Tryan Times

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A perfect stranger in Bermuda shorts and sunglasses walked up to me right after the short round at the California Rodeo in Salinas last year.

"Miss Santos," he said, friendly hand outstretched in my direction. "You don't know me, but I have an idea for you. It's about those Tryan boys. How about the headline 'Tryan Times?'"

"Good one," was my immediate response. "I'll keep that one on lock-down in the back of my head, and daylight it when the time is right."

That time is now. It's Sunday evening, July 29, as I sit down to write this story about last Sunday's finish at the July 19-22 California Rodeo in Salinas. Clay Tryan just won this rodeo for the fourth time in five years. If his fellow 2005 champ of the world Patrick Smith hadn't lost his rope on the last steer in 2005, it would have been five straight. That's amazing. And as I scroll down the Cheyenne results that are just now rolling in from the Wyoming prairie, I see the Tryan brothers delivered a one-two punch over there today, too.

Travis Tryan and Michael Jones smoked the field in the Cheyenne Frontier Days short round in 7 flat, and captured the average crown by roping three steers in 24 flat. Clay Tryan and Walt Woodard were second in the Daddy of 'em All paycheck line with 25.6 on three. Their NFR heeler Daddy Dennis Tryan, and NFR barrel racing regular Mom Terri Kaye Kirkland, doubled down in dominating fashion when these boys were born.

I pulled up a fencepost and visited with Clay and Walt right after they picked up their beautiful Salinas buckles over on the track. I've never seen a cowboy collect one of those coveted cowboy treasures without stopping in his tracks. Even David Motes, who owns seven of those babies, stops to stare at the Salinas sterling. Motes won Salinas in 1974 and '77 with his brother, Dennis; in 1984 and '89 with Dennis Watkins; in 1986 with Dennis Gatz; and won the PRCA Gold Card Roping with John Bassett in 2005 and the 2006 Gold Card Roping with Walt Woodard.

Clay was hustling to hitch a ride back to Cheyenne with the second high team at Salinas, Tee Woolman and Cory Petska, who finished a slipped leg in the short round short of the championship after winning the first round and finishing fourth in round four.

"Salinas is one of the best rodeos there is," said milestone man Motes, a longtime Finals fixture and the father of likely 2007 Finals freshman Ryan Motes. "The best horses, horsemanship and teamwork really shine at this one. And roping the fresh steers here this year made it just like old times."

Tee did come tight on the PRCA Gold Card Roping with Allen Bach, however. A few half-century birthdays have certainly changed the complexion of that event. You now have the guy who holds the record for the most National Finals qualifications ever (Tee's team roped at 25 NFRs and steer roped at 19 National Finals Steer Ropings for a total of 44 Finals appearances) heading for the reigning and four-time champ of the world.

And that's not all. Second only to Tee and Allen's 40.3 on four in the Gold Card Roping were who else but 2006 Salinas Gold Card Victors David Motes and Walt Woodard, who clocked in at a close 42 flat. Take away their slipped leg in round one and they're the champs. To see the same guys dominating the world standings and the big Gold Card events proves just how big a part experience plays in this game. Third in the Gold Card Roping went to living legends brothers Jerold and Leo Camarillo. That's just great watching.

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Clay Tryan noticed it, too. He never missed a run. If he wasn't roping, he was watching-even the Gold Card Roping. I cut across the track on foot one day during Gold Card slack while running results, and noticed Clay sitting there on his gray horse (Tryan bought Sweets, 16, from California Gold Card roper and NFR header Junior Muzio last summer), all by himself, watching intently. The regular team roping slack was over, so the rest of the team ropers had left for lunch and nap time. Not Clay. This guy digs team roping when no one's watching. Walt's been noticing that on a daily basis since they joined forces in March.

"Clay Tryan is a student of the game," Walt's observed. "And he loves the game. He appreciates the history, and everything about it."

It's true. Another classic example was Clay putting in a special request to rope with Leo "The Lion" Camarillo in Perry Di Loreto's practice pen the day before Walt arrived up in Reno in June. Like Walt said, "That's how in love with the game Clay Tryan is. He wanted to rope with a legend. It meant something to him."

