EL­E­MENTS OF SUC­CESS

Ac­cord­ing to Oren Mathews, owner of Mathews Land & Cat­tle, luck doesn’t have any­thing to do with good cat­tle, suc­cess­ful rop­ings, and a top-notch op­er­a­tion run by some of team rop­ing’s most proven rop­ers.

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Features - By G.R. Schi­avino

Ac­cord­ing to Oren Mathews, owner of Mathews Land & Cat­tle, luck doesn’t have any­thing to do with good cat­tle, suc­cess­ful rop­ings, and a top-notch op­er­a­tion run by some of team rop­ing’s most proven rop­ers. by G.R. Schi­avino

“It shouldn’t be a draw­ing com­pe­ti­tion,” Oren Mathews, 54, as­serted across the ta­ble over Mex­i­can fare at El Rialto restau­rant, in the heart of Las Ve­gas, New Mexico.

He’s speak­ing specif­i­cally to draw­ing steers at a rop­ing, and more broadly about his mo­ti­va­tion to pro­duce quality events featuring Mathews Land & Cat­tle cor­ri­entes that rop­ers can count on.

“It should be a rop­ing com­pe­ti­tion.”

At din­ner, Mathews is flanked by 2018 BFI win­ners and, more re­cently, PRCA Turquoise Cir­cuit Fi­nals win­ners Cade Pas­sig and Chris Fran­cis on his right and left; with Fran­cis’ wife, Kenna, and his soon-to-be-walk­ing daugh­ter, Karstyn, to his own left; while Cord Crow­ell, for­merly of Floresville, Texas, takes a seat across the ta­ble, where he’s the re­cip­i­ent of the evening’s good-hu­mored hard knocks, as is ac­cus­tomed for the newly hired. This is a call-it-likeyou-see-it crew, so the thin-skinned need not ap­ply.

It’s also a crew that adopts to its core Mathews’ mo­ti­va­tion to pro­duce the best prod­uct, whether that is rop­ings, cat­tle, horses, crew, or—per­haps most im­por­tantly—cus­tomer ser­vice, which man­i­fests in far more forms than sim­ply know­ing how to an­swer a phone. The kind of cus­tomer ser­vice Mathews es­pouses takes a whole-en­chi­lada ap­proach, from the sim­ple act of dress­ing tidy to the some­times far more com­pli­cated task of go­ing to great pains to right a wrong.

“I think it was the first year at the New Or­leans and the dirt was ter­ri­ble,” Mathews recalled of 2014’s inau­gu­ral qual­i­fier held in con­junc­tion with the World Se­ries of Team Rop­ing Fi­nale in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada.

“Peo­ple were talk­ing about quit­ting af­ter the first day,” added Fran­cis, 40, who man­ages the day-to-day op­er­a­tions at Mathews Land & Cat­tle for Mathews.

That the crew had just learned how to trans­form what was lit­er­ally a basketball court the day be­fore into a rop­ing arena overnight didn’t count for did­dly if peo­ple didn’t want to run their horses across it, and Mathews knew it. He had the an- nouncer make fre­quent state­ments that new dirt was on the way.

“At the end of the day,” Fran­cis at­tested, “there were two trucks of dirt and they were mov­ing equip­ment into the arena to start haul­ing the old dirt out be­fore the last riders were even out.”

“Peo­ple knew we were se­ri­ous,” Mathews con­tin­ued. “And they’ve been com­ing back ever since.”

For Mathews, sur­round­ing him­self at all lev­els with peo­ple who can step up and get the job done well has made all the dif­fer­ence in his ven­tures. He cred­its Dar­ryl Mosier and Mel Clark of Mel Clark Inc. and their abil­ity to de­liver ex­cep­tional dirt as “very in­stru­men­tal” in the on­go­ing suc­cess of De­cem­ber’s Ve­gas qual­i­fier. And the suc­cess and sus­tain­abil­ity of Mathews Land and Cat­tle sits squarely on the shoul­ders of Mathews’ go-to guy, Fran­cis.

