As the animal broke free of the metal chute, Thomas spurred his horse into action and after a well timed throw and sharp left turn his partner effortlessly captured both of the animal’s hind legs to stop the clock. Then it was off to the winner’s circle.
Roping and horses are just part of everyday routine for Thomas, who has been roping his whole life.
The SUU athlete is always looking for a chance to back into the roping box, so it was no surprise when he said yes to a week long roping trip in Arizona with some of his rodeo partners and friends.
A high concentration of team ropers relocating to the Grand Canyon state for warmer weather during the winter months offered Thomas and his friends the wealth of roping opportunities they went in search of.
“I found out about the Big Gamble just by being in Arizona,” Thomas said.
The Big Gamble roping event that the cowboy won was hosted by the National Team Roping organization that sanctions and hosts roping events year-round.
The Big Gamble featured eight straight days of team roping competitions at the historic Rancho Rio Arena and drew ropers of every skill level from across the country.
Despite traveling with fellow team ropers, Thomas made the decision to enter the Big Gamble with St. George team roping veteran Nathan Cooper, who also happened to be in Arizona for the wealth of roping opportunities.
“I have known [Cooper] ever since I was little,” Thomas said of the decision. “I found him just by going to a bunch of jackpots and we started entering together and winning.”
Partner teams competed each day in various roping events based on the skill level of the individual partners. This level of ability is represented by numbers assigned to each roper using an algorithm developed and used by the sanctioning team roping organization.
The numbers are awarded to ropers based on earnings, age and consistency at competitions and are constantly changing with the individual’s career and abilities.
Team roping events are often categorized by the combined skill-level numbers of both the header and the heeler, thus barring out any roping duo above the specified ability.
Teams participating in the Big Gamble were invited to compete in various ropings in which the duo’s combined numbers were at or below 15.5, 14.5, 13.5, 12.5, 11.5, 10.5, 9.5 and 8.5, with each number designation signifying a separate competition.
Thomas who claimed a 5.5 in the heading and Cooper who claimed an 8 in the heeling entered the 13.5 Big Gamble on Dec. 1.
As a four-steer progressive competition, each team in the 13.5 roping was tasked with making four successful catches.
Headers, like Thomas, are required to make one of three legal catches: slick horns, half head or full head. Heelers, like Cooper, are required to catch one or both hind legs after the header has turned the steer.
Failure to make any one of the legal catches on either end results in a no-time for the team, and in the case of a progressive style roping, disqualification from the remainder of the competition.
The Big Gamble roping lived up to its name with a $300 entry fee per roper as compared to most roping events that require a $100-$150 entry.
Thomas and Cooper ran the risk of losing their combined $600 in any one of the four rounds, but they also stood to win big with a large payout derived from the pool of entry fees.
After three successful runs, the Utah team made the final round of competition. The ropers then pulled off a legal run on their final steer, solidifying a top finish with a total combined time of 30.84 seconds on all four runs beating the second place team by just 0.44 seconds.
This first place finish meant that the duo’s gamble would pay back dividends as both ropers walked away with $11,050 in prize money.
Thomas credits his win at the Big Gamble Event and his success in the sport in general to his mindset.
“For the longest time I had a negative mindset thinking I wasn’t going to win at a roping,” Thomas said. “Recently I changed that, telling myself I am going to win everywhere I go and I have been doing a lot better.”
The roper returned to Cedar City after the event where he will finish up his bachelor’s degree in agriculture this spring as well as compete in his final season of college rodeo for SUU.
The senior athlete will enter the spring collegiate rodeos in March as the number one header in the Rocky Mountain Region after two first place finishes during the fall rodeos. If Thomas can maintain his top spot he will travel to Casper, Wyoming in June to compete at the College National Finals Rodeo.
He continues to work on his roping noting that, “Team roping takes a lot of practice.” Working with Cedar City native and performance horse trainer Dylan Nelson ensures that he has ample time to do just that.
“It really helps to have people that are better than you helping you out,” Thomas said. “My future goals are probably the same as everyone else, which is to make the [National Finals Rodeo], but honestly I just want to get better everyday.”
Story by: Mikyla Bagley
Photos Courtesy of Casey Thomas