Everybody enjoys the cool coastal climate in Salinas. It's great sleeping weather during a tiring time for professional team ropers. The Pacific Ocean isn't far away, and it's always fun for the cowboys to take their families to the beach and to eat at Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. Not Tryan. He was too intrigued with Woodard's story about the roping Jim Rodriguez Sr. used to have up the road in Castroville. It was a long-time tradition for Rodriguez-the late, great dad of World Champion Team Roper Jim Rodriguez Jr. and forever the most familiar voice behind the Salinas roping chutes-to have an open roping on Wednesday before the California Rodeo started on Thursday.

Walt was reminiscing with Clay at Salinas this year, and remembering the Rodriguez roping being one of the first places he ever "beat the big guys." The prize on top of the payoff was pickled artichoke hearts from the famed artichoke capital. Many a young gun would have been dozing off at the Memory-Lane lore. Not Tryan. Instead, he fired up his truck, tanked with $3.29 diesel, and told Walt, "Show me where it happened."

Walt co-piloted the roping history buff kid north on Highway 101. Tryan knew they were getting close when he saw the Castroville sign, because in his studies he'd noticed Rodriguez Jr. calling Castroville home in his younger years ("I love looking up old stats. That's cool to me," Clay told me.) They arrived to find the old arena had been torn down. It didn't matter. Walt's detail-oriented memory bank subbed in for Tryan's eyes and painted an imaginary visual, in living color, complete with specific sights and sounds.

"I can smell the battlefield," said Walt, whose all-time favorite movie is "Patton," largely because "General Patton loved the battle."

Clay was full of "Tell me what it was like" questions, and Walt answered every one. "The wooden posts everybody sat on were right down here. The chute was over there." Clay wanted to know what the steers were like, what kind of runs were made-everything about that day.

"Clay Tryan is one of the most intense guys I've ever been around," commented Woodard, one of the all-time intensity kings himself. "He's so impressive for such a young guy. He works hard at it. He's a very focused guy. He practices hard, and he's always at the rodeo early. He never misses the bareback riding."

These two hooked up this spring, and the honeymoon is far from over. They respect each other, and they rope together in well-orchestrated symphony.

"Roping with Walt has been a great experience," said Tryan, who lives in Billings, Mont., with his wife, Bobbie, and little boy, Tyler. "I've gotten to rope with a lot of the great veterans, like Clay O (Cooper), Big Al (Bach) and Walt. Their work ethic is so impressive. That's what keeps them at the top.

"Walt has roped outstanding for me. This rodeo was the hardest I've seen it for heelers. That's just a testament to him. Our fourth steer ran up the rope really hard. But Walt got the bottom on the ground and got him caught."

They placed in the first two rounds, were the high team back on four steers, closed the deal in the short round and won the five-steer average over the longest score in rodeo-35 feet-in 49.1 seconds. Each earned $6,013, which was worth another nice bump in the PRCA world standings.

"(California Rodeo President) Jim Slaten got fresh steers for us here this year, and they ran hard, which made it more like Salinas used to be," noted Woodard, who lives in Stockton, Calif., with his wife, Darlene, and son, Travis. Walt first won Salinas 20 years ago, in 1987 with Jay Ellerman. "This place is such a shrine, because it's always been the horsemanship test of the season.

"Salinas is an extremely tough place to heel. It's tough out there. It's such a challenge. This was a grind for me. You have to be on your game and your horse has to be ready. Your rope needs to feel great. Everything has to be lined up to succeed here in Salinas. I'm glad it's over. This is a wonderful rodeo. It's an honor to rope here and to win it. But there's nothing easy about it. I didn't sleep much last night, because I kept running all the scenarios through my mind."

Woodard rode his 8-year-old sorrel horse, Dudley, which is the horse he won Pecos on over the Fourth. (Little Gray spent the week at Cheyenne.) Dudley hurt his left hock getting ready for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last year, and his return is greatly appreciated by Woodard, who'd only gotten on him at five 2007 rodeos as of Salinas.

"Clay Tryan and this horse are the two reasons I won this rodeo," said Walt, who also gratefully mentioned that Darlene drove Dudley and Sweets to Salinas, so he and Clay could fly and rest up. "They're both just outstanding. Clay believes he's going to win when he gets here. He thinks this is easy. And this horse is so fast that it makes it a lot easier."

