LAS VEGAS – When Tyson Durfey arrives in the Nevada desert next week, he’ll carry a trailer load of athletic talent, his and his horses’.
He’ll also have a national championship, a third Canadian title and the dream of driving away from Las Vegas with the most coveted piece of hardware in the world of rodeo, the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to the annual world champion. Can he pull off the rare rodeo trifecta during the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo? He’ll have his chance over 10 nights against the best in the business.
“It felt good to win the national championship and the Canadian national championship,” said Durfey, who was raised in a tie-down roping family near Savannah, Mo. “I’m a little bit further behind in the standings heading to the finals than I have been in the past. I wouldn’t say it’s completely out of my reach to win the world. My main focus going in there is to be roping tough, roping sharp and just let the winning take care of itself.
“If the world championship happens, then it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m young, and I’m going to keep going at it.”
Durfey, who turns 28 on Nov. 27, has qualified for the NFR each of the last five seasons. This is the third time the Colbert, Wash., cowboy will head to the City of Lights with a freshly earned Canadian Professional Rodeo Association title. In fact, Durfey was the first American ever to win a Canadian championship in 2007; he added another in 2009.
“It was never really a goal to win a third,” he said. “My goal every year is to rope well. When the title happens, it’s like the first time every time. It was a great experience.”
So was riding Big John, a horse now owned by Alwin Bouchard of Scandia, Alberta.
“My dad and my brother trained Big John years ago, and I helped start him,” Durfey said “He’s a great horse I rode in Las Vegas in 2007, and I’ve known that horse for a long time.”
Big John will return to Las Vegas for this year’s finale, too. Durfey will have Bailey, a horse on which he’s competed inside the Thomas & Mack Center before, and T.C., a horse owned by Frederico Werneck that finished in third place in the voting for AQHA/PRCA tie-down roping horse of the year.
“I should be pretty horsed up the next couple of years,” Durfey said. “Great horses make great cowboys, so I’m hoping it works out.”
The season has provided a mixed bag of results for the veteran roper, who early on found success in events that didn’t help him move up the money list for the world standings. One such event was the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, which Durfey won.
“This spring, every single dime I won didn’t count for the world standings,” he said. “I won a lot smaller rodeos that I didn’t count for the standings, and I won the national title and a lot of jackpots. I was making money with my ropings, just not at the rodeos that count for the world title.”
While the spring was a struggle, the summer wasn’t. In fact, each week that passed saw the Missouri-born cowboy moving up the world standings. Durfey pocketed more than $80,000 in ProRodeo and heads into the sport’s premier championship in seventh place. He’s $65,267 behind the leader, Tuf Cooper of Decatur, Texas, but the NFR features the biggest prize pool in the sport. Go-round winners will earn checks worth $17,885 each of the 10 nights, so that ground can be made up quickly. On top of that, the most consistent roper over the course of the championship will add $45,865 for having the best cumulative time.
To put that kind of money into perspective, Durfey could move into the lead in the world standings if he wins the first four go-rounds. Money not only pays the bills for rodeo cowboys, it’s how points are tallied. The contestant with the most money won in each event at the NFR’s conclusion will be crowned world champion, which adds to the excitement and flavor of ProRodeo’s championship.
“When I was younger, I’d let that pressure get to me more,” Durfey said. “As I’ve gotten older, I guess I’ve gotten more focused and more confident. Every win gives you a little bit more confidence. If you can take every win, you can just build your confidence over time.
“I rely on what my capabilities are. I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I know what I’m capable of. If I’m able to stay focused, stay relaxed and rope, the winning takes care of itself.”
That attitude has afforded Durfey many opportunities, from his partnership with sponsors to being able to share his experiences as a tie-down roping clinician; in fact, Durfey has conducted roping schools in Werneck’s native home of Brazil the last few years.
“The whole Brazil thing started with Fred,” Durfey said. “I met him at the NFR in 2007, and his English wasn’t very good. We really couldn’t communicate. Then when I met him again in 2008, his English was decent. We just got to be real good friends. Over the last few years, I learned Portuguese, so our relationship has blossomed. I was able to have some roping schools in Brazil, not with him but through him due to the fact that I could speak Portuguese.”
Maybe teaching is a family thing; roping definitely is. Durfey’s father, Roy, has been training tie-down ropers and calf roping horses for decades.
“I still call my dad at times, mostly when I’m working on horses and stuff like that,” Tyson Durfey said. “If I’m down and haven’t been winning like I think I should, I’ll holler at him. I have a small support group that I will talk to about my roping, getting information from people whose opinions I really respect, and he’s definitely one of those people.”
The main thing for Durfey is to take advantage of all the opportunities playing on rodeo’s biggest stage provides him. After all, he’s one of the elite tie-down ropers in the game for a reason.
“For me, it boils down to working hard at it and to continue to work hard at it,” he said. “It’s working on the basics, and as you grow and as you mature as an athlete and as a roper, you’re able to perfect those basics at a high level. I feel like I’ve had to work to get to where I’m at, and I’m just going to continue to work.”