Wesley Thorp and Tyler Wade receiving their world championship saddles and gold buckles. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Click Thompson

By Lane Karney

  At the conclusion of the 2023 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge, it was Tyler Wade and Wesley Thorp who stood highest on the professional team roping mountain as the world champions. With $308,057 and $325,284 won respectively on the season, TWade fulfilled a dream he never really placed all his emphasis on, and Thorp strapped on his second gold buckle.

   “It hasn’t sunk in at all. I never thought I’d win it (the world title). I never even dreamed of winning it. I’ve always just wanted to rope for a living, whether that consisted of training horses, showing horses, anything roping. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” said TWade, 31, who lives in Terrell, Texas, with his barrel-horse-trainer wife, Jessi, and 5-year-old son, Weston. The Wades are expecting a baby girl in April. “Obviously I think that world championship deal is badass, but I just never dreamt of it, because I didn’t want that lone buckle to define my roping. So much stuff has to fall your way, and there are some guys that deserved one over the years that never got one.”
   In 2019, Thorp was the NFR average champ roping with Cody Snow, and the world champion heeler in a split world-title year, when Clay Smith won the heading championship. Getting to stand on that stage at the end with his partner made this one a little sweeter for Wesley.
   “This time was different, and more exciting to get to win it with my partner that I roped with at the Finals and throughout the year. When I won it in 2019, Cody and I had the same amount of money won. Mine and TWade’s money wasn’t even the same this year, but we got to win it together, which added to the excitement of this one,” said Thorp, 28, a Throckmorton, Texas native who now calls Stephenville home with his wife, Susanna, and sons, Matthew, 6, and Charlie, 4. “The other thing about this one compared to 2019 was I came into the NFR in the lead versus being a good bit further down. I hoped to win it in 2019, but I really didn’t even expect it. To go in with the lead isn’t like a huge advantage relative to how much can be won there, but it was kind of mine to lose. I didn’t put extra pressure on myself just because of that position, and just wanted to focus on doing the best I could on each steer. But I was a little curious about how it would hit me when I got there.”

Thorp roped his way to his second heeling world title in 2023. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Click Thompson

   Another significant storyline outside of the world championships is, of course, Clint Summers and Jake Long’s dominant display over the 10 rounds, winning or splitting four go-rounds, and placing in six total en route to finishing fifth in the average and being the winningest NFR team ropers with $182,517 (all NFR money totals include the $10,000 each contestant received upon arrival for qualifying).
   The other storyline, maybe the most raw and emotionally riveting, was Arizonans Derrick Begay and Colter Todd being the only team to catch 10 steers (in 69 seconds flat) to win the NFR average title. This one may have the most to unpack. Where to start, that the best friends cracked out on a whim? Or that Todd hadn’t rodeoed since making three-straight NFR appearances as a header from 2006 to 2008? I’d say it’s that this team making the NFR and capping it off with the average win was a truly authentic byproduct of two best friends doing what they love together. They won or placed in four rounds (split Round 7 three ways), won $131,010 in 10 rounds and finished fourth and third in the world standings, respectively.
   “I can’t put it into words in a few words. The only thing I can say is it was never planned. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like we had no plan and just showed up and won the average. But some guys like to golf or hunt together. Some like to go to town at night and hang out together. We’re friends, and that’s where this all started, from a friendship,” said Begay, 40, who lives in Seba Dalkai, Arizona, with his wife, Justine, and 4-year-old daughter, Brindle Mae. “He (Todd) loves ranching, and I like living off the land and we like all that. When we talk, it’s easy to have a conversation about anything. When we’re driving along, we’re talking about ranches, wondering who built what corral when, how they gather off this place and stuff like that. All the rodeoing we did, and I never needed a break. This is the most fun I’ve ever had.”
   The pureness of this story is so organic, and far from scripted.
   “I’ve always been addicted to roping, and probably always will be. I don’t do it every day, because I like to do other things, too. But I love the atmosphere of being at the rodeo, and riding in the box for competition. Rodeo took a backseat five or seven years ago for me, but it’s always back there,” said Begay, who has roped at 10 NFRs. “I’m always going to go, so when I wanted to rope with Colter at the (Turquoise) circuit rodeos, I asked him and he said, ‘Alright.’ Colter has a lot of responsibilities—a wife, kids and a ranch. When I asked him to throw rodeo in the mix, that’s a lot. To pull Colter away from his house, I figured I better not waste his time. But we did good enough that it was worth it.”

TWade taking one of two victory laps aboard his head horse Spur. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Hailey Rae

