Kendra Santos has written about cowboys all her life, including longtime stints with the PRCA, PBR, BFI and The Team Roping Journal. She’s also mom to two 2021 Timed Event Championship cowboys, Lane Karney and Taylor Santos.
Consistency was king for California cowboys Bart Bonfantini and Rick Fausone, who took the victory lap at the Wrangler BFI #10.5 Reno Invitational presented by YETI today at the Reno Livestock Events Center after roping four steers in 42.60 seconds. Produce shipper Bonfantini and farrier Fausone were 10.38, 10.47, 10.93 and 10.82 seconds on their four steers to seal the $36,000 deal and finish first in the 51-team field. The #10.5 featured an 85-percent payback and a boatload of prizes, including Browning Rifles, Gist Buckles, Bullkelp Bedrolls, Resistol Hats, Best Ever Saddle Pads and YETI cups to the fortunate first-place team.
“I haven’t been here to rope in Reno in about 10 years,” said Bonfantini, who’s 60 and grew up in the original Cowboy Capital of the World in Oakdale, California. “The kids are all gone—they’ve graduated from college, and are off the payroll now—so I can finally afford to come rope again.
“My biggest roping check before today was about $8,000, and that was here in Reno. I’ve placed at some World Series ropings, but nothing like this $18,000 check. This is the biggest win of my life so far, for sure.”
Bonfantini and his wife, Toni, live in Prunedale, California now, which is near Salinas. It’s the perfect location in the area known as “The Salad Bowl of the World” for a produce professional.
“I’m in the produce business, and we receive, cool, store and ship produce all over the world,” said the #4 Plus header, who rode a 10-year-old gray horse he calls Poncho, whom he purchased from California timed-event cowboy Rhett Kennedy as a 6-year-old, then finished himself as a head horse. “With work, I get to rope about three days a week. But Rick and I went to Wickenburg (Arizona) for 10 days this winter, and had a big roping adventure. We have a lot of fun roping together.”
There’s a pretty great story behind the paint mare Fausone pulled pipes on today. Rick bought Susie out of someone’s back yard as a 19-year-old prospect a couple years ago. She’d never been in an arena before.
“She didn’t cost much, so I really didn’t take that big a chance on her,” smiled Fausone, 58, who calls Chowchilla, California home. “Susie’s 21 now, and by golly, she made a heel horse.”
Rick, who’s a #5 Plus heeler, said he felt the heat coming back second high call. But he kept it simple in his mind to minimize the stress.
“I just had to rope two feet, and I knew I could do it,” he said. “This is the most I’ve ever won roping. My biggest check before today was for $7,000 heeling for my uncle Dub Cowden here at the Reno Rodeo in 1991.”
In case you’re curious, yes, National Finals Rodeo team ropers Cody and Liddon Cowden are Fausone’s cousins.
“I don’t exactly know what I’ll do with all this money,” Rick said. “I guess I’ll stick it in the bank and get to go rope more. Bart’s a good partner. We’ve roped a lot together the last couple years, and he catches a lot.”
Their post-roping game plan was to go out and celebrate with a nice dinner and a drink or two.
“But I’ll be in bed by 10,” Bonfantini beamed. “I’m roping in the #8.5 Over 50 roping here tomorrow. They do an amazing job with these ropings. I’m so impressed. We got to watch the BFI (Reno Open) yesterday, and the #12.5 (Desert Showdown) earlier today before we roped. I took a few days off, and we’re making a fun little mini vacation out of it. I love it here in Reno. And it’s impressive what happens here for the roping industry.”
Nora Hunt-Lee and Justin Johnson came from sixth high call back to finish second in the roping with 44.49 seconds on four steers. Their team took home $23,000. Jim Estill and Carl Johnson were 45.05 on four for third, and Erik Phillips and Alan Hall finished fourth in the average in 46.76 seconds. The three-steer consolation average was won by Justin Allen and Rodney Teichert with 29.82 on three.
To see complete results from Wrangler BFI 10.5 Reno Invitational, click here.
Like a lot of the ropers entered in today’s Wrangler BFI Reno #12.5 Desert Showdown presented by YETI, Trenton Jones and Casey Felton are working people who rope for fun. They roped four steers in 31.52 seconds to take the #12.5 title today in the Reno Livestock Events Center. The $50,000 this team took home is not only a personal career best for both, but the kind of money it takes them months to make at their day jobs.
“It takes me almost a year to make this much money working,” said Felton of his $25,000 heeler’s half of the Desert Showdown win. “My biggest roping check before today was $6,500, and I’ve been roping my whole life. I could never win a big roping—before today.
