Anytime Tuf Cooper enters the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo leading the world standings, it’s hard to bet against him. He came into the Finals as the front-runner when he won his first title in 2011 and 2014, when he won world titles. (In 2012, he had to overcome Cody Ohl’s lead in dramatic fashion.)
This year, Cooper didn’t skyrocket to his $30,000 lead until winning the $50,000 top prize at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo in Salt Lake City. Despite that, he’s come up big at rodeos large and small all year. He knows what it takes to win in Vegas, so he’s got to be the favorite.
What’s unique to this race, however, is the amount of gold buckles that will be chasing him. Caleb Smidt is nipping at his heels in the No. 2 spot. Shane Hanchey isn’t far behind, reigning World Champion Tyson Durfey is in the top five and Trevor Brazile is just outside of it. In sum, there are eight tie-down gold buckles represented by five ropers all in the top 10 of the world standings. This race could easily prove to be a dogfight from Round 1 until the last calf.
Cooper’s strategy will be interesting to observe. Because he’s the frontrunner in the all-around race, how much will that play into his tie-down game plan? Will he be conservative? Will he go for the day money and let the average fall where it will? Either way, he can beat the field, so look for him back on the top of the podium when the dust settles.
If there’s one slam-dunk world title prediction, it’s Tiany Schuster winning her first gold buckle at her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. She shattered the regularseason earnings record and at press time had an $80,000 lead on the field.
The biggest win came in the form of a $111,750 payday at the Calgary Stampede aboard her sorrel gelding, Show Mance. Mostly, though, Schuster is consistent, placing and getting checks everywhere she enters. If she can do that at the NFR, she’ll be in the hunt for that big average check at the end of the week, which would only further secure the stranglehold she’s got on the top spot.
Stevi Hillman, who is second to Schuster, Amberleigh Moore, Kassie Mowry and Nellie Miller have the best shot at unseating the runaway leader. But realistically, Schuster just has too good of horses and too much of a lead to give anyone else a realistic chance this year.
In addition to Show Mance, Schuster hauls a horse called JSYK Im Famous (the JSYK stands for Just So You Know). And just so you know, Schuster should be the next barrel racing world champion.
Throughout this training, it’s essential that the stopping is always your idea, not his. Also, the more you ask him to retreat from the obstacle, the more it seems you don’t really want him to go right up to it, and the more you do that, the more curious your horse becomes. This works to your advantage!
Each time you ask him forward, try to let him come a little closer to the obstacle, while always stopping him before he stops on his own. Once he’s fairly close, if he tries to smell and investigate the log, let him. Horses sometimes need to perform their own little safety check on an object before they’re comfortable with it.
If you continue patiently with approach- and-retreat, eventually your horse will go over the log. At first, he may fumble over it or jump it in a hurry. That’s normal and should be expected. With practice, he’ll relax and figure out how to place his feet and negotiate the obstacle neatly. Don’t try to micromanage his feet at this point.
When he’s stepping carefully, encourage him to stop and rest when he’s halfway over the log. Let him know that going over really is just no big deal.
mount up and ride him over the log. You’ll use the same strategy in the saddle that you used on the ground—that is, making it your horse’s idea to step over the obstacle.
Approach the log at a walk. If he now walks right over willingly, let him. But if you sense that he might stop, go ahead and whoa before he does so, and immediately back him away from the log. Then ride him forward again, trying to get a bit closer this time but again stopping before he stops on his own. Back away once more.
Continue approaching and retreating in this manner. As you do so, don’t even think about getting your horse to step over the log. Instead, concentrate on getting him to back straight away without getting heavy on the bit. Work on keeping him light and responsive.
Soon, your horse will be less concerned about avoiding the obstacle and more involved with tuning in to you.
Eventually, you’ll sense that your horse is ready to step over the log of his own accord. Let him, encouraging him to take his time. If he wants to stop halfway over it, that’s fine. Rub on him and let him rest.
Once he’s all the way over, bend him around in a few circles to ensure he stays soft and is paying attention to you. Often, when horses first negotiate an obstacle, they want to get across and away from it as fast as possible. Bending in circles teaches your horse to stay soft and respect your cues instead.
After the bending, take him over the obstacle again, from the opposite direction, and continue going back and forth until he’s completely blasé about it.