On the sentimental side, Salinas is the site of Woodard's first official, card-carrying professional rodeo. He and Bob McClelland filled their permits at Reno in June during this country's year of bicentennial celebration in 1976. There wasn't time for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to mail them their first PRCA cards quick enough to enter Salinas. So then-PRCA President Dale Smith made a special exception, summoned Woodard and McClelland to his house, and personally signed their cards so they could enter the California Rodeo.

"This is very exciting," Woodard said. "I don't get elated when I win. This is what I prepare for, I should execute and I got it done here. Losing is very hard on me, because I expect to execute and rope both feet. Al Bach catches both feet every single time, and he wins whatever the steers dictate. He rarely makes a mistake."

How many people have historically said the same thing about Woodard, who won the world in 1981 and is now better than ever at 51? Ditto for young gun Tryan, who's still only 28. The kid won Salinas with Bach in 2003, Cory Petska in 2004, Patrick Smith in 2006 and now Woodard in '07.

"That's 20 two-footers," Tryan smiled. "And if Patrick doesn't lose his rope (they were high team back, and Smith hammered their short-round steer, but didn't get dallied) on that one steer that would have been 25 two-footers in a row. You can't win this rodeo with a leg, and all those guys have done a great job behind me here."

That, of course, is hardly a coincidence. There's extra pressure on the headers and the head horses at Salinas. The steers run on, and scoring is a little tricky. Someone sticks a Styrofoam cup out in the dirt, and the basic start is "go when the steer gets to the cup if he takes off and runs."

"You have to be patient, because you can break it pretty easy here," Tryan said. (Both ropers come from the heading side at Salinas, by the way, and heeler Woodard will never forget breaking the barrier for his team that first year, in 1976.) "If you draw a good one, you need to see a little extra or you will break it.

"I've ridden some good horses that can run over this score, and that's been a lot of my success here, too. It's unique coming from the same side. The handle you give a guy is really important here, because he's coming from behind and he's coming really fast. Sweets worked great here. He's the best horse I've ever ridden here. It's easy to see the start on him, he lets me handle steers good and faces as good as one can face (Thanks, Junior). He makes it easy on me."

Tryan did have one trying time at Salinas this year. Their short-round steer slowed up right when he roped him, and came underneath him. The rope ran under Tryan's right leg.

"All I was telling myself all the way across there is, 'Don't fall off when you face,' " he smiled, after the fact. "The jerk wasn't that bad, so it ended up OK. But I wasn't sure what was going to happen there for a minute."

Little unexpected hurdles like that one aside, the fresh Flying T cattle helped make the team roping a pretty riveting spectator sport at Salinas in 2007.

"The steers were very challenging," Tryan said. "They ran harder than ever. A few guys about got outrun. Part of winning this rodeo is avoiding those steers that really fly. That and having your horse help you out. This is fun. We needed this."

Rounding out the champions at the California Rodeo in Salinas included steer wrestler Todd Suhn. In addition to winning Salinas with a dominating 21.2-second total on three head, he also won the Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho the previous day and won Reno.

In Salinas, Suhn made $7,892.

Saddle bronc rider Heith DeMoss, bull rider Dave Samsel and barrel racer Brenda Mays swept both Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Round and rodeo average titles.

DeMoss, of Heflin, La., recorded an 86-point ride in the Wrangler Tour Round and finished the rodeo with an event-best 167 points on two head, good for $7,497.

Samsel, of Haslet, Texas, scored 177 points on two bulls and walked away with a rodeo-high $12,552. His rodeo was highlighted by a 91-point ride in the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Round.

Mays, of Terrebonne, Ore., earned $6,563 after winning the Wrangler Tour Round in 16.06 seconds and finishing the rodeo on top of the average race by completing four runs in 65.60 seconds.

Other average champions in Salinas were bareback riders Clint Cannon of Waller, Texas, and Royce Ford of Briggsdale, Colo., 168 points on two head, $5,502 and $8,627, respectively, and tie-down roper Sterling Smith of Stephenville, Texas, 33.7 seconds on three head, $6,023.