“I work for the Lincoln County Road Department running a blade, and I shoe horses on the side. I stay so busy working that I’m lucky if I get to rope once or twice a week. I love to rope, and this is a big win for me. But I better not quit my day job, so I’ll celebrate by driving home, so I can be at work tomorrow morning.”
Felton, 34, grew up in Fallon, but now lives in Alamo, Nevada, 99 miles north of Las Vegas. He’s a #7 Plus heeler, which means he and Jones, who’s a #5 header, maxed out the #12.5. They came back high call, and closed the deal.
“I wasn’t nervous when we were roping, but getting our pictures taken made me really nervous,” grinned Jones, 28, who lives in Elko, Nevada, with his wife, Jo—they’re expecting their first baby in December. “This is by far the biggest win of my career. I was third high call at the World Series Finale a couple years ago in Vegas, and broke the barrier. We still won a little bit of money, but this is the biggest win of my life by far.”
Weather in Elko makes much practice tough for Jones in the winter months. He sneaks off to Arizona when he can, but stays busy year-round working for Boss Tanks, which is a water tank, trough and pipeline company.
“Work comes first, but roping’s the only hobby I have,” said Jones, who won the roping on his 10-year-old bay head horse, Henry. “With $1,000 fees, good cattle and me only living four hours down the road, this roping is a must. If you’re going to rope, you’ve got to come to this one. I’ve been here to rope in Reno before, and it’s a great week for ropers. I know one thing, it takes me a long time working to make this kind of money.”
Jones first roped with Felton when he was just a kid.
“’Grizz’ is pretty quiet, but he heels really good,” Jones said. “You pretty much just have to bend ’em and he shuts ’em down.”
Felton heeled on his 14-year-old black horse, Danger, who thanks to this roping might be getting some back-up before long.
“I think I’ll pay some bills off and buy another horse,” said Felton, who’s come to Reno to watch the BFI, but hadn’t ever thrown his name in the hat before today. “I’ve been in these situations a few times—not high call for this much money, but third or fourth. And I’ve always messed up. I was a little nervous today. So I’m really happy to finish strong and get this win. I’ve roped with Trenton a lot this last year, we just haven’t had much luck before now. We won a couple small checks and have had some opportunities, it just never panned out until today.
“All I have to say is thank you to the people who made this roping possible. To get to run at this kind of money is awesome. To be headed home and back to work with $25,000 in my pocket is pretty cool.”
Brad Carpenter and Richard Albisu finished second in the #12.5 Desert Showdown average with 33.32 seconds on four to Jones and Felton’s 31.52. Tony and Chad Steele’s 34.36 was third, followed by Shawn Sullivan and Nathan Singletary in fourth at 34.60. Carpenter double dipped and struck again with Marlow Eldridge on the back side for fifth in the average. Marlow is Dad to 2021 Hooey Jr BFI Open Heeling Champ Jaylyn Eldridge.
To see complete results from Wrangler BFI 12.5 Desert Showdown, click here.
In a 152-team field full of all varieties of recreational ropers—including moms, dads, grandparents and sponsors who make their livings outside of the arena and rope because they love it—it was fun to also see a few faces in the crowd from all corners of the rodeo world. Clayton Biglow’s best known as a bareback rider, Tyler Pearson’s a world-class bulldogger and Richard Eiguren made his mark as a professional header. But Biglow’s heading, and Pearson and Eiguren are heeling here in the Reno Livestock Events Center today at the Wrangler BFI Reno #12.5 Desert Showdown presented by YETI.
World Champion Bareback Rider Clayton Biglow
Clayton Biglow wears the gold buckle engraved 2019 World Champion Bareback Rider. He’s heading for fellow Californian Wyatt Adams in the #12.5 Desert Showdown here in Reno.
“We’ve been roping at a few of the pro rodeos, and we were rolling back through here on our way home, so we stopped in to rope in Reno,” Biglow said. “I’m up in the bareback riding Thursday and Friday (at the Reno Rodeo), and we’re roping in slack here on Friday morning. This roping pays really good, so there was no reason not to be here today.
“I love to rope, and in my lifetime I’ve roped a lot more than I’ve ridden bareback horses. I’d really like to make the (California) Circuit Finals and put my name on the all-around (world standings) board.”
World Champion Steer Wrestler Tyler Pearson
With 8.2 on two bulldogging steers over at the Reno Rodeo, Tyler Pearson’s placing in both rounds and has taken a commanding lead in the average. He had planned to fly out to the rodeo in Springdale, Arkansas, but since he’s a shoo-in for the short round on Saturday night decided to stay here and rope. He’s heeling for Californians Danny Goddard and Charlie Quinn in the #12.5 Desert Showdown.
