Controversial call rocks the rodeo world
Congratulations to all the champs at RodeoHouston on those season-changing wins. Between the timing of $50,000 worth of momentum and the financial boost taking every winner straight to the top of the world standings, there is no regular-season rodeo with more impact. It’s a great rodeo, and by all accounts from my cowboy and cowgirl friends, Houston’s contestant hospitality is second to none. As it should be, the stars of the show are treated like the celebrities they are in H-Town. Because I was haunted out of a good night’s sleep over that last tie-down roping run on Sunday night, I feel the need to calmly, professionally address what was supposed to be young Canadian calf roper Beau Cooper’s breakout moment—and was clearly not the literal break-out, plus-10 moment it turned out to be.
I do not know the line judge. I will not name him here even after being told his name. Not the point. Sh*t happens. Equipment malfunctions happen. Judgment calls made in real, heat-of-the-moment time go for and against cowboys all the time.
To be totally transparent, I have never met Beau Cooper, the 21-year-old cowboy at the center of this controversy through no fault of his own. I do know that Beau’s mom, Patti, and World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Zeke Thurston’smom, Lynda, are sisters, which makes Beau and Zeke first cousins. Beau’s dad is Jim Cooper; no relation to Hall of Famer Jimmie Cooper from New Mexico.
I don’t deal in drama, hearsay and third-hand speculation. I deal direct, so I called Beau, PRCA tie-down roping event rep Shane Hanchey and Riley Webb, who was crowned the Houston champ, to gather the first-hand facts. That’s my job as a journalist. I will also say up front that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool “May the Best Man Win” girl. I was born that way, and it’s just who I am. The best man or woman winning matters to me, and more importantly to the integrity of our sport.
I do not believe that anyone intentionally set out to ruin Beau Cooper’s life here. And by the way, his career is not ruined. Beau will be back. But what happened Sunday night really hurt my heart. The rodeo mom in me knows that could have happened to any of our sons or daughters, and though such things happen more than most people realize, this was a particularly costly, high-stakes situation.
Here’s how it went for Beau at Houston, step by seven-calf step…
Super Series 4:
Round 1: 10.6, second, $2,000
Round 2: 9.6, split first/second, $2,500
Round 3: 10.1, sixth, $250
Super Series Semifinals 2: NT; 9.8, but calf got up, $0
Wild Card 2: last roper out, had to be 9.2, was 9.0, $3,000
Championship 10-Man Round: 8.5, first, no money, based on final four all being guaranteed money
Four-man Finals: had to be 8.8 to win it, 18.5, including 10 for the barrier, $5,500
Beau’s total money won at RodeoHouston: $13,250
“I can’t say exactly what happened, but I do know the barrier malfunctioned,” Beau said. “I’ve run enough calves to know where I’m at on the score. I could tell I was out. I knew when I threw my hands in the air that I’d just won Houston. As everyone saw on the Cowboy Channel, when they said I broke the barrier, it snapped my head around.
“If you go back and watch the Wild Card and 10-man (Championship) rounds, I absolutely wiped the barrier out on those two runs, but didn’t break it. I knew I was out in that final-four round. There’s no way I broke it.”
Cooper kept his composure. The Western world that watched it live and again in slow motion had a quick opinion. As did the players. Hanchey won his gold buckle 10 years ago, and now represents all tie-down ropers. He first noticed this kid from Canada five years ago.
“I did a couple roping schools up in Canada in 2017 and ’18,” Hanchey said. “There was this kid who never left my side, and was far and away the most talented kid at the school. I could see he had it in him. I told him if he ever wanted to come down (to the US), don’t hesitate. Beau wasn’t 18 the first time his dad drove him down, and he’s been coming and staying ever since. He comes to Carmine (Texas) after Christmas, and doesn’t leave until the spring rodeos start up in Canada in April.
“I wasn’t there at Houston last night, but like everybody else, our phones were glued to our hands, especially in the final four. We watched it on the iPad driving home from a roping. In my opinion, you didn’t need replay to see that the barrier malfunctioned. Watching it live, you could see the neck rope pull off the calf, and when the neck rope pulls off the calf, the pin is supposed to pull and the barrier is supposed to trip. But it never did.
“We will never know exactly what caused either the neck rope to pull or the pin not to pull the barrier. That could be caused by a number of things—anything from the neck rope hanging on something in the chute to it wrapping around the designated push man’s wrist could cause that. There’s no telling now. But the fact of the matter is, Beau wasn’t even close to breaking the barrier.”
