Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of guest columns that will be featured on the NFR Insider page on NFRExperience.com from time to time leading up to December’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Five-time World Champion Lewis Feild is a ProRodeo Hall of Famer, a National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum honoree and the father of three-time World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild. Here, he gives exclusive details about his thoughts and feelings while winning three consecutive all-around gold buckles from 1985-87 and narrowly missing out on a fourth in 1988.
BY LEWIS FEILD
Clay O’Brien Cooper was so dominant in the team roping at that time. If you look back, if the money would have been equal, he probably would have beat me in ‘85. There were quite a few years there – and everybody knows it – where he was a tough competitor.
I remember in ‘85, I think it was the ninth round maybe – and they didn’t announce things like that back then – that mathematically I think I had it won. I remember getting off one and thinking I’d won the world.
I didn’t know how to feel. It was weird and was my first championship.
I remember talking to J.C. Trujillo about it – he was really supporting me and helping me – and him telling me it was forever, that it doesn’t matter if you do it one time or 10 times, you’re forever a world champion. That’s really the only thing I remember going through my mind, and other than that, I felt pretty much the same.
Looking back, I kind of knew it was coming. At some point, the numbers are just in your favor.
With the all-around and bareback, I don’t remember really having any favoritism one way or the other. Either one could count as my first world title, and I happened to have won two at the same time.
I was elated enough for one, let alone two. They were just hand-in-hand.
You can’t hardly explain the difference when you go from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas, with all due respect to Oklahoma City. I went there four years, and it was great and absolutely fabulous.
I really respect everything Oklahoma City did, and at the time when we were going there, it was the greatest thing going. But when it moved to Las Vegas, it put everything in a whole different perspective by doubling the money.
In Oklahoma City in ’84, I looked at the numbers at the end of the year, and when your name is right there toward the top and you’re running numbers through your head and saying, “Well, if this happened,” or “Well, if that happened,” or “If I did this or would have done that,” it’s pretty easy to imagine yourself being able to win an all-around title. I had all of the confidence in the world that I could continue to do better than I’d been doing, and I didn’t think there was any bucking horse out there that could throw me off or that I couldn’t ride well.
It was just something I thought was very attainable.
I remember hearing the comment made that the way rodeo was structured at that time, a roughstock guy would never win the all-around again. If you added up the total money available to win of, say, a calf roper compared to a bareback rider, it was a huge difference because they had two-headers and all.
It looked like the deck was stacked against us roughstock guys, but even though there was so much more money, if you win a lot and win enough, you’re going to win a gold buckle. I never did think it was unattainable, but at the same time, I was just riding.
I really enjoyed what I was doing and definitely wanted to win a gold buckle and a championship, but I was riding to make a living and basically went at it one horse at a time and just enjoyed the ride.
In those years, everything was always going to the next level for me, and I kind of expected those things to happen and to win titles. I didn’t feel like there was any pressure to repeat or anything like that.
Thinking back, I’m sure I expected to or thought it was very possible to do it. I don’t think it surprised me very much when I did repeat. A lot of times, these things happen, and from one night to the next night, you know where you are in the standings and what’s going on.
At that time, I just remember expecting things to happen that would allow me to win the championships. But sometimes, the chips don’t fall in your favor and things may happen when you don’t even make a mistake. Something out of the ordinary can happen, or you can make a mistake, too.
I don’t have a lot of specific recollections or any specifics about some of those races.
In 1986, that was my first time qualifying in two events – bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. Having won the all-around the previous year only qualifying in one event and being there in two events, my confidence level was even higher.
I remember, with bonuses and everything, going home with $50,000 from the Finals that year, and that was probably like going home with $250,000 in this day and age. It’d be really interesting to see the value of the dollar compared then and now.
Kaycee was born in ’87, and I remember coming close to a title in the bronc riding that year. That was special to me, because when I got my card in ’80, if someone had asked me which was my stronger event, I probably would have said the saddle bronc riding.
So, at the very beginning, my expectations were higher in the bronc riding than they were in the bareback riding, but that’s just not the way it worked out. I won Rookie of the Year in the bareback riding instead of the bronc riding, so things just kind of switched on me.
At the same time, I always felt just as capable in the bronc riding. Having a good Finals that year in the bronc riding was real satisfying, and at that time I had some nagging injuries.
I was always entered in the bareback riding, but had some pain and some elbow issues, so it was just nice to get on a bronc sometimes and let my body heal up for the bareback riding. It was nice to have that time off from the bareback riding and heal up so I’d feel a bit better.
Finishing second in ’88 was kind of shocking to me, and I didn’t expect that. I’d roped a lot that year – probably more than 30 rodeos – and I didn’t win that much, but I’d placed eight, 10 or 12 times.
It was somewhere around $1,800 or $2,000 that I’d earned in team roping, and it was enough that, if the PRCA had counted it, I would have won the all-around. At that point, I didn’t win enough in the team roping for it to count in the all-around, and I don’t even remember what the rules were.
But that money was taken away from me in the standings, so I didn’t like that part of it. That was disappointing.
I had a pretty good lead, was qualified in two events and had a decent year in the team roping, but the rules were the rules. Now, it’s changed, and I’m pretty sure even a penny counts in a third event.
The intent of the rule wasn’t to do what it did to me though.
I don’t remember the specifics of how it all came down in Vegas that year, and I don’t even remember why I got a no-score in Round 9 in the bareback riding. I was either bucked off or missed the horse out.
Of course, it was disappointing not winning that title. But by the time I was home a day or two later and involved with daily life, the kids, my wife, getting ready for Christmas and things like that, I just wasn’t too worried about it.
Winning three all-arounds in a row was great, and I didn’t realize I was the first guy to win three straight since Tom Ferguson. Tom was really the guy in that era before I started who was as dominant as anybody ever.
They didn’t beat him much, I tell you that, and there are some people out there who aren’t real knowledgeable about the sport who don’t realize that. He was a great, great cowboy.
To be able to win the first three in Vegas and for the Finals moving there, it’s pretty special to be on the same page with Vegas. Both of our successes in the game came together, and I remember how exciting it was pulling in there after coming up over the hill on I-15 from the North and seeing the city for the first time every year.
With Kaycee coming along with all of his success, we have lots and lots of fond memories from Vegas. We keep going on, and we keep having great memories.
Feild beat Clay O’Brien Cooper for the 1985 PRCA all-around title by $3,598 and also won the bareback riding gold buckle that year, becoming the first roughstock cowboy to win the all-around since Larry Mahan in 1973. He then finished $38,774 ahead of Chris Lybbert for the all-around gold buckle in 1986 after again winning the bareback riding title and won his third all-around in a row in 1987 by finishing $30,169 ahead of Lance Robinson. Feild lost the 1988 all-around crown to Dave Appleton by a mere $643 after Appleton won Round 10 of the bareback riding to claim the bareback riding NFR average title.