It felt fitting that a couple of cowboys with deep respect for all the roping history that’s gone down in Reno over the years won The Final Showdown—the 2022 Resistol Reno Open presented by the Silver Legacy—to send out a golden era of team roping tradition that started in The Silver State nearly 40 years ago in 1984 in grand style. Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins roped six steers in 40.66 seconds to take the prestigious victory lap around the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center on June 18, and banked $100,000 to kick off their summer season with a spectacular bang.
“This is a dream come true, and not only for the money,” said Ward, 31, who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma with his wife, Hayli. “I remember going to the Lazy E, and buying a BFI tape when I was a kid. I’ve watched a BFI tape from the ’90s of all my heroes doing good here my whole life. To get to win the last one they’re going to have in Reno, that’s amazing.
“This is such a big, prestigious event. To come through when it pays $50,000 a man—that’s what some people make in a year, and we got to do it on six steers. What a blessing. The big guy was looking out for us today, for sure. We’re just thankful and appreciative of everybody who works hard to make this roping happen. What an honor.”
Hawkins got emotional about the difference between his first BFI and the way it all went at the last-ever Reno Open.
“Since I was a kid, this building and this roping was always a big deal,” said Kansas native Buddy, who’s 35 and lives in Stephenville, Texas, with his wife, Tori, and their baby girl, Anne. “There have been seasons for me right here in Reno. I’ve sat out here and cried for a different reason in the stall barn, because I missed one.
“I needed the money, and I didn’t get it. I went home (after this roping) that year and amateur rodeoed to try and pay for the $2,500 I’d spent on BFI fees. It’s such a special thing to get confirmation from The Father that we’re on the right track and doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Hawkins—who won the 2014 BFI with Drew Horner and has placed at a few others—has won $176,250 over the years at the BFI, and is fifth on the BFI earnings charts behind leader Clay Tryan’s $259,361. Tack on Buddy’s $50 grand from the 2022 Reno Open, and he’s taken home $226,250 from Ullman-Peterson Events-produced ropings.
“I never even really thought about the money,” Hawkins said. “Bob (Feist) built something big that lasted forever. Having this level of success brings me a lot of peace that I’m on the track I’m supposed to be on.”
Ward and Hawkins were second high call, and rode into the Reno Open short round a scant one-hundredth of a second behind the high team of Clay Smith and Jake Long. When Smith and Long’s last steer lost his hind end in the corner, it cost Long a leg and they finished fourth behind Ward and Hawkins, Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp—who finished just five-hundredths of a second behind Andrew and Buddy’s 40.66 with 40.71 on six—and Jake Cooper Clay and Billie Jack Saebens, who won the 2022 BFI earlier this year at the Lazy E and were 43.68 on six in Reno for third.
In addition to hitting the $50 grand a man Reno Open jackpot, Ward and Hawkins were awarded Coats Lazy L Saddles, Gist Buckles, Yetis, Best Ever Pads, Resistol Hats and Justin Boots. The windfall win would not have been possible without their horses—Ward’s 11-year-old brown bomber, Biscuit, and Hawkins’s 12-year-old sorrel, EZ—and both ropers were quick to credit their four-footed partners for their part.
“Biscuit’s getting so much praise around our world,” Ward said. “A lot of people are so proud of him. I had no idea when I bought him from (Kaleb) Driggers that he would turn into this incredible horse that we’re able to do good on at The American, the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) and the BFI. That’s just a God thing, because it’s nothing I could have done. I’m just blessed to have him. We love Biscuit. He’s a big pet, and we treat him like family.”
Hawkins worked hard on his horse herd, and it shows.
“I bought EZ because he reminded me a lot of (his other sorrel) X,” Buddy said. “I bought X when he was 8, and EZ when he was 9 and X had gotten to the point where he was pretty solid and I didn’t want to practice on him as much. I kind of bought EZ as a practice horse—knowing I’d jackpot on him also—and I’ve been riding him about three years now.
“This year’s California run was the transition for this horse. I ended up playing EZ as my first string out there. I rode him at the Broc Cresta (Memorial Roping), and we won second. I rode him at Clovis (Rodeo), and we split the win (with Jr Dees and Levi Lord). I rode him quite a bit in May also, including Guymon. Going into the summer, I prepared X for the places where the conditions are really simple and the times are probably going to be fast, and I prepared EZ for the places where the conditions are anything but easy.”