“I don’t take part­ners,” re­vealed Mathews, who also owns Rocky Road Gravel Prod­ucts, “but that guy’s my part­ner.”

It’s a part­ner­ship that, at least when it comes to cat­tle, al­lows Mathews to sleep soundly at night, while, mean­while, sleep evades Fran­cis as he men­tally tracks what’s been done on the ranch, what still needs to be done, and whether the cat­tle are set up for a prime per­for­mance at the week­end’s rop­ing.

“A lot of times, we’ll get caught up and be in a good place,” Fran­cis said of the work­load, which in­cludes man­ag­ing up to 1,000 steers, brand­ing four or five times a year, break­ing in the steers, dis­patch­ing cat­tle ship­ments, and putting on 15 rop­ings a year across an im­pres­sive swath of the South­west, among other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “And then, all of a sud­den, we’re try­ing to catch up again.”

Like Mathews, Fran­cis now un­der­stands the value of the team around him—an el­e­ment he didn’t quite know how to im­ple­ment when he was hired on at Mathews and first be­gan re­cruit­ing help 10 years ago.

“I’ve learned a lot about peo­ple,” of­fered Fran­cis, who is sto­ried to have had a good-tim­ing past, but now main­tains a quiet, sober, and driven de­meanor. “In the be­gin­ning, I used to hire my friends be­cause they were good rop­ers and I thought it made sense, but there’s so much more to what we do than just rop­ing, and not many peo­ple un­der­stand that.”

Fran­cis also has lit­tle pa­tience for any­one who doesn’t re­spect Mathews, even

if they’re an­swer­ing to Fran­cis dur­ing the day-to-day work.

“If Oren says go dig a hole with a spoon,” Fran­cis pushed, shak­ing his head, “you go get a spoon. He’s the boss.”

What those now-gone em­ploy­ees may have mis­taken as blind de­vo­tion is any­thing but. Be­tween Mathews and Fran­cis there is trust and un­der­stand­ing—you take care of me, and I’ll take care of you— and it ap­plies to ev­ery em­ployee on the Mathew’s Land & Cat­tle pay­roll.

At each event pro­duced by Mathews Land & Cat­tle, a crew shows up to han­dle the chute op­er­a­tions. Made up en­tirely of Navajo men, Mathews, Fran­cis, and Pas­sig sing their praises.

“It’s the same crew at each event,” ex­plained Pas­sig, who can be found be­hind the an­nouncer’s mi­cro­phone when he’s not catch­ing heels. “We tell them where we’re go­ing and they meet us there, and we don’t have to worry about them.”

“They re­ally go above and be­yond,” Fran­cis said, re­mem­ber­ing when one of his crew, Rocky Ra­mone, was gifted a belt buckle by a roper be­cause the ad­vice Rocky had of­fered him re­sulted in a win.

“And then they get to go to Ve­gas with us,” added Mathews, who has been known to out­fit the Ve­gas qual­i­fier crew in new sil­ver­belly hats and jack­ets. “Go­ing to Ve­gas is a treat. If they’re not get­ting it done

through­out the sea­son, they’re not go­ing to Ve­gas.”

Mathews’ op­er­a­tions were no quick­fix money-mak­ers. Rather, they are the re­sult of life­times of hard work and end­less ef­forts to turn once-imag­ined pos­si­bil­i­ties into re­al­ity.

A fourth-gen­er­a­tion rancher at Mathews Land & Cat­tle, Mathews takes im­mense pride in his per­fect pitch­fork brand. Placed on the right rib of his cat­tle, he put up a hefty fight in de­fense of the brand that has been in the fam­ily for more than 130 years when his fa­ther moved to sell it for an im­pres­sive sum. Mathews, how­ever, was not im­pressed. He dug in his heels and kept the brand, and when the old ranch house burned down, he built his new house right where it stood.

