Up from Broke

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

Riding animals chasing animals

by Kyle Irwin

CINCH and Cowboy Journal are proud to bring you Boys in the Box, a three-part series about the bond among bulldoggers, the 2017 Horse of the Year and one of the most amazing NFR finishes in recent memory. Maybe ever.

Start with Part One, Looking for a Horse, by Tyler Pearson


The first moment I knew Tyler Pearson believed in me?

It was 2013 at a rodeo in Huntsville, Texas. He and I were getting reacquainted after not seeing each other in a while. I knew him growing up. I’m from Robertsdale, Alabama, down near Mobile. Tyler grew up in Louisville, Mississippi. He would come to Robertsdale to practice steer wrestling with an older cousin of mine, Quinn Campbell. Quinn is older than Tyler, and Tyler’s five years older than me. They let me join in when they practiced, but I was too young to hang out with them afterwards.

When I bumped into Tyler again in 2013, I was in college and had my pro rodeo card. But I didn’t have a horse. Growing up, my family never had extra money for nice horses, but I didn’t let that stop me. I’d drive to a rodeo, pay my entry fees, look for the best horse there and ask the guy who owned him to let me mount out. If he told me no, I’d go to the next guy.

I had my eye on one particular horse that day. I pointed and said to Tyler, “Man, I like that horse.”

“Well, let’s buy him,” Tyler said.

Huh? “You mean like a partnership?” I asked. That caught me off guard.

“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s go in together.”

Come to find out later this was all part of Pearson’s plan. He had called my cousin, Quinn, and asked about me. Quinn told him I wasn’t a screw up or anything, that I was on a steer wrestling scholarship up in Oklahoma and might have a future rodeoing.

Pard was the horse’s name. I couldn’t afford him by myself, but Tyler and I bought him together. That might have been the best decision of my life. Not because of how Pard performed—he did fine, and we sold him a couple years later—but because it made me and Tyler Pearson partners. I was all in from there.

Oh, I was nervous. This was my first partnership on a horse. I knew my iffy financial state. And I didn’t know if Tyler and me would get along. But I was excited that somebody believed in me enough to do the deal.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

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No Warranty

During those early years, I was pretty broke. Like I said, my folks didn’t have lot of money to give to me to go rodeo. They wanted me to do good, but they told me it was gonna have to be what I made and earned. I worked for college. I worked for money to rodeo. I know how to weld. I’ve framed houses. I’ve built fence. I’ve worked on vehicles—don’t care to do that anymore, but I did what I needed to do because I wanted to rodeo for a living. I kept that goal in my mind.

Keep working toward that goal!

At times, I was scary broke. But looking back, it’s kind of funny, too.

There was this one time. It was during my last year in college. I went to a jackpot in Ochelata, Oklahoma, and my truck broke down coming home. It was a Ford F-350. I’d been driving it since I was sixteen. My Mom bought it for me used, and we took it up and down the road for high school rodeos. The truck finally croaked after three-hundred-thousand miles. It needed a whole new engine, but I couldn’t afford a new engine. Not that my parents abandoned me, but I’ve never liked asking for a handout. I kept thinking, Everything’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna make it. Just put your faith in the Lord.

I ended up selling the truck to the mechanic, because I couldn’t pay him to fix it. I combined what that brought with money I got for a student loan and bought a used car from a lot in Oklahoma City. A scratched-and-dented 2005 Oldsmobile Alero with a driver’s side window that didn’t go down.

“Do you want to pay $1,999 and get a two-month warranty?” the guy at the car lot asked.

I said, “What’s the other deal?”

I wiggled him down to seventeen-hundred bucks to save three hundred bucks.

“Alright,” he said, “ but you don’t get the warranty.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I told him. “I’m halfway a mechanic. I’ve done this before to make money.”

Well, I drove off and didn’t get forty miles down the road before the Alero quit running. Man, I wanted to set that car on fire and walk away. I spent all the money I had—plus some I wasn’t supposed to spend—on that car. It ended up being the fuel pump. The pump and the labor to fix it cost me five hundred bucks. If I’d have just taken the $1,999 deal with the warranty, I’d have been better off.

But I overcame that setback and stayed focused on my goal. Not having a truck didn’t slow me down. Tyler was keeping Pard at the time. If I went to a rodeo, I either met him or went with Stockton Graves, my college coach at the time.

Oh yeah, did I mention what color the Alero was?


We called it the Gold Buckle.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

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Change of Luck

I was raised to be joyful. Be happy. There’s always somebody who’s got it worse. I’d hate to say this and offend somebody, but even if your house burned down, and you lost both your cars to the repo man—Hey, you woke up and opened your eyes. Smile, it’s gonna be okay!

No matter how much we practice, some things are beyond our control. I mean, we’re riding animals chasing animals!

I was still broke by the end of 2013. I didn’t have much luck rodeoing and ended up owing people money for helping me get up and down the road.