“I fell in love with team roping a long time ago,” said Mississippi native Pearson, who lives in Oklahoma now. “I rope all the time at home. Bulldogging hurts, but I can team rope when I’m an old man. And this is a great roping. The only shot I have as a steer wrestler to win this kind of money is (at the NFR) in December. We can come here, and if we can catch four steers we can win a pile. And we don’t have to beat the best guys in the world to do it.”
Pearson rode NFR heeler Kyle Lockett’s rodeo horse Stinky here at the Desert Showdown.
“I turned him a few steers just for fun when he was in California for Stan Branco’s wedding the other day,” Lockett said. “Pearson heels good. He’s been entering a few rodeos, too.”
NFR Header Richard Eiguren
Richard “Pook” Eiguren’s a National Finals Rodeo header and ranch cowboy supreme who’s always been known for having great horses. His palomino horse Calhoon was a two-time Head Horse of the Year before he ended up in Cowboy King Trevor Brazile’s trailer. Eiguren’s bay horse Jim was the Head Horse of the BFI one year in Reno when Pook headed for Lockett. Jim then helped Turtle Powell win the world when he rode him at the 2011 NFR. Oregon-native Pook is heeling here in the #12.5 Desert Showdown for Nevada’s Jason Jones.
“I’m here because this is a good roping, and it’s only four and a half hours from my house,” Eiguren said. “Before anybody gets too impressed, if you saw my last heel shot, it was horrible. Sh*t-house luck struck again.”
“Pook’s a cowboy’s cowboy, and he always rides really good horses,” Lockett said. “He’s like the mayor of Winnemucca, because he’s won the ranch rodeo there so many times.”
Roping for big money on a Monday has been part of the rich Reno Rodeo week tradition since the Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic moved to the Silver State nearly four decades ago in 1984. When COVID-19 shut Reno down in 2020, the BFI moved to the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. But back by popular demand in 2021, the producers of the BFI brought the BFI Reno Championship presented by Wild Rag Vodka to town. Canadian-born Kolton Schmidt and California-native Wyatt Cox roped six steers in 40.27 seconds to hit the $100,000 jackpot here in the Reno Livestock Events Center today, and the happy champs could not be more thankful.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or second BFI event of the year, or what they call it, it’s a part of BFI tradition, we’re in Reno and it paid $50 grand a man,” said Schmidt, who grew up in Barrhead, Alberta, Canada, and currently calls Stephenville, Texas, home. “We roped against the best guys in the world today, and beat ’em. That’s a big deal.”
Arroyo Grande, California’s Cox also hangs his hat in Stephenville now, but like so many cowboy kids grew up being here in Reno on BFI Monday.
“Ever since we were all little kids, we’ve always come to the BFI here, sat behind the boxes and watched these guys win, then run around the arena and do their victory lap,” Cox said. “We’ve roped the dummy on the concrete and pretended we’re in Reno roping at the BFI since we were little. This day has been a dream of mine for forever.”
Schmidt—who’s 26 and with wife Katy is expecting a baby boy in October, just after they celebrate their first wedding anniversary—has roped at two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. He headed for Shay Carroll at the 2016 NFR in Las Vegas, and roped with Hunter Koch at last December’s NFR 2020 in Arlington, Texas. The Schmidt-Cox connection—which bested the 99-team Reno Open field—is only a month and a half old. They first joined forces in May. Before that, Schmidt was heading for Koch, and Cox was heeling for South Carolina’s Cory Clark.
“We’re winning third here in the first round of the Reno Rodeo, and we’ve placed along at some rodeos since we started roping,” Kolton said. “It’s been good, and Wyatt’s roped great.”
“When I switched partners, I was kind of in a funny gear,” said Wyatt, who’s 25 and will celebrate his 26th birthday on August 17. “I was actually planning on going to work. Then Kolton called me, and you can’t really say no when a guy of his caliber that’s that serious calls. You’ve got to pick up the pieces and go.”
That they’ve done. Kolton’s been riding an 11-year-old bay horse, Rebel, that he bought from Arizona’s Brady Payne in January. Kolton’s fellow Canadian Marissa Boisjoli trained him. Wyatt won the Reno Open riding a 13-year-old bay horse by the name of Max.
“We raised Max and he’s been with us since he was a baby, so it’s amazing to win this roping on him,” Cox said. “I’ve always been proud of him, but they say it can be troublesome to be too proud of your own horses. You can get caught up in that. But this horse amazes me. He’s like ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ Max has always been small, and he’s not the fastest horse in the world. But he makes up for it in try.”
Schmidt and Cox took command of the roping in Round 3.