Still, Mathews walks a fine line be­tween his roots and the fu­ture. When an end­less drought forced the sale of the last of his fam­ily’s An­gus line, Mathews knew the po­ten­tial of cor­ri­entes and brought them on when the grasses re­turned. He un­der­stands the ap­peal of work­ing horse­back but knows be­yond a shadow of a doubt how much more can be ac­com­plished in a day run­ning side-by-sides on the 40,000plus acres he op­er­ates not only in Las Ve­gas, New Mexico, but also just south in Mi­la­gro, as well as in An­drews, Texas.

“I re­mem­ber the first day we were down in Mi­la­gro and Chris said, ‘I’m tak­ing my horse,’” Mathews re­counted, chuck­ling. “What did you last, maybe half a day be­fore putting your horse up?” Fran­cis nod­ded.

Mathews also chuck­les when he thinks of the times Fran­cis has pushed for change, like up­dated brand­ing equip­ment, as it brings to mind the era he spent con­vinc­ing his dad that the old brand­ing irons in the fire weren’t cut­ting it.

“Chris got these new irons and I so wanted to be able to say they sucked but, the truth was, they’re re­ally nice. So that’s what we use now,” Mathews ad­mit­ted.

On the cat­tle, how­ever, Mathews and Fran­cis both main­tain a pro­gres­sive view.

“They’re ath­letes,” Mathews stressed, ex­plain­ing that he won’t lease out his cat- tle be­cause so few peo­ple re­gard the steers as such. “They come back un­der­weight and ru­ined,” he con­tin­ued, lament­ing that, more of­ten than not, the only vi­able des­ti­na­tion for them is the feed­lot Mathews runs on the ranch. “We’ve got great grass right now, so the herd is out on it, but we also feed cake with 32-per­cent pro­tein and 11 per­cent fat through­out the year. That and Cat­tle Ac­tive sup­ple­ments make them ex­cel­lent performers.”

Mathews goes on to com­mu­ni­cate his ab­so­lute in­tol­er­ance of cru­elty, not­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween mo­ti­vat­ing a steer with the aid of a prod and be­ing down­right abu­sive with it. He and the team also main­tain a record of how many runs each steer makes through­out the sea­son, mak­ing sure they are af­forded a break be­fore they’re shipped to an­other rop­ing.

“It’s a bit of a guess­ing game,” Mathews con­fided, “be­cause you don’t ac­tu­ally know how many peo­ple are go­ing to show up to rope, but I’d rather take an ex­tra set of steers that I may not need than make my cat­tle run 10 or 12 times each.”

Of course, haul­ing ex­tra cat­tle is no big shake for Mathews, who of­fers trans­porta­tion ser­vices from his Las Ve­gas, New Mexico, head­quar­ters, which is also home to his gravel com­pany. When Mathews be­gan his rop­ing ven­ture some 20 years ago, it didn’t take him long to re­al­ize the value of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.

“I re­mem­ber Denny Gen­try telling me I couldn’t be a stock con­trac­tor and a pro­ducer,” Mathews said of an early con­ver­sa­tion he’d sought out for ad­vice. “He said you have to pick, and I said, ‘No.’ Now, he says the best pro­duc­ers will be the ones with their own stock!”

And cer­tainly, in a time when rope horses are end­lessly ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and arena records are be­ing shat­tered with faster and faster times, it makes sense that the cat­tle pro­vided ought to set new stan­dards, as well, and Mathews is happy to meet that chal­lenge.

“I don’t ever want my name as­so­ci­ated with a bad deal,” Mathews pro­claimed. “I want to be re­mem­bered as hav­ing the best cat­tle, putting on the best rop­ings, and build­ing the best roads.”

Mathews also gets to claim a pay­roll which is dense with some of the sport’s best rop­ers.