When Shane and Beau both got back to the Hanchey house late Sunday night, the two of them sat quietly together in the living room. Neither knew what to say. What words do any of us really have right now?
“This whole deal feels like a nightmare to me, I can’t even imagine how Beau feels,” Shane said. “Beau was finally going to get that big win. He roped good enough to get it. What happened here is depressing.”
Now for a rodeo mom whose best friends are cowboys and completely comprehends how hard profit margins are to come by in this business to put what the Houston win might have meant to Beau Cooper into perspective…
Beau—the 2021 PRCA Resistol Tie-Down Roping Rookie of the Year, who finished 35th in the world last year—did not have a dime won in the 2023 world standings before Houston.
“I told Shane a week before Houston that I was going home after Austin (which is going on now),” Beau said. “Before Houston, I’d won $5 at a jackpot over my entry fees this winter. That was it. I got $140 to sign autographs at Fort Worth. And I won Bay City (Texas) right before Houston, but I unofficialed it, so that $1,700 didn’t count.
“I had won zero dollars this winter before Houston. I literally had a maxed-out credit card, and was trying to figure out how to pay off the other half of this horse I just bought (Cooper bought his Buck Daniel-raised sorrel, Seven, from Hanchey). I had zero dollars in my American bank account.”
Beau still plans to go home after the rodeo that’s coming right up in San Angelo, Texas the last week of this month and first week of April.
“I’m going to go home for the spring rodeos in Canada, with the plan to be back for Sisters (Oregon) and Reno (Nevada) in June,” said Cooper, whose hometown is Stettler, Alberta. “Trying to make the NFR this year is my plan.”
A lot of hearts hurt for Beau Cooper right now. How’s his heart doing?
“This is the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “I’m not going to say it cost me an NFR qualification, but it darn sure would have made it a lot easier.
“I am sad to be deprived of that feeling of throwing your hands in the air knowing you just won Houston in front of 70,000 people, with another 500,000 watching live on the Cowboy Channel. All I know is that for some reason, the barrier malfunctioned. I don’t know why or exactly what happened, but if you look at the head-on angle from the final four, the calf’s over the scoreline, the neck rope is off the calf and the barrier is still up with my horse behind it. That doesn’t happen when the barrier works.
“Riley (Webb) made a damn good run (8.9). Then I made the run of my life when it counted. As a kid, that moment was everything you dream of. When the outcome is out of your control like that, it’s hard to choke down. People go their whole careers and never win a rodeo like Houston. But none of this changes who I am. I’m still the guy I was yesterday and the day before.”
I’m all about the facts, and inclusion of all angles and points of view. The way I’ve always seen it, presenting those facts and telling the truth is my job as a rodeo journalist.
“Upon reviewing the video in slow motion, it’s my opinion the barrier obviously malfunctioned. We don’t know why. With that said, the ruling stands as the PRCA Rule Book provides that the judge’s decision is final,” stated PRCA CEO Tom Glause on 3-21-23.
I’ve been reminded by cowboy friends since Sunday that a very similar scenario played out during last year’s final four at Houston. The outcome was different, in that the judge’s ruling right then and there took the 10 off of Tyler Milligan. Minus that mistaken plus-10, Milli finished second to 2022 Houston champ John Douch. Be careful about automatically assuming anything here. Different run. Different real-time decision. The judge’s decision was again final.
That leaves me feeling the need to address one last principal player in this no-win situation, and that’s Riley Webb. I’ve known Riley since he was a little kid, and have never known him to be anything but a talented, respectful young man. I refuse to quote Riley here, because if one single social-media troll twists his words and tries to blow them back in his face, I will feel responsible—and terrible. I do appreciate him taking my call, so I could confirm directly with him that what I watched on TV along with the rest of the world was accurate.
For as sick as I am about this for Beau, I do want to remind everyone that Riley had nothing to do with how this all went down. He was first to rope in the final four, and did his job. Great run, as Beau said. Riley was still riding back up the arena when Hunter Herrin roped (H was 9.6). Riley was uncinching his horse over on the other side of the heading box—out of sight of the tie-down box—when Reese Riemer roped (15.4). When the crowd went wild for Beau before the announcers broke the barrier news, Riley was ready to be happy about winning $20,000 for second at Houston on a Sunday afternoon.
Riley had no control or input on the controversial call that’s caused this uproar, and is not the villain here, folks. Maybe there isn’t one. I’m not defending anyone or accusing anyone of anything. I wasn’t even there. What that line judge says he saw in real time is what he can live with, and what the PRCA rule book states stands. Trust me when I tell you that this is not how anyone wanted to win—or lose—a title at Houston.