After a tough couple of years, we’re back. Bareback riders Tilden Hooper and Kaycee Feild break it down.
TILDEN (above left): This photo is from Redding, California, in May of 2018. Me and Kaycee were excited to be back together. When we were younger, before we were married and had as many responsibilities, Kaycee stayed down in Texas all winter, and we went to all the same rodeos. Then, for Reno in June, I moved to Utah and stayed there until October. We spent every day together. Now, he’s got a family and I have a family, and we don’t see each other as much.
KAYCEE: We saw so many great friends in Redding. They were saying stuff like, We’ve been missing you guys! and It’s fun to have you back! It wasn’t like Tilden and me went anywhere. We rodeoed last year, but we were in a different mindset. Personally, I was going through a lot. Dad died of cancer in 2016. In 2017, it was like I was lost in a fog.
In 2017, things just weren’t clicking. Me and Tilden would talk about the draw and what everybody else drew two days before getting to a rodeo. I forgot that there are so many different things that go into making a good ride other than just drawing a good horse. Even if I had a good horse, I only did okay. I didn’t take it to him and ride like I can. I’d get on and, man, I was bearing down just trying to muscle through. I was there for a job, not because I loved it and have passion for bareback riding. I wasn’t feeling the horse because I wasn’t mentally there. I was trying too hard to win rather than having fun and going jump for jump and being loose and cool.
Then, in April of 2017 at Clovis, a horse fell on me and broke my riding arm. I sat out until Reno. My first horse at Reno fell, and I broke my arm again.
KAYCEE: Tilden’s hat comes off on the first jump of every single ride. He has all these cool pictures, but he doesn’t have his cowboy hat on. I say, That’s a great picture, but you gotta keep your cowboy hat on—at least ’til you hit the ground.
Tilden’s been through some hard times, too. Hell, he broke his neck and had surgery and everybody was telling him he was never going to ride again. That’s a scary place when you’re a young man and have big dreams. Through the low times and the high times, you learn a lot about a person. It says a lot about a person when they lose a close one and win a championship and that person stays true and doesn’t change who he is or what he’s about. My Dad was that way and Tilden, too. I’ve learned a lot from both of them.
Tilden really believes he can win the world championship, and I believe in him also.
TILDEN: There’s one long round at Redding. This would have been the third performance. My horse was terrible. I was seventy-three points and mad as hell, asking the judges for a re-ride.
Right before this picture was taken, when we were putting riggins on horses, Kaycee looked at me and was like, I’m gonna kick your ass. But it’s a lot more fun when I get to compete against you.
Nobody is more competitive than the two of us with each other. In our sport, since I’ve been rodeoing, Kaycee’s probably been the most dominating force since maybe Bobby Mote. It has pushed me to up my game. Competing with Kaycee generally puts me ahead of other guys. If I can beat him, I can usually beat the other guys. As dominant as he is in our game, he’s always rooting for me as much as I am for him. I think a lot of guys say that, but I don’t know how often it’s true.
It’s definitely true with us.
KAYCEE: Me and Tilden were excited to reconnect. Last winter, I only saw him for a minute at Corpus Christi. I was in and out. I hung out with him a little bit in Houston. The week before Redding, we met up in Mexico for stem-cell injections. We rented a car and drove to Redding, and the energy just picked up. I bumped into a couple of my Dad’s buddies I hadn’t seen for years. I had a really good horse. I’ve won a lot of money on him. Shoot, it was funner than heck to be there together and competing against each other.
TILDEN: Kaycee was up right after me. He had a stronger draw, a Big Stone Rodeo horse called Gold Dust. I personally have witnessed Kaycee win fifty to a hundred-thousand dollars on Gold Dust. I was with Tim Bridwell, from Bridwell Pro Rodeos. We were standing there watching Kaycee ride. I still had my glove on. That’s how soon after I rode that this photo was taken.
TILDEN: Kaycee’s ride started really good. The horse circled around real tight. By the last jump or so, the horse got Kaycee loosened up, clicked his heels and flipped him over the front. If I got bucked off like that, everybody might have chuckled, but it wouldn’t have been a shocker. But Kaycee, even if he’s in a bind, he’s able to sit up and get off on the pickup man. He’s a great horseman. He always gets off on the pickup man.
KAYCEE: It was a great ride, but I got a little behind and let my feet roll up that horse’s neck, kind of coming up over my handle and tipping me farther and farther back. I could feel my hand coming loose. I was like, Man, I hope the whistle blows soon!
KAYCEE: As soon as the whistle blew, my feet dropped behind me, my riggin jerked me down, and I got chicken-flipped. I was laughing halfway through the air. When I hit the ground, my hand was out. I was fine. I can take a bounce. But I was pretty embarrassed. That hadn’t happened since 2008 at the NFR on a horse called Cool Water.
TILDEN: So when that horse flipped him around slammed him on the ground, me and Tim just died laughing. Kaycee’s catty. He was smiling as soon as he hit the ground, so we knew he was all right. There’s not a tougher guy than Kaycee.
TILDEN: The horse cleared out, and Kaycee sat up. I thought it would be funny if I ran out there and acted like I was helping him up. So I did. I sprinted out to the middle of the arena and grabbed him and was like, Are you all right? Where are you hurt?
KAYCEE: At first, I thought sports medicine was coming to see if I was okay. You know, Does your shoulder hurt? Is your neck fine? Are you seeing stars? But when I looked up, I saw Tilden laughing and trying to help me off the ground. The goof ball. I was like, You’re a real funny guy, making fun of me in front of everybody because I got chicken-flipped!
But, heck, he don’t slack up on me, and I don’t slack up on him.
TILDEN: He was trying to knock me off. I don’t know if he was embarrassed or surprised, but either way it was funny. You can see in the photos that his hat got bent up. Me and Kaycee were laughing as we walked out. The announcers were laughing. He ended up being eight-five-and-a-half and winning second. I was happy he did good.
KAYCEE: We’ve been there for each other through a lot of stuff. We’re at a point in our lives where the hard times and blessings that we have—all of it a pure witness of God—happen for a reason. They make you a better person at the end of the road, and if you stay positive and learn from the highs and lows of life and just do what’s right, you’ll find true happiness. That was my dad’s motto. Just do what’s right.
TILDEN: This picture sums up our friendship. We’re there for each other, good or bad. He had a good score but a bad wreck. I had a clean ride but a bad score and wasn’t gonna win any money. We’re both dying laughing. We’re in tune with each other. I bet nobody loves riding bucking horses and competing against each other more than the two of us.
KAYCEE: It’s funny. Me and Tilden were driving back to Sacramento after the Redding Rodeo, and we had this talk. We started talking about where we’re both at with our careers, our wives and families, our parents, business at home. Things we hadn’t been able to talk about in a while. Things I used to talk about with my Dad before he passed away. Like how important it is to be happy and grateful for your family and loved ones. How much better life is when you do what’s right and focus on the people in your life.
And then to wake up the next day, look at Instagram and see this picture of me and Tilden, man, that was pretty wild. It’s a picture worth a million words. Our smiles and body language say it all. To be in step like that is perfect. This photo makes me think of years and years of memories of me and Tilden doing what we love to do.