“Why don’t you come down here and work in one of these plants,” Tyler said. He and Carissa were living in Independence, Louisiana, near her family. That area is full of factories and chemical refineries. Tyler told me that one time, when he was hurt and couldn’t rodeo, he worked at one of those plants and made good money.

“You can get your stuff paid off and save up some money,” he said. It was hard work, but he knew I wasn’t afraid of working.

So I got this job, and it only lasted a week. I don’t think I made two grand. I was thinking it would last a month, and I’d make $15,000 with all the overtime and per diems.

“We’ll find you another one,” Tyler said. Thanks to him, I did.

I stayed with him and Carissa. Every day after work, I’d come home, and Tyler would have the horses saddled and the steers loaded, and we’d practice, practice, practice.

Tyler made the NFR in 2013 and was going to the winter rodeos in 2014. I wasn’t going anywhere, because I promised myself to get everybody paid off before I started rodeoing.

By this point, Tyler was riding a new horse he bought called Sketch.

My luck changed when I won the Prairie Circuit. In April of 2014, I took Sketch to Guthrie, Oklahoma, for the Ram National Circuit Finals. It was an eliminator deal. I squeezed through each round and made the final four. They run you slowest to fastest. I had the slowest time and, therefore, was up first. I left the box on Sketch and threw my steer in 3.3 seconds. That score tied the National Circuit Finals record—set a few years earlier by my coach Stockton Graves!

Winning the National Circuit Finals brought me a pile of cash and a brand new Ram pickup truck. I got everybody paid back and still had money left.

Tyler looked at me. “You still want to go work in that plant?” he asked.

“Heck no!” I said.

I called my boss and told him about winning the circuit finals.

“You ain’t coming back, are you?”

“Well,” I said. “Unless you need me.”

“Naw, man, go do what you need to do.”

photo courtesy of Kyle Irwin

photo courtesy of Kyle Irwin


Fifteen-Minute Rule

It was a storybook ending from there. The whole year I fed off my win in Guthrie. I went on to make the 2014 National Finals Rodeo. Tyler didn’t make it that year, but he hazed for me, and I rode his horse, Sketch. I won three rounds at my first NFR and had the fastest time—3.2 seconds in the tenth round. I ended up ranked second in the world behind five-time world champion Luke Branquinho.

Man, Sketch and I ginned. We worked good together.

And I had Tyler Pearson hazing for me! There are some great hazers in rodeo, but in my opinion Pearson’s the best. He’s always got good horsepower. A hazer can help a bulldogger, but he can also hurt him if he does too much or not enough. Tyler’s been around. He asks questions. He wants and tries to get better. He’s not afraid to keep learning.

I had a good 2015, too—until the NFR. That’s when Sketch proved true to his name. He got sketchy.

There’s no sense wallowing in the past. In Part One of this series, Pearson already walked you through my miserable Round Ten during the 2015 NFR. Sure, I was pissed at Sketch. But it wasn’t his fault. I tell you, there’s energy in the Thomas & Mack Center. I’m convinced only certain horses work well there. Sketch worked great there—until he didn’t.

I’ve come to realize that no matter how much we practice, some things are beyond our control. I mean, we’re riding animals chasing animals!

Me and Pearson have a fifteen-minute rule in our rig. After fifteen minutes, you can’t be sour anymore. You gotta pick your lip up and get on with life. If one of us is upset and quiet, the other will speak up: You ain’t said nothing. Let’s talk about it, because I want to stop at Waffle House.

Keep a joyful heart.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen


A couple days after we left Vegas, I was at Tyler’s house having a meal with the family. He pulled me aside at one point and said, “Hey, Irwin, I want to do something different. I want to find a horse that’s more dependable than Sketch.”

A couple weeks later, on the phone, he said. “A guy just called and said he knows where a good horse is. Are you interested?”

At first I told him, no. I had just come off a crappy NFR. I didn’t have the money. But Tyler, he doesn’t give up easy. He called a week later and asked again, said he’d cover the whole loan and let me buy half of this new horse—Scooter—with money I had not yet earned.

I was in!

Right off the bat, I took a loan against my truck and paid him half what I owed. Here’s the cool thing—it was the same truck I won on Sketch, Tyler’s horse.

Look, Tyler didn’t need my help with Scooter. He could have bought him outright and charged me twenty-five percent of my winnings to mount out. But Tyler wanted to help me. He wanted me to have something for myself. That’s pretty decent of him, you know. Tyler and me are partners. He wants to see me succeed. And I want the same for him.

In 2017, thanks to Scooter, we both got the chance.

Sure enough, when the rodeo season ended, we both made the National Rodeo Finals.

But we weren’t the only bulldoggers riding Scooter at the NFR. Late in the season, Cadillac, the horse that Ty Erickson and Ty Waguespack rode, got hurt, and they asked if they could mount out on Scooter.

But that’s a whole other story, one I’ll let Pearson tell.

To be continued…

Look for Boys in the Box, Part Three, coming soon.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen


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