Big Sky Country produces five WNFR cowboys |

Big Sky Country produces five WNFR cowboys

Clay Tryan, heading for Travis Graves, competes at his fifteenth WNFR. The thrill of pro rodeo’s world championship never changes, he says. Photo by Hubbell Photos.

Five Wrangler National Finals Rodeo WNFR competitors call beautiful Montana their home.

Bull rider Parker Breding, Edgar, is the only roughstock cowboy among the group.

Of the four remaining, two are team ropers (cousins Chase Tryan and Clay Tryan) and two are steer wrestlers (Ty Erickson and Bridger Chambers.)

In Montana, the Tryan name is synonymous with team roping. Clay Tryan, the son of Dennis Tryan, a 1984 WNFR qualifier, and Terri Kaye Kirkland, also a WNFR qualifier, is the oldest of three boys. His brothers Travis and Brady have also team roped at the WNFR (they were the first set of three brothers to rope there the same year, in 2010).

“You hear people talk about how crazy the driving is, how many rodeos they’re going to, and you think about how cool that would be. You want to be a part of it. They don’t see that we warm up horses, make a run, then drive 15 hours just in time to pull into slack somewhere.” Bridger Chambers, steer wrestler

Even though the three-time world champion (2005, 2013-2014), has qualified for fifteen WNFRs, the excitement never wears off.

“It’s why you do it,” Clay said. “There’s a thrill. Big events are exciting for me, whether it’s a big jackpot, Cheyenne (Frontier Days), or the BFI (Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping). That’s why you work hard and practice.”

Tryan spent the early part of the summer heading for Jade Corkill. But when Corkill decided to rodeo less, he teamed up with an old partner, Travis Graves. Tryan and Corkill hadn’t done well in the winter rodeos, but he and Graves got hot quick. In late June, when the Reno, Nev. rodeo hit, Tryan had won $19,000. By Sept. 30, he and Graves had added another $80,000 to their winnings. Tryan thinks it was the most won by a team in the summer.

It wasn’t his ideal way to rodeo, but it worked. “I like doing it way better when I can do well in the winter. It makes it easier. When you’re coming from behind, it’s a little tougher. I’d rather have a good winter and spring and start the summer off in the lead but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.”

He and Graves roped together from 2010-2012, making it to the WNFR all three of those years, and doing “everything but win a world championship,” he said. “Maybe this time around we’ll finish the deal.”

Tryan, who with his wife Bobbie has three sons, ages 12, 10 and 4, lives in Texas even though Montana is home. Being a top 15team roper with Montana winters is hard. In Texas, “the weather’s nice, you can practice a lot, and there are a lot of team roping jackpots.” But Montana will always be his home state. “I still call Montana home,” he said. “It’s where I got good. If I wasn’t good, I’d still be living there.” His two older boys spent the summer there, with his dad, as Dennis took them to ropings. His boys are “roping pretty good, and it was fun for my dad to take them.”

Clay’s dad was instrumental in his success.

“He’s the reason I rope, for sure,” he said. “He was good. He’s the one who got me going.”

And his wife is critical to his success. Bobbie and the boys, who are homeschooled, travel with him nearly all the time.

“She knows the drill,” Clay said. “She’s pretty savvy about what goes on.” Traveling together “is the only way to do it.”

Clay enters the WNFR in fourth place with $96,990.03 won.

Clay’s cousin Chase, who is nearly 10 years his junior, will compete at his second WNFR.

The heeler’s first place finish in the average at the Montana Circuit Finals last January kicked off his year. Good runs in Reno, Nev., Cody, Wyo., Edmonton, Alb. and Livingston, Mont., contributed to it.

Chase, who lives in Helena, roped with Brenten Hall for much of the year, but because Hall didn’t qualify for the WNFR, he will rope with Bubba Buckaloo, Caddo, Okla., there. It is Buckaloo’s first trip. The two have been in Texas practicing, and Chase appreciates how Buckaloo ropes. “He’s aggressive and smart, all at the same time. He seems to always put himself in a good spot to win. He’s a winner.”

Chase competed at the 2012 WNFR, roping with Keven Daniel and finishing second in the average that year. There’s more money up for grabs now (first place in each round pays $26,230), but he’s just happy to be going back. “I’ve been working at it really hard lately.”

He never hung out with his cousins Clay, Travis and Brady much, because of the age difference. “By the time I got out and about and started entering rodeos, (Clay) was already gone.” He did stay at Clay’s house in Texas early in his rodeo career. “I owe a lot of credit to him and his family. They helped me with a lot of stuff and put up with me for a long time.”

