John Denver’s "Rocky Mountain High" was ringing from the rafters of the Reno Livestock Events Center June 21st when Colorado cousins J.D. Yates and Jay Wadhams came tight on the 33rd annual Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic crown.
Yates and Wadhams, who share more of a brotherly bond than that of cousins, took the title at the world’s richest one-day open roping by roping six steers in 45.92 seconds. They hauled $131,510 of the day’s $630,000-plus in cash and prizes back home to the Centennial State in Yates’s 30th BFI appearance (Wadhams estimates he’s been to the BFI half that many times).
"This is an awesome feeling," Yates said. "Winning this roping ranks right up there with as good as it gets. The money’s great at this roping, but the prestige is even better. The notch in your belt for winning this roping is the thing. We were in really good shape on four steers last year and I missed the fifth one. I feel lucky that I gave Jay a chance to rope all six steers this year."
"This is a lifetime roping," Wadhams added. "It’s the one you dream about winning. Before the short round I told J.D., ‘I’m going to try him on and try to win something big.’ You have to rope smart but aggressive to win this roping."
Yates and Wadhams were the second high team back in the short round. Travis Tryan and Michael Jones were the high team, but Tryan lost his rope in the short round. It was another tough loss for family, friends and fans after Tryan lost his beloved horse Walt this spring.
Family has always been No. 1 with the Yates and Wadhams gang, who call Pueblo home. Dick and Jan Yates have two kids, J.D. and Kelly. In 1975, J.D. became the youngest Wrangler National Finals Rodeo contestant ever when he roped with Dick at the Finals at 15 years, four months of age. Dick and J.D. roped at the NFR 13 times, and J.D. made 21 total team roping appearances along with 10 trips to the National Finals Steer Roping, which he won in 2008. In 1984, Dick, J.D. and Kelly became the only father-son-daughter trio ever to compete at the Finals the same year. J.D.’s son, Trey, 15, also loves to rope.
Dick’s sister, Raeana, and her husband, John Wadhams, are Jay’s parents. He heeled for Jay Ellerman at the 1993 NFR and for J.D. at NFR ’96. Jay’s wife is Lindsay, and sons are Bryer, 12, and Reece, 9.
"My dad’s the backbone of our entire operation," J.D. said. "He taught me everything I know about roping and winning. Jay drove the horses out here, and my dad and I flew in late last night. My dad reminded me last night about something he’s always preached to us, and that’s to let the steers dictate what we do. He’s told me all my life to just rope the steer I’ve drawn, because that’s the best you can do. That’s what we did today."
J.D. has won all kinds of rounds and placed more years than not in the BFI average as both a header and a heeler. The experience of having heeled so long always helps with a header’s handles. "We’ve worked all our lives to put ourselves in this
position," Yates said. "This is
awesome. The glory of winning this roping is worth way more than the money. I’ve been here a lot of years, and have won about every hole but first. To finally get there feels pretty special."
Yates, who’ll be 50 on August 15, and Wadhams, 42, walked away with a truck and trailer load of prizes in addition to the loot. Running P saddles and breast collars, Gist buckles, Schneider three-piece buckles sponsored by Coors Original, Dodge Rodeo and Classic Ropes, and Justin full-quill ostrich boots, along with a $1,500 bonus from Cactus Ropes, were just the beginning of their second-to-none prize package.
"Bob’s done a great job building and promoting this roping," Wadhams said. "This is the one to win. The best move he ever made was moving this roping to Reno. This is a great week for team roping." (The Reno Rodeo Invitational and RRI Ladies Only took center stage in Reno right after the BFI, and will be featured in next month’s issue. Wadhams wanted to thank RRI Producer Perry Di Loreto for "spinning me those practice steers yesterday and helping me get some confidence back.")
"It’s an outstanding feeling to be 50 years old and get this done," Yates continued. "All the hard work and dedication guys our age put in paid off today. Winning a roping like this doesn’t come easy. I feel darn lucky to be a BFI champion. It’s been a long time coming. This proves that if you set your goals high and work hard, you’ve always got a chance. It feels really good to win this with Jay, because we work together and rope together every day."
With 34 American Quarter Horse Association world championships under his belt, Yates is the undisputed king of the professional horse show ropers. Wadhams has been his "helper" in most of those titles, which means he heads for Yates in the heeling event and heels for him when Yates shows head horses.
"The rodeo arena was very good to me," Yates said. "But it was time to move on, so I made a career of horse showing. I love to rope, and I love to compete against the best ropers in the world. Winning this roping is pretty special to me."
With 10 AQHA world titles to his credit, Wadhams is a renowned and respected showman in his own right. "We’ve grown up roping together, and both know exactly what the other’s going to do," said Wadhams, whose BFI entry fees were sponsored by O’Donnell Quarter Horses. "Dick and J.D., and my dad, taught me to rope. It’s always been a family thing with us.
"At this point in my career, I only go to 10 or 15 rodeos a year. I get to see all my old buddies and have fun. But the horse shows are our living now. I’m going back to roping for ribbons next week, at an AQHA show in Oklahoma. To win this roping at this point in my career is amazing. All the kids around here roping the dummy are dreaming about winning this roping. The money is great, but it’s not as much about the money as the prestige of winning this thing."
