Pro rodeo cowboys Clint Cooper, Tilden Hooper and Wesley Silcox have several things in common. They've all competed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), the sport's version of the Super Bowl. The last time each man was there in Las Vegas under the bright lights was 2011. And all three came to San Juan Capistrano, California for the Rancho Mission Viejo (RMV) Rodeo very badly in need of a win.
Celebrating its 14th anniversary in 2014, RMV Rodeo was started to honor the old cowboy traditions of Orange County and give back to the community. All proceeds from the rodeo are given to local charities like Children's Hospital (CHOC) at Mission and the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center. RMV has donated more than $1.3 million since it began.
Along with its humanitarian purpose, the RMV Rodeo lists its mission as "preservation of the cowboy way of life."
While heritage is key in the rodeo founders' hearts, the rodeo itself is far from a traditional event. Held on the polo fields off Ortega Highway just minutes from Mission San Juan Capistrano, the entire rodeo arena is built in a matter of days and disappears within hours of the rodeo's conclusion. In addition, the rodeo invites just the top 30 cowboys in each Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) event for just one run or ride to win. The richest two-day rodeo in the world, RMV offers a total purse of $250,000.
For Cooper, Hooper and Silcox, RMV represented a huge opportunity in a season where the opportunities are getting fewer and fewer. The 2014 PRCA regular season ends Sept. 30 and only the top 15 in the each event's World standings will advance to the WNFR.
Cooper started the his run at RMV ranked 18th in the PRCA World standings for tie down ropers. Cooper is a veteran of the WNFR with four appearances and part of the only three brother set to ever qualify and compete at the same WNFR along with brothers Tuf and Clif. But the eldest son of Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer Roy Cooper hadn't been back to Vegas since 2011, finishing a heartbreaking 21st a year ago.
Cooper looked determined to change his fate this time around. Charging across the line on his three-time AQHA/PRCA Tie Down Roping Horse of the Year Eightys Sport, aka Sweetness, Cooper launched a shot off his calf and sprinted down the rope in pursuit of Timber Moore's 8.2 second leading time. Throwing a flawless run on the ground, Cooper's name shot to the top of the pile with his 7.6 second run.
Having to sweat out just one more cowboy, Cooper soon learned he won the rodeo, a $6,608 payday and collected RMV's $1,000 bonus for being the fastest cowboy on Sunday. While the bonus doesn't count for World standings, the rest does and Cooper vaulted to 12th.
Likewise, Hooper needed to capitalize on the chance presented at RMV. Hooper has battled injuries since his last trip to Vegas in 2011 but has steadily climbed back into contention and came to San Juan ranked 16th, right on the bubble to return to the WNFR. Hooper had Comanchero of the Flying U Rodeo's string draw, the big buckskin who had helped Matt Bright share the win at RMV two years before.
It was a victory that almost didn't happen. When the gates cracked open, Comanchero burst from the chutes but stumbled badly and fell to the ground. With the re-ride option in play, Hooper asked the Flying U's Reno Rosser if he'd bring the big buckskin back for another try.
When Rosser agreed, the crowd hits its feet. Only moments later, Hooper and Comanchero danced again, this time with everyone staying on their feet and in the saddle. The judges awarded Hooper 85 points and the $8,954 pay check for the win.
Hooper moved from 16th to 11th.
Silcox was further behind than either Cooper or Hooper but the 2007 PRCA World Champion Bull Rider was definitely not out of the hunt as he bid for a seventh WNFR trip. Silcox was ranked 32nd on Aug. 18. The Utah cowboy was already putting together a big weekend after riding well at rodeos in Kennewick and Bremerton, Washington but he saved the biggest check for Sunday afternoon.
The champ went after his draw, Flying U's Wolf Deer, aggressively, spurring his way to the eight second whistle. His score of 83 points just clipped Aaron Pass and Brennon Eldred for the victory.
With $7,896 won at RMV, Silcox's weekend haul went over $13,000, shoving his name all the way to 21st. He trails the 15th ranked bull rider by just over $6,000 with five weeks remaining in the 2014 season.
Interestingly, both Hooper and Silcox are members of the Crown Royal Riders, a rodeo team sponsored by Crown Royal not only for individual reward but also to help earn money to benefit the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund for injured riders.
Team ropers Aaron Tsinigine and Cole Davidson were in a similar position to RMV's other winners with one big difference: the two cowboys have yet to get to Las Vegas to compete in the WNFR. Tsinigine came close a year ago, finishing 17th despite winning RMV with Clay O'Brien Cooper.
Different partner, different year but same result. The Indian National Finals Rodeo Champ turned one to be fast again and Davidson cleaned up the heel end to stop the clock at 4.2 seconds. The cowboys won $6,572 apiece.
Tsinigine moved from 16th to 14th in the header's standings while Davidson jumped one spot from 17th to 16th.
In the steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding, the champions were on the opposite end of the season ending bubble. Trevor Knowles has led the steer wrestling standings for several weeks but opened that lead just a little wider with his 3.3 second run at RMV. He eclipsed the nearest bulldogger by half a second.
Knowles earned $5,295 and has cinched his 11th trip to Las Vegas. The only thing missing for the Oregon cowboy is a gold buckle as the World Champion.
Nebraska bronc rider Cort Scheer came to Southern Cal ranked fourth and left in the same spot, despite winning $7,868 after smoking the field with an incredible ride aboard Big Bend Rodeo's Shady Lady. Scheer did gather up World leader Taos Muncy a bit and now trails the two-time champion by just under $20,000.