Cheyenne, Wyo., this September. Having roped in the USTRC for eight years, Daly won his first national shootout, too.
Russell, who has been roping in the USTRC for ten years, won a national shootout in Denver, Colo. Although he has won a few national shootouts before, he never went to the national finals until this year.
“Didn’t have the money to go,” Russell said.
Just because these cowboys earn money for doing well at an event doesn’t mean they always have stacked bank accounts. They not only have to pay their fuel and expenses to get to a roping, but they also have to pay entry fees in order to compete, which range from $100 to $300 per person, per shootout. Add that to the cost of fuel, and the numbers add up.
“You don’t go into one of these deals expecting to lose,” Russell said. “It’s just like buying a lottery ticket—you think ‘what if I won?’ That’s why you check it. With all the time and practice you put into team roping, it’s still a gamble. You’ve always got the draw (steer that you rope) in mind. It’s a gamble. It’s what we do.”
Now that the 2009 USTRC season has come to a close, these cowboys will start entering ropings for the 2010 season right away beginning this month.
For more information on team roping and the USTRC, visit their web site at www.ustrc.com.