Chase spends most of his time in Texas with friends, but like his cousin, Montana is home. “I love it. I grew up here. It feels like home, every time I go back.”

He enters this year’s WNFR in 12th place with $68,283.81 won.

Ty Erickson is in a different position this year, headed into his fourth WNFR.

The Helena steer wrestler will go to Las Vegas in fourth place. The last two years, he’s been in first place going into the Finals but finished as reserve world champion last year and in seventh place in 2016.

“I’ve been joking with people that I’m glad I’m not going in No. 1. The pressure isn’t there to be No. 1 and stay there. I’m an underdog, so to speak.”

His game plan hasn’t changed. “I’m going to go at every steer as if it were a one-header and try to make the best run on every steer I can.”

As a little kid, he dreamed about bulldogging at the WNFR. “Me and Tim Sparing (a fellow Helenan and steer wrestler who hazed for Erickson at the 2016 WNFR) grew up thinking about making the Finals. That’s all we ever thought about. Now that I’m doing it, it’s pretty amazing.”

In Vegas, he will ride the two-time AQHA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year, Scooter. Scooter, owned by world champions Tyler Pearson and Kyle Irwin, will be ridden by Erickson, Pearson, Irwin, and Tyler Waguespack at the Finals. Scooter “is unbelievable,” Erickson said. “He’s great in any kind of setup you take him to. And he fits so many different guys. Anybody that gets on him can win on him, and I think that’s what makes him so special.”

Erickson rode Scooter during the regular season.

Erickson’s wife, Cierra, (they married in October), never watches him compete at the WNFR. She’s outside, with the horses.

“She really cares about taking care of horses, and the last four years, she’s not ever watched the rodeo,” he said. “She’s been in the warmup pens, taking care of horses and getting them ready for us. She’s a pretty incredible woman.” In addition to readying Scooter, she warms up Metallica, the haze horse for the four cowboys.

Erickson has won $89,661.75 coming into this year’s finals.

The rookie of the Montana timed event men is Bridger Chambers.

The 29-year-old bulldogger is headed to his first WNFR after having a fabulous rodeo year.

Chambers, who lives with his wife and four children in Butte, has circuit rodeoed for the past six years but never went too far out of Montana, in part because of the cost of rodeo, but also because of his “belief in my ability,” he said. “I always felt like I wasn’t good enough.”

Last winter, he made a commitment to himself to practice harder, and in the practice pen, he set goals. Each time he reached a goal, he set a new one. One of the goals was to win the average at the Montana Circuit Finals, which he did, which qualified him for a trip to the RAM National Circuit Finals in Florida. While there, he won second place, which added to his world rankings.

The win in Florida qualified him for some of the big winter shows, where he won money in San Antonio, Ft. Worth, and other places.

Before going to Florida, he had a serious discussion with his parents and his wife. He and his dad own a drug dog business, and Chambers being on the rodeo road would keep him away from work. He was hesitant. “Do I fulfill my obligation as a business owner, or do I take a shot at my dream as a little kid?” With his parents’ and wife’s blessing, he chose to rodeo fulltime.

After the RAM National Circuit Finals, he jumped into the top 15 and stayed there for nearly all year. He never had any big wins, but lots of little ones, a lot of second, third, fourth place checks “that add up in the end.”

In Vegas, Chambers will be aboard Rooster, a 12-year-old sorrel who he has owned for three years. It took awhile to gel with Rooster, but once Chambers did, the horse got better. On Rooster, a person better be ready to nod for his steer. “When you turn him into the corner, back up (in the box) and everything’s set, you’d better get going.”

Rodeoing full time and qualifying for the Finals has been everything that Chambers had heard it would be.

“You hear people talk about how crazy the driving is, how many rodeos they’re going to, and you think about how cool that would be. You want to be a part of it.” People think the road is all glitz and glamour, but it’s not. “They don’t see that we warm up horses, make a run, then drive 15 hours just in time to pull into slack somewhere.”

His wife, Kristen and their kids, a daughter who is 13 and three sons, ages 11, 4 and 3, missed their dad when he was gone. Facetime helped, he said, and when Chambers was on the road, he sent home videos of his runs for the younger boys to watch. But the youngest one “dang sure got tired of mom telling him that dad would come home in a couple more days.”

Chambers enters the WNFR in eighth place, having won $81,178.35 in the regular season.

The 60th annual WNFR runs Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas at the Thomas and Mack Arena on the grounds of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The rodeo will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network starting at 9 p.m. CT/8 p.m. MT. For more information, visit F

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