Yates and Wadhams topped the 100-team BFI field that this year represented 21 states and Canada with runs of 7.7, 7.97, 8.57, 7.36, 7.77 and 6.55 seconds on their respective steers over an 18-foot score and out of a 19-foot box to beat out BFI reservists Luke Brown and Martin Lucero, who roped six steers in 46.97, by a little over a second. Brown and Lucero earned $95,060 in addition to the reserve champs’ prize line that included Coats Saddles, and Skyline Silversmiths buckles donated by Boot Barn, Purina Mills Inc. and Wells Fargo Bank. Brown and Lucero had a banner week, placing third at the Reno Rodeo (for another $7,902) and winning the West of the Pecos Rodeo in Pecos, Texas ($5,212).
The third-place team of Turtle Powell and Jhett Johnson fattened their wallets by $61,110 with a total time of 47.07 seconds, and were followed in fourth place by Justin Davis and Cole Davison, who roped six steers in 48.01 for $30,555. Wrangler Jeans and Shirts pumped $6,500 in bonus bucks into the Wrangler Round in addition to BFI short-round money. Brown and Lucero, who were the fifth high team back, were 5.95 on their last steer to drag down an additional $9,500, including the Wrangler bonus.
The owners of the Best BFI Head and Heel Horses received Lazy "L" Saddles and CSI Pads. BFI officials awarded 2010 Best BFI Head Horse honors to Davis’ 18-year-old palomino Starbert J Man, AKA "Hammer." Davis bought the horse as a 4-year-old. His dad, Tommy, got the horse going, and Hammer’s been Justin’s No. 1 the last 10 years. It was Davis and Hammer’s first BFI appearance.
"This is the best horse I’ve ever sat on," Davis said. "He scored perfect on every steer here today. He always runs hard and gives me a good chance. Words can’t describe how much he helped me today. I heeled until 10 years ago. This is the first head horse I ever competed on. He’s part of the family."
The Best BFI Heel Horse in 2010 was Colonel Cal Dee, a 14-year-old sorrel horse who answers to "A" out at the barn, because of the huge A brand on his left hip. Wadhams heeled on him, though Yates actually owns him.
"I keep him for the major rodeos and ropings, and Jay helps me on him at the horse shows," Yates explained. "Jay has confidence on this horse, so all he has to think about is roping. We get paid to win. Money couldn’t buy this horse, because the horse show world is our business."
"He doesn’t get quick and never gets short," Wadhams said. "He just fits me. I like a horse with a little longer stride, and that’s him."
Yates rode the Best BFI Head Horse of the 2005 BFI, Cathys Dividend, to the 2010 title. Yates bought "Buster," an 18-year-old bay horse, as a 3-year-old Father’s Day present for Daddy Dick 15 years ago.
"I hadn’t roped a steer on him when I asked my dad to bring me a head horse here nine years ago," J.D. said. "Bobby Harris and I won the first round here in 2001 on the first steer I ever ran on him (Yates and Harris also placed third in the average that year). At a roping like this, a horse that scores good and can run gives someone like me a heck of an advantage. We also have an advantage, because we haven’t been out there rodeoing, so our horses are fresh and ready to go.
"You work all your life to have good horses. Without a good horse, you’re not going to beat these kids. I compete a lot, but I’m horse showing these days and not rodeoing. A week before this roping we put everything else aside to get in the BFI frame of mind."
Jay has said for years that cousin J.D. deserved to win the BFI. Dick feels the same about both boys who make up the generation after his in the family (he’s also roped with both of them at the BFI). "They work about as hard at it as anyone," Dick said. "They’ve directed their attention to the horse show world, because it’s more lucrative. They came out here on a couple of good horses and roped competitively. The only advice I had for them was to rope what they drew, which is all you can do. I have to say that’s one of the toughest short rounds I’ve ever seen."
J.D. dedicated the win to their young friend and fellow Coloradan Cody Buffalo, 25, who is battling cancer. "Cody got to come rope here last year for the first time," J.D. said. "He’s going through radiation and chemo now, and I wish him and his family all the best. Winning this roping is great, but we miss having him here, wish him luck and hope to see him back here next year."
Classic Ropes and Boot Barn awarded young guns Quinn Kesler and T.J. McCauley a $2,000 bonus for being the team that finished just out of the average money in seventh place. Kelsey Parchman and Caleb Twisselman roped the fourth fastest time in BFI history to win round four in 4.9 seconds and cash the $2,000 Fast Time bonus sponsored by Justin Boots, Priefert, Silver Legacy and Coors Original. This year’s Fast Time team also received Cactus Saddlery saddles. Parchman and Twisselman won the third round, too, in 5.06 seconds. The 4.46-second BFI Fast Time record was set in 2008 by Coleman Proctor and Jake Long. Champion’s Choice buckles were again awarded to every go-round winner.
The "BFI 33 Club" stands strong. Team roping legends who haven’t missed the BFI books in 33 years include Allen Bach, who won the 1979 BFI with Brian Burrows; Denny Watkins, who won it with David Motes in 1981; Mike Beers, who won the 1987 BFI with Dee Pickett; and Walt Woodard, who topped the 2008 BFI with Clay Tryan.