   Colter, the family-man rancher and now NFR switch-ender, shares the sentiment of not knowing how to sum it all up as he reflects on what exactly he and Begay just accomplished.
   “The trouble is, I don’t know how to feel. I still don’t know. The whole deal isn’t a good, normal story. The whole point is that we didn’t set out working for this, or even dreaming of this. We never, not one time, game-planned for the Finals or talked about what we were going to do. Even at the Finals, we never talked about roping as far as a team making a plan. What we had wasn’t even like roping with a partner, but rather just like friends. It would be like going hunting with your best friend, and just seeing what happened,” said Todd, who ranches around Willcox with his wife, Carly; 18-year-old daughter, Madilyn; 15-year-old son, Colter Lee; and 14-year-old son, Traven.
   “I think we have the confidence that we know what the other is thinking. We were there to enjoy the moment, the whole thing from start to finish, more than you ever would, because it wasn’t ‘supposed to happen.’ We just went out there to purely rope for the love of the game. I still don’t know what to think about all of it, I’m still trying to live in that moment,” said Todd, who turned 40 on January 3. “Last year was so fun it was unreal, and compared to when I made it heading, I had no expectations this time. You obviously have expectations for what you want to do when you start your day, but there’s a difference in having that and the reality or knowledge to know—who knows? I hate saying the word ‘blessed,’ because I feel like it’s a word that is thrown around when something good happens. But blessed is about the best word I can think of. It’s cool to have a trinket that says NFR average champion, too.”
   So, will the whirlwind of Begay and Todd continue?
   “We entered the winter rodeos. Will this story happen again? Probably not. We wanted this, but didn’t know if we could do it. These guys rope so good, it’s hard to win something. To win enough to make the Finals is something. It was never said between us that we could make the Finals. People would say it, and we’d laugh and kind of ignore it. You always wonder, but I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think we were good enough together. I don’t think our families even believe this happened,” laughed Begay. “We entered Denver, but didn’t get up right, so we’re not going. We’ll go to Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston and after that who knows. If my career ended today, I’d be fine, but don’t know how you can top this roping with Colter.”
   Todd’s just soaking it all in as it comes.
   “I don’t really know. I haven’t gotten to heel at the winter rodeos before, so that’ll be fun to get to go to those this year. Begay hasn’t said anything, and I haven’t asked, so I don’t think anything has changed from last year to this year. We’ll see where God leads us and no harm, no foul if we don’t go again, if it’s not supposed to be.”
   The ride of 2023 is one the world champs, TWade and Thorp, don’t want to end, either. On their way to strapping on the gold buckles, the two tied the world and NFR record of 3.3 seconds to win Round 8. They followed that up with a 3.5-second, Round-9-winning run, and finished third in the average with 58.9 seconds on nine steers. They parlayed their efforts to $153,141 in NFR earnings alone.
   “After the Finals, we won the jackpot in Texarkana on the last day of 2023, and I told Thorp, ‘I don’t want this year to end.’ Going into 2024, I just want to continue to make a living roping. I don’t want to lose that perspective that we’re getting to do exactly what we want to be doing,” said Wade, who’s now a 6-time NFR veteran.
   So, how about those back-to-back 3-second runs that ultimately set them up to catch in Round 10 for the world championship?
   “It was so cool to tie the record. I bought the steer, and I’m going to rope him until he slows down enough to let Weston rope him. In the moment, we didn’t enjoy it like we probably would have if we were out of the average, and just going for go-rounds, because we were so focused on the next steer,” said TWade, who rode his reserve AQHA/PRCA Head Horse of the Year Espuelo Bro, better known as Spur. “The coolest run to me was the one we were 3.5 on. The 3.3 just came together, but we were last out in the ninth round, and we were watching the round shape up. Four flat was last hole, and we needed to win $20,000 more in the rounds than anybody else in contention and hold our spot in the average to secure the world title. I looked over at Wesley and said, ‘We have to get it tonight or tomorrow night, so we might as well try it on tonight.’ We had planned and prepared for it, and it worked out.”
   For Thorp, the record run was a huge morale boost heading into the final two nights.
   “We had a gameplan of our run out there, and kept telling ourselves to stick with it. No matter what, we were committed to it. The night of Round 8, TWade texted me, ‘What’s the fastest you’ve ever been here?’ It made me laugh thinking he’s about to go fast, but it was huge momentum and took a load off. It makes you forget about anything that hadn’t gone great earlier in the week,” said Thorp, who rode his 15-year-old black horse, RayJay. “The first rounds were OK, and then we had some tough rounds and I missed one. But it seemed like every night when we went to run our steer, the ball was pretty well in our court. We didn’t get in a longshot position, so we knew if we just did what we could do, we’d be fine.”
   Knowing what you can or need to do is one thing. Executing in that moment is another. When Round 10 rolled around, and TWade and Thorp were last to rope, a catch would seal the deal.
   “Wesley knew all the numbers, but I just kind of had a feeling. I was just going to rope, and hope it was good enough. I was genuinely not worried about anything other than my job, rather than worrying about what everybody else was doing. I didn’t want to run over myself; to just be in the barrier and rope the cow in the same spot as practicing,” said TWade. “It’s one thing at Cheyenne if you have to be 9 versus 19, but there is no changing anything there (at the Thomas & Mack). I told Wesley that even if we had to be 60 seconds, I was going to take two swings and head the steer. It’s better for me to not play it so safe at the barrier that you bounce them off the stripping chute or lose your rope or something.”
   Thorp was thrilled with their execution in that moment for all the chips.
   “It can be intimidating night to night, because you have a gameplan. But when 4 flat is winning last on any given night, and you’re four teams away, it’s easy for audibles to slip into your mind. Our plan in the 10th round was to not overthink it. TWade wanted to stay aggressive at the barrier, and keep the steer moving. I wanted to get around him, and take my first best shot when I saw the chance. Basically, be aggressive in how I rode, but not take a blind throw. It felt like the perfect mix of controlled, but not being too safe,” said Thorp, who has heeled at eight-consecutive NFRs. “We practiced that run so much all year, and when we were at home practiced having to catch in Round 10 to win the world. We told ourselves that a lot getting ready, so it was fun to see those runs we made work out there.”

TWade and Thorp finished third in the average with 58.9 seconds on nine head. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Click Thompson

TWade spinning one to win Round 9 in 3.5 seconds. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Clay Guardipee

Begay and Todd caught all 10 steers to win the NFR team roping average. Resort World’s Luke Trusty, left, and Montana Silversmiths’ Judy Wagner presenting. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Roseanna Sales

Begay roped at his 10th NFR in 2023. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Hailey Rae

Todd heeling their Round 7 steer to split the win three ways with Clint Summers and Jake Long, and Clay Smith and Paden Bray. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Hailey Rae

You have no rights to post comments