By Kendra Santos
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.