Looking through the lineup for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each year, you usually don’t have to look long before you see contestants with matching surnames.
Finding family ties in this sport is nearly as easy as spotting a cowboy hat in Las Vegas this time of year. The world of rodeo has often been likened to a big extended family, and there are plenty of examples of literal family connections.
Riley and Brady Minor have already made waves in the team roping after winning the opening round and splitting first in Round 3. Header Clay Tryan is the brother of 11-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Travis Tryan, who finished 16th in the heeling standings to narrowly miss out on another Wrangler NFR berth.
Heeler Jim Ross Cooper is the second cousin of two-time and reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper Tuf Cooper, tie-down roper Clif Cooper and first-time Finals barrel racer Shada Brazile. Her last name should sound familiar since she is the wife of all-around king Trevor Brazile, and she is the Cooper brothers’ stepsister as well.
At the kickoff of Cowboy FanFest at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, Trevor was asked what Shada qualifying for this year’s Wrangler NFR meant to him.
“It means I’m going to get a lot less publicity,” he joked. “We are so glad. Our family has been represented so well out here for many years, but this year we’ve got two first-timers.
“I’m so proud of her. She’s been with me for all 18 championships, and she has made whatever sacrifices it took, raised to kids and started her own clothing line. Now, she’s been able to try her hand at this and be successful at it. It’s been a fun journey, and we’re looking forward to this week.”
Family is everything in rodeo, a sport that is passed down from generation to generation.
There’s no greater illustration of the depth of family ties in the sport than this year’s saddle bronc riding. For the second consecutive season, brothers Cody, Jesse and Jake Wright are part of the 15 riders nodding their head each night, and they are all in contention for a gold buckle as well.
After winning the first round, Jake talked about the calming effect having his brothers and other family members at the Finals has on him.
“Today, I got a little bored, so I went over to Cody’s hotel and hung out with him and his kids,” said Jake, who also won Round 4 on Sunday night. “It’s fun and helps me stay relaxed to have family here with me. Having them around keeps us grounded, and it’s nice to be able to spend time with them.”
Jacobs and Sterling Crawley are also in the saddle bronc riding field, and Heith DeMoss the younger brother of nine-time Wrangler NFR saddle bronc rider Cody DeMoss. Tuf and Clif Cooper keep the brother theme going in the tie-down roping, and their cousin, Stetson Vest, is former World Champion Stran Smith’s nephew and the grandson of former Wrangler NFR tie-down roper Clifton Smith.
In the barrel racing, reigning World Champion Mary Walker is the wife of former World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker. And everyone knows who two-time and reigning World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild’s father is.
There are a number of other family connections running through this year’s 119 Wrangler NFR contestants, but you get the idea.
The family angle is, honestly, one of the most compelling aspects of the sport of rodeo, and it definitely deepens its charm. Athletes have said it for years, winning and having success is much sweeter when they can share it with family and friends, and that is always the case in ProRodeo.
Fans appreciate it because the Western community routinely enjoys the sport with their loved ones and relatives. When they come to the Thomas & Mack Center, they’re often sitting side by side with family members as they witness history unfold before them.
During the holiday season, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.