Fran­cis, a 9-header and 8-heeler, and Pas­sig, a 10-heeler, are house­hold names these days, par­tic­u­larly af­ter their BFI win, which—as was printed in a Team Rop­ing Jour­nal fol­low-up story—re­ally shouldn’t have been too sur­pris­ing. Fran­cis’ wife, Kenna—a full-time nurse spe­cial­iz­ing in home care prior to daugh­ter Karstyn’s ar­rival and who also runs the Mathews Land & Cat­tle of­fice—ropes daily with the crew, too.

“Chris and I take turns rop­ing and watch­ing Karstyn,” said Kenna, who, in the midst of her first year of moth­er­hood, was bumped up to a 6.5-header this Septem­ber and, by Novem­ber, had raked in $15,735 for the 2018 sea­son, “which is good, be­cause I just love to rope.”

Kenna’s sis­ter, Kodi Ar­mitage, man­ages the Mi­la­gro op­er­a­tion with flag­ger Trey Paul and, at press time, had earned $24,835 as a 6-header and $14,410 as a 5-heeler in 2018. Pas­sig’s fi­ancée, Ker­sti Davis, a 5.5-header/4-heeler rounded out her 2018 sea­son with an even $19,000.

As a fa­ther of three daugh­ters, Mathews has no qualms giv­ing credit where credit is due.

“All the girls around here are just as handy as any of the guys,” he stated fac­tu­ally. “They can do it all.”

Fi­nally, 29-year-old Crow­ell, the 7.5-header who just joined up with Mathews Land & Cat­tle in Septem­ber, took sec­ond at the 2015 George Strait Open with Camish Jen­nings for $109,060, just un­der half a sec­ond be­hind Clay Tryan’s and Travis Graves’ 13.95-sec­onds-on-three head win.

When Mathews says he sur­rounds him­self with the best, there’s noth­ing hy­per­bolic about it, but what so­lid­i­fies Mathews Land & Cat­tle as a pow­er­house crew is Mathews’ com­mit­ment to cre­at­ing even more op­por­tu­ni­ties for his team to ex­cel. Win or lose, Mathews reg­u­larly cov­ers the en­try fees for his key staff, who trans­port their horses in his trail­ers, pull said trail­ers with his trucks, and rope more of his cat­tle each year than most av­er­age rop­ers will in a life­time. If they win, Mathews gets half.

The deal seems to suit each side of the ta­ble. Mathews, in sup­port­ing such an A-team of rop­ers, is ar­guably mak­ing a pretty safe, low-risk bet, while his staff, not want­ing to waste their good for­tune of get­ting paid to com­pete, are mo­ti­vated to win.

It’s a model Pas­sig, 24, is well-ac­cus­tomed to, hav­ing grown up be­ing home­schooled by his dad, Shot­gun, while they rolled around the West, rop­ing for a liv­ing.

“Cade won be­cause he had to win,” Fran­cis ex­plained about his part­ner, whom he’s known since they were 2 and 16. “If he had to eat, then he had to win. Those other high school rodeo kids wanted to win, but...”

“There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween want­ing to win and need­ing to win,” Mathews fin­ished.

Fran­cis and Pas­sig have been rop­ing to­gether since Pas­sig was 12, and work­ing to­gether since he joined the crew five years ago. When they won the BFI, Fran­cis was quoted say­ing he needed to win the event for Pas­sig. It’s a sen­ti­ment he echoed af­ter clinch­ing the Turquoise Cir­cuit Fi­nals and year-end cir­cuit ti­tles.

Head­ing into the fi­nal round of their cir­cuit fi­nals, Fran­cis hadn’t clinched the num­ber-one spot. If the stand­ings stood, Pas­sig would be com­pet­ing in Kis­sim­mee, Florida, at the Ram Na­tional Cir­cuit Fi­nals come March with­out Fran­cis.

“I don’t hardly ever set a lot of rop­ing goals,” Pas­sig ad­mit­ted, “but I told Chris, ‘I re­ally want to win the year-end this year.’ It wouldn’t have meant as much to me if I would have won the year-end if he wasn’t there.”

