COWBOYS, COWGIRLS HOPE TO ROPE IN CASH DURING IFR45
OKLAHOMA CITY – Walt White owns eight International Professional Rodeo Association tie-down roping world championships.
He won’t win No. 9 this year, but he is still happy to be part of the field at International Finals Rodeo 45, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Jim Norick State Fair Arena.
“I’m just going to have fun and try to win as much money as I can,” said White, 43, of Ochelata, Okla., the 15th ranked tie-down roper. “I’m going to try to go out with a bang. I haven’t won the IFR average since the first one I was at; I think it would be cool to win the average at the last one.”
White figures this will be his last appearance at the IFR. He’s made more than a dozen trips to Oklahoma City for the championship over the years, winning gold buckles in 1992, ’93, ’95, ’97-2000 and ’03.
“I’m going to be the oldest one there this year,” White said of the tie-down roping field of 15 contestants. “It’s time to slow down. Except for the All-Region Finals (in Lexington, Ky.), Marshfield (Mo.) is the furthest one I went to. I didn’t go more than four hours from the house.”
While White is slowing down, Chance Hays is just getting started. This week marks his second qualification to the IFR – he also earned the trip in tie-down roping two seasons ago – and sits 13th in the world standings.
“It means a lot for me to make the IFR,” said Hays, a Bristow, Okla., cowboy who also makes his living as a Western artist. “I’m from Oklahoma, and having the finals in Oklahoma City and getting to compete against other talent from all over is an honor.”
That talent is quite capable. Four-time reigning world champion Justin Thigpen of Waycross, Ga., leads the race for the gold buckle with more than $20,000 in earnings. He owns a $3,500 lead over Canadian Cody Mousseau of Aylmer, Ontario.
Neither White nor Hays has a shot at the world title, but they have as good a chance as any roper in the game to win the coveted average title.
“My goal is to make the best runs I can make and see how much I can win,” Hays said. “I got a real late start this year. I’m riding a young horse this year, but next year I’ll have my good horse back, and I’m going to try to win the world championship.”
Both titles are something breakaway roper Jenna Lee Hays has her eyes on. The Weatherford, Okla., cowgirl is fourth in the world standings but is about $5,000 behind leader Amanda Stewart of Mt. Ulla, N.C. This is just the fourth IFR that has featured breakaway roping, which is just fine for Hays.
Of course, it helps that the IPRA has financial support from a variety of sponsors, Love’s Country Store, RAM Trucks, Tener’s, Graham’s, Oxbow Tack, OG&E, Langston’s, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Harrison Manufacturing.
“I think it’s really exciting that they’ve added breakaway roping,” said Hays, who is an assistant coach for the Southwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo team in her hometown of Weatherford. “It’s something that all the breakaway ropers really look forward to, to have an association like that to put breakaway roping in their finals.”
This marks the third time in four years she has qualified for the IFR.
“When the season starts, my goal is to make the IFR,” Hays said. “The roping gets pretty fast there. My goal when I get to the IFR is that I focus more on the average than the rounds. I’m more focused on being consistent. I won a round and the average in my first qualification.
“Just being consistent is the key. I just try to rope every calf the same. It doesn’t matter if he’s fast or slow; you just have to do the same things every run to have success.”
Finding a way to be successful inside Jim Norick Arena is the target of every contestant in the field of 126 cowboys and cowgirls. They’ve earned the right to be in Oklahoma City this week, and now they want to show everyone why.