Thus EZ getting the nod at the Reno Open.
“There were quite a few questions when people saw what I was riding today, and that means a lot to me,” Buddy said. “I think it’s healthy to be proud of your horses, and I really am. I think X is probably the high-money winner at the BFI the last 10 years or so. He’s not what I rode when I won it with Drew Horner, but I’ve placed at three or four BFIs on X, both here in Reno and in Guthrie.
“EZ’s probably the fastest horse I’ve ever ridden, he has a huge heart and he does the same thing over and over. X is a great horse. But today went very similar to the way I had it drawn up in my mind. EZ did a great job, and I was really blessed.”
The cowboy conditions—strong steers and long score included—have always been a part of the pride factor that comes with winning this roping.
“I’m old enough now that team roping was still a little bit more ‘catch’ when I started watching these big ropings,” Ward said. “I’ve always prided myself on being a catcher, and I’ve labeled myself as a catching header. Being able to get out of the barrier and catch six steers is always an accomplishment at a big roping, and I’m pumped when I get it done. This is a win that ranks way up there in my roping career.
“I love that the BFI is in Guthrie now. It’s 30 minutes from my house—that’s unbelievable. But I’ve watched the BFI videos from here all these years, and it’s just cool that this is the last one, and we got to win it in Reno. The videos I watched as a kid were of this roping in this arena. This is a blessing, and it feels like it’s from The Father, because He knew how much I wanted to win it.”
“Winning this roping absolutely means a lot to me, because of the degree of difficulty,” Hawkins added. “I love these conditions—a major roping where they set the score out there, and it’s a thinking contest.”
Open ropings that pay $50,000 a man are so very rare and appreciated by ropers and roping fans alike.
“Buds and I have probably made just as much money at the jackpots since we started roping together as we have at the rodeos,” Ward said. “The jackpots feed us during the year, and help us get down the road. We’re so thankful that people want to support the open guys and have events like this one. Bob (Feist) started this roping in 1977, it’s still going today and it’s still one of the big open ropings everybody wants to win. It’s always been a big deal.”
“If you just stack together the $50,000 we each won here today with what we won at The American, the Lone Star Shootout and the Broc Cresta, that’s $227,500 a man outside of the rodeo arena this year,” Hawkins added. “What an era of team roping we’re living in, and we have so many people and brands that are getting behind this sport. They’re seeing value in us, and that’s exciting.
“I’d love to plug the Cowboy Channel, too. One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of times when the network goes down, it’s during the team roping because they’re not able to handle all the people that are watching team roping across the country. I just feel like our sport is growing, and there’s a lot of progress being made. Today is not the end of an era, but a transition. So many good things are going on in the sport of team roping that we all get to look forward to. I’m excited for team roping’s future. Bob’s vision that he had way back in the day is not dying. It’s growing.”
A lot of strategizing and gamesmanship goes into roping marathons the likes of the Reno Open. And naturally, nerves come with the territory on big money stages.
“I’m nervous almost every run,” Ward grinned in the Reno Open winner’s circle at roping’s end. “You don’t sleep very good the night before this roping. I was a little sleepy first thing this morning, so maybe the nerves weren’t as bad. Then you start feeling your way through these ropings. I try to block out the noise and just catch. Getting out of the barrier and catching all our steers seems to bring Buds and me money in the end. But you know when you’ve been 6’s all day at this roping, you’ve got a chance.”
“We talked about it right there at the end,” Hawkins said. “If we’d seen a clear path to try to blast the last one, we would have tried. But I was also thinking, ‘Man, this is the last BFI cow I’m ever going to heel in Reno, and I want to catch him.’ I was born and raised in dirt clods over there in Kansas, and the Prairie Circuit has basically been my home. My best chance to win money is at a Prairie Circuit rodeo. My second best is a setup like this—a major roping where they score the cows out there, and it’s a thinking contest.
“Clay Smith and Jake Long were the high team, and they’re basically paired up for speed. They both do everything really fast. I honestly didn’t care whether they roped before us or behind us. Respect where respect’s due, and they’ve earned my respect.”
After taking the lead in the roping, Ward and Hawkins waited at the back end to congratulate the winners.
