In 2017, rodeo fans witnessed a new world all-around champion and two pro bull riders finishing the year with than $1 million in total earnings.
Tuf Cooper, a Childress native who lives near Weatherford, snared his first world all-around gold buckle after becoming a world class steer roper in addition to being a world class tie-down roper.
Before this year, Cooper had earned eight National Finals berths and three gold buckles in tie-down roping on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit. But this year, he also added a trip the National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane, Kan., to his resume.
As the result of earning a substantial amount of prize money in both tie-down roping and steer roping, Cooper became a world all-around title contender. In 2017, Cooper finished 12th in the world steer roping title race and second in the world tie-down roping race en route to winning the world all-around title.
Cooper won the world all-around title on Dec. 16 after competing in tie-down roping at the National Finals at Las Vegas’ Thomas &Mack Center.
Cooper’s all-around victory was similar to his father’s all-around victory 34 years go. In 1983, Cooper’s father, Roy, won the PRCA’s all-around, tie-down roping and steer roping world title races.
On the Professional Bull Riders circuit, 20-year-old Jess Lockwood of Volborg, Mont., became the youngest cowboy to win a world title in the PBR’s 24-year history and he received a $1 million bonus at the 2017 World Finals on Nov. 5 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In winning the world’s most coveted bull riding title, Lockwood broke the age record set by Mike Lee of Decatur who snared the gold buckle at age 21 in 2004.
In the PBR, the world champion receives $1 million in addition to the prize money he earns during the regular season and the PBR World Finals. Lockwood’s total 2017 earnings were $1,525,292.
Bull rider Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla., commanded respect by earning more than $1 million on three pro bull riding circuits. (Kimzey’s total earnings as a pro bull rider in 2017 are not readily available, but I’ll throw out three larger figures that clearly that reveal he earned more than $1 million this year).
On the PBR circuit, Kimzey earned $549,566 (his biggest check was $433,333 from winning the RFD-TVs The American in February in Arlington, which was approved by the PBR). On the PRCA circuit, Kimzey earned $436,479 as he won his fourth consecutive PRCA title after competing at the Dec. 7-16 National Finals in Las Vegas. Kimzey also pocketed a $100,000 bonus for winning the Championship Bull Riding after competing in the association’s finale in July in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Those three figures add up to $1,086,045. When a bull rider would win more than $1 million in the recent past, it was only from the PBR, which has awarded a $1 million bonus to its world champion since 2003. But Kimzey received lots of notoriety because he racked up more than $1 million from excelling in three bull riding associations throughout 2017.
On the National Cutting Horse Association circuit, superstar rider Austin Shepard of Summerdale, Ala., and a 3-year-old stallion named Dual Reyish won the NCHA’s World Championship Futurity open division on Dec. 10 after turning in a lofty final round score of 228 at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth. The victory earned the horse’s owner, Billy Wolf of Whitesboro, the coveted $192,762 prize.
The 2017 Futurity victory was the second major title for Shepard at a high-profile NCHA Fort Worth-based NCHA in 2017. On Dec. 2, Shepard and a 6-year-old mare named Deluxe Checks claimed the 2017 open division world title during the NCHA World Finals at WR Watt Arena in Fort Worth. Shepard and Deluxe Checks earned $23,777 during the World Finals and broke the NCHA’s open division annual earnings record as the result of earning $146,977 throughout 2017, according to sallyharrison.com, which keeps records of major NCHA events and title races. Shepard and Deluxe Checks broke the previous annual earnings record of $142,346 that was set in 2015 by then open world champion Special Nu Baby and rider Matt Gaines of Weatherford.
Brett Hoffman, a Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame member, has reported on rodeos for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than three decades. Email him at email@example.com.