“When we went 5.94 in the third round, it felt like we had a little breath of fresh air,” Kolton said. “Not that we were way ahead or anything, but I knew we were a part of it. We were 19 on three, and that’s when we took the lead. I knew we were in a good spot then, and we ended up staying there.
“I didn’t want to rope scared today. I’ve always come to the BFI just trying to complete the course, because you win good money if you do. But it feels like it’s very easy for things to go wrong when you put your safety net up, try to be cautious and rope scared. All I thought about today here at the Reno Open was scoring, and just roping the cow where he was. I was actually really proud of myself today. I didn’t rope scared one time. I took my first shot, and I took good throws. I was happy with how I roped here today.”
They were 6.50, 7.37, 5.94, 6.41, 6.95 and 7.10 on their six steers. Translation: Schmidt and Cox did not back down.
“I fight with watching where I’m at in a roping, because we’re roping against the toughest guys in the world,” Wyatt said. “As soon as you relax for one second, that’s when they start to mash the gas and pass you up. I tried to just stay aggressive all day. With these guys, you can’t lay up. There’s no just trying to hit the fairway. You have to swing for the fences.
“Before that last steer, we were sitting over there in the tunnel, about to walk in for introductions of the high-call teams. I just looked at Kolton and knocked knuckles with him. I said, ‘One more time?’ He said, ‘Yep.’”
They kept it simple to minimize the pressure cooker that comes with roping for $50 grand a man.
“I try not to think about the money part,” Kolton said. “It comes and goes so fast. All I know is it’s such a blessing when you do your job and get paid like this.”
These were the biggest checks of both Schmidt and Cox’s careers. Wyatt’s previous best was the $25,000 he won for sixth in the #15 roping at the 2017 World Series Finale in Las Vegas with his girlfriend, Cailee Hall. Another of his highlights here in Reno was winning the silver spurs at the 2016 Reno Rodeo with Garrett Tonozzi.
“My mother’s going to get ahold of this check,” Wyatt grinned in reference to Momma Cindy “Precious” Cox. “She’s my banker, and she’s the one who sits behind the computer. She has control, so this money’s probably going away for a while.
“This kind of momentum going into the Fourth of July run is huge. I’ve been really studying hard trying to keep up with Kolton. He has a different tempo in a run. It’s very sharp, so there’s not really much room for error. I’ve been working on just trying to keep up and be sharp through the corner, be on time and be there when it happens. This win does wonders for my confidence. I’m sure it helps his, too, and as a team I think we’re going to be tough.”
Schmidt said the early 2021 jackpots were good to him. But then there was a slow stretch.
“I went through a dry spell for a month or so,” he said. “It’s been getting better, and I’ve started winning again the last two or three weeks. Things have started coming back together. Today was a big sigh of relief.
“This is the biggest check I’ve ever won at one time, and I would say this is my career highlight, especially for how I grew up and how I first roped when I came down here from Canada. It was kind of a one-set track—go fast and risky—when I first got here. My style didn’t really fit The Feist format. But I’ve really worked hard the last few years, and felt like I put a lot of time into being ready for a day like today. To see the reward, and that it was worth my time is really cool.”
All of the open ropers were grateful for a second shot in one year at BFI-style paychecks.
“Anytime you put in this much work toward a roping, I think it deserves all the credit in the world,” Wyatt said. “The people who put on this roping are helping the Western way of life, and they’re helping this entire industry by having this roping here in Reno.
“We all want to come rope for this kind of money—this is life-changing. This is how you pay stuff off and get ahead in life. So many people get negative about whether or not you can make a living roping. Having more of these big-league caliber ropings offers guys more chances to make it roping. I wish they could have 10 BFIs a year.”
With 41.57 to Schmidt and Cox’s 40.27 on six, Brenten Hall and Chase Tryan finished second in the Reno Open average and earned $27,500 a man. Rounding out the top five teams in the average were reigning World Champs Colby Lovell and Paul Eaves, who were 42.16 and won $18,500 a man for third; fourth-place finishers John Henry Gaona and Trevor Nowlin, 42.35 for $11,500 a man; and Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp, who roped six steers in 43.01 seconds for fifth in the average and $9,000 apiece.
In the Reno Open go-rounds, Jack Graham and Calgary Smith struck first in Round 1 with a 6.10-second run for $3,000 a man. Jake Orman and Brye Crites were 5.51 to take Round 2. Spencer Mitchell and Chris Young struck back-to-back to win Rounds 3 and 4 in 4.54 and 4.76, respectively. Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves were 4.47 to win Round 5 with the fast run of the day. Tyler Wade and Trey Yates won the short round with a 5.27-second run, and finished sixth in the average with 43.64 on six.
To see complete Reno Open results and other stories on a great day of roping here in Reno, click here.