“We didn’t really ever expect to get ahead of Clay and Jake,” Buddy said. “It really had to get weird for them not to win the roping. If we’d drawn all the same steers, I think they would have beat us. Our last steer was strong. But that steer they had was just a little weak in his back end. Those guys are champs, and could have caught that cow (by two feet) for sure if they’d been trying to just catch. But they were trying to win the roping, and I don’t blame them for that.
“Being in the top three callbacks and having the chance to win first, second or third, which were the big checks, we really considered speeding things up beyond just catching. Had I decided to do that, I may have crawled on X, just to try one on. X is standing out in the parking lot, a little disappointed that he didn’t get to rope today. But EZ did great for us.
“Clay and Jake are some of our best buds. All these guys who roped here with us today are my best friends in the whole world. I was only standing at the back end to congratulate Clay when he won it. I knew it was his roping. As it went, Clay congratulated me before he even got out of the arena, even though he’d just had some bad luck. That’s a special thing. We’re all family out here. I blew a tire the other day, and I couldn’t get stopped before four rigs were on the side of the road with tire tools waiting on me.”
Being married to sisters brings an even deeper family dynamic to this team. The whole family’s livelihood is riding on Andrew and Buddy’s roping success right now. No pressure there.
“It’s a privilege to get to rope with family,” Ward said. “I roped with my brother (Reagan Ward, who won the 2020 BFI heeling for Kal Fuller) before Buds. It’s just fun to keep it in the family. What a privilege to basically pay for our summer right here in one little hit. It’s such a God thing in my life that all these great people are supporting us by saying, ‘Hey, go after your dreams, we want to see you do good.’
“I know this all comes from The Father, and I’m just so blessed to come out here and be successful doing something that I love doing. The big guy was looking out for us today. I’ve never drawn that many good cows in this arena. We’re just out here trying to catch the cows they give us, and he ordered up a few lopers right there in the middle of the roping. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Clay and Jake’s last steer would go down in the back end, and he’d get a leg. I thought we’d win second, and we would have been thankful for that. I love roping, and I love roping at big events like this one. We just want to execute in the short round, and let them pay us whatever it’s worth. What a privilege to win it.”
“I’ve been very blessed financially in this sport,” Hawkins added. “It’s possible we’ll have a great summer, and not win as much money as we won today. I could be 50,000 miles from winning another $50,000 right now. And a lot of guys are going to drive the 50k and not win that. I’ve been that guy as often as I haven’t. We’ve talked fuel prices, and the cost of rigs and horses. None of us is doing this for the money. We’re surely smart enough we could do something else that would pay better. But we need the money to be able to do this. Money is a necessary part of what we do that makes it possible.
“The timing on this roping in particular is part of what makes it so major. There’s pre-BFI and post-BFI. We’ve now made money this summer, and we’re just getting started. I can now go to these next 50 rodeos, and if I do medium, I should go home and have more money than when we left. This is basically the only place that happens. This is a roping of great status.”
Buddy’s experienced the best and worst of times at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center. There’s good reason he got a little sentimental before exiting the arena at day’s end.
“This is about more than dollars today,” he said. “I don’t do this for the money, but if the money would turn off, I wouldn’t be able to do this anymore. Bob built something big that lasted forever. This win today gets me to the next BFI, basically, and that’s a big deal. It’s not just me anymore. Tori and I have a little girl now.
“Roping for a living is hard. It’s also a privilege. There aren’t many people in this world who’ve been able to tap into something that brings them this much peace and this much joy.”
The Resistol Reno Open kicked off Reno Championship Week, which this year also included the 12.5 Desert Showdown, 11.5 Reno Rodeo High Stakes, Priefert 10.5 with 9.5 Incentive Over 40, Reno’s Big 8.5 Over 50, 7.5 Big Buckles, Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl Team Roping and Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl Breakaway Roping.
The 2023 BFI will be held April 1 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The first BFI was held in Chowchilla, California in 1977. It’s also been held in Las Vegas, Nevada and Denton, Texas. What does Bob Feist remember most about that first one 45 years ago?
“People thought I was crazy, and it was a very hard sell,” said Feist, AKA The Godfather of Team Roping. “Nobody believed people would pay to watch the best ropers, and there were people who said, ‘I’m not going to pay to watch somebody who beats me.’ There were a lot of naysayers who said it would never work. I’m very pleased and proud that the BFI grew into such a major event. We proved a lot of people wrong, and have had a very positive impact on the Western industry. This roping had a great run here in Reno, and I only see it growing and getting even bigger and better in the future.”