"Clay Tryan and this horse are the two reasons I won this rodeo," said Walt, who also gratefully mentioned that Darlene drove Dudley and Sweets to Salinas, so he and Clay could fly and rest up. "They're both just outstanding. Clay believes he's going to win when he gets here. He thinks this is easy. And this horse is so fast that it makes it a lot easier."

On the sentimental side, Salinas is the site of Woodard's first official, card-carrying professional rodeo. He and Bob McClelland filled their permits at Reno in June during this country's year of bicentennial celebration in 1976. There wasn't time for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to mail them their first PRCA cards quick enough to enter Salinas. So then-PRCA President Dale Smith made a special exception, summoned Woodard and McClelland to his house, and personally signed their cards so they could enter the California Rodeo.

"This is very exciting," Woodard said. "I don't get elated when I win. This is what I prepare for, I should execute and I got it done here. Losing is very hard on me, because I expect to execute and rope both feet. Al Bach catches both feet every single time, and he wins whatever the steers dictate. He rarely makes a mistake."

How many people have historically said the same thing about Woodard, who won the world in 1981 and is now better than ever at 51? Ditto for young gun Tryan, who's still only 28. The kid won Salinas with Bach in 2003, Cory Petska in 2004, Patrick Smith in 2006 and now Woodard in '07.

"That's 20 two-footers," Tryan smiled. "And if Patrick doesn't lose his rope (they were high team back, and Smith hammered their short-round steer, but didn't get dallied) on that one steer that would have been 25 two-footers in a row. You can't win this rodeo with a leg, and all those guys have done a great job behind me here."

That, of course, is hardly a coincidence. There's extra pressure on the headers and the head horses at Salinas. The steers run on, and scoring is a little tricky. Someone sticks a Styrofoam cup out in the dirt, and the basic start is "go when the steer gets to the cup if he takes off and runs."

"You have to be patient, because you can break it pretty easy here," Tryan said. (Both ropers come from the heading side at Salinas, by the way, and heeler Woodard will never forget breaking the barrier for his team that first year, in 1976.) "If you draw a good one, you need to see a little extra or you will break it.

"I've ridden some good horses that can run over this score, and that's been a lot of my success here, too. It's unique coming from the same side. The handle you give a guy is really important here, because he's coming from behind and he's coming really fast. Sweets worked great here. He's the best horse I've ever ridden here. It's easy to see the start on him, he lets me handle steers good and faces as good as one can face (Thanks, Junior). He makes it easy on me."

Tryan did have one trying time at Salinas this year. Their short-round steer slowed up right when he roped him, and came underneath him. The rope ran under Tryan's right leg.

"All I was telling myself all the way across there is, 'Don't fall off when you face,' " he smiled, after the fact. "The jerk wasn't that bad, so it ended up OK. But I wasn't sure what was going to happen there for a minute."

Little unexpected hurdles like that one aside, the fresh Flying T cattle helped make the team roping a pretty riveting spectator sport at Salinas in 2007.

"The steers were very challenging," Tryan said. "They ran harder than ever. A few guys about got outrun. Part of winning this rodeo is avoiding those steers that really fly. That and having your horse help you out. This is fun. We needed this."

Rounding out the champions at the California Rodeo in Salinas included steer wrestler Todd Suhn. In addition to winning Salinas with a dominating 21.2-second total on three head, he also won the Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho the previous day and won Reno.

In Salinas, Suhn made $7,892.

Saddle bronc rider Heith DeMoss, bull rider Dave Samsel and barrel racer Brenda Mays swept both Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Round and rodeo average titles.

DeMoss, of Heflin, La., recorded an 86-point ride in the Wrangler Tour Round and finished the rodeo with an event-best 167 points on two head, good for $7,497.

Samsel, of Haslet, Texas, scored 177 points on two bulls and walked away with a rodeo-high $12,552. His rodeo was highlighted by a 91-point ride in the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Round.

Mays, of Terrebonne, Ore., earned $6,563 after winning the Wrangler Tour Round in 16.06 seconds and finishing the rodeo on top of the average race by completing four runs in 65.60 seconds.

Other average champions in Salinas were bareback riders Clint Cannon of Waller, Texas, and Royce Ford of Briggsdale, Colo., 168 points on two head, $5,502 and $8,627, respectively, and tie-down roper Sterling Smith of Stephenville, Texas, 33.7 seconds on three head, $6,023.