In other words, Fran­cis was once again on the hook for Pas­sig and, once again, he de­liv­ered—with a 17.2-sec­ond on three av­er­age win that net­ted the duo $6,059 each and moved both rop­ers to first in the cir­cuit.

Bal­anc­ing his ca­reer as a pro­ducer and a team roper didn’t come nat­u­rally to Fran­cis.

“It took me a while to learn how to work and to win,” Fran­cis con­fided. “It’s re­ally only been the last two years or so that I’ve felt like I can go com­pete, es­pe­cially be­cause the peo­ple we have in place are de­pend­able. I know they’re go­ing to be there.”

Fran­cis, whose rop­ing ca­reer be­gan in 1992 as a 2-header, also never imag­ined life would come to­gether as it has, though he held tightly to parts of the whole.

“I knew I wanted Arkie Kiehne an­nounc­ing, and Philip Mur­rah flag­ging,” Fran­cis said, re­veal­ing the parts he did imag­ine for him­self as a pro­ducer. “And for Trey John­son to do the church.”

Now, Fran­cis, Pas­sig, and Mathews have set their sights on a new goal—mak­ing the NFR.

“We’re go­ing to rodeo more,” Fran­cis of­fered mat­ter-of-factly, an­swer­ing the ques­tion that few haven’t asked.

“And I’m go­ing to do ev­ery­thing in my power to let them go,” Mathews de­clared.

Like the busi­nesses them­selves, this part of the jour­ney didn’t man­i­fest overnight. For years, Mathews Land & Cat­tle has been struc­tur­ing this op­por­tu­nity by hir­ing the peo­ple Mathews and Fran­cis could each rely on, by tak­ing own­er­ship of each as­pect of the op­er­a­tions so as to min­i­mize po­ten­tial risk, by rais­ing high-quality cor­ri­entes, and rop­ing them at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

“You have to line things up,” Mathews stated. “That’s what I’ve been do­ing all these years, and now that they’re ready, I sure don’t mind step­ping up and fill­ing in so they can have the time to go.”

So the next time you en­ter up at a Mathews Land & Cat­tle rop­ing, or cross paths with Fran­cis and Pas­sig on the rodeo road, be sure to wish them luck as they pur­sue a po­si­tion among the top 15 rop­ers in the world, even though Mathews is cer­tain they won’t need it.

“They’re not go­ing to be lucky,” Mathews de­ter­mined, leav­ing the state­ment hang­ing, and look­ing on with a know­ing gleam.

They’re go­ing to the NFR.

KENNY AND MICHELLE REEVES, FOUNDERS OF THE REEVES FOUN­DA­TION, AT THEIR PRICE CANYON RANCH IN SOUTH­ERN ARI­ZONA.

Photography by Kaitlin Gus­tave OREN MATHEWS, CHRIS FRAN­CIS, AND CADE PAS­SIG WITH MATHEWS’ SHADOW, PIPER, AND ONE OF PAS­SIG’S MOUNTS, RUBY. RIGHT: MATHEWS LAND & CAT­TLE COR­RI­ENTES ARE WIDELY CON­SID­ERED PRIZED ATH­LETES OF THE OP­ER­A­TION.

FRAN­CIS LEAVES THE BOX ABOARD HIS PRAC­TICE HORSE, PRETTY RICKY, WHILE CORD CROW­ELL WATCHES ON.

MATHEWS OP­ER­ATES THE GATES DUR­ING THE PRAC­TICE SES­SION.

TWO MATHEWS LAND & CAT­TLE COWS EN­JOY­ING THIS FALL’S BOUN­TI­FUL GRASSES.

WITH ROP­ING PHENOMS LIKE KENNA AND CHRIS FOR PAR­ENTS, ONE CAN ONLY IMAG­INE THE KIND OF LOOP YOUNG KARSTYN FRAN­CIS WILL DE­LIVER IN FU­TURE YEARS.

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