STEPHENVILLE — A seasoned group of Tarleton State cowboys are brimming with confidence heading into the College National Finals Rodeo, June 11-17 in Casper, Wyo.
Representing Tarleton from the defending national champion men’s team are saddle bronc rider Gus Gaillard, team roping headers Wyatt Bray and Korbin Rice, and tie-down roper Wyatt Crandall, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region student director.
Gaillard, a sophomore agribusiness major from Morse, Texas, is the 2023 regional reserve champion saddle bronc rider. One of the most consistent performers in the region, he posted event titles at the Western Texas College and Ranger College rodeos, and finished in the top 10 eight times during the 2022-23 season.
His rodeo roots go back generations. His mother was a breakaway roper, and his father and grandfather both rode broncs. He has been in the saddle since he was 7 and achieved success at every level. That makes his first CNFR appearance a little less nerve-racking.
“This is another thing for me to try to go win,” he said. “I came into college thinking I was going to be a CNFR champion. I knew if I took care of everything that’s what would happen. So we’re got one step closer to the goal by qualifying.
“I’m going to keep the same mindset I’ve had all year — take everything one horse at a time.”
Bray and Rice took the two top slots in the final regional team roping header standings.
Bray, a senior marketing major from Stephenville, won the event in ’22-’23 at rodeos hosted by Vernon College and Clarendon College, and he made the finals at seven stops.
The younger brother of former Tarleton standout Paden Bray, he began competing in youth rodeos at 5 years old.
“I’ve been at it for a while,” he said. “Everybody ropes in my family, so I just picked up right after them. My dad is a hell of a horseman, so I had some good training.”
Bray’s partner in the event is Western Texas College roper Cutter Thomason. After a successful regular season, the duo are primed for success in Casper.
“I think we have the best team ropers going,” Bray said. “Korbin Rice, he is amazing. Wyatt Crandall is great at roping calves, and Gus is a hell of a roughstock rider. There are a couple of tough teams from other regions, but I think it’s just them and us. I’m thinking we look pretty good.”
Rice, another CNFR first-timer, has been on horseback since he was in elementary school. “I’ve been roping from as far back as I can remember. My dad roped a little bit, and he got me started. Since I was 7 or 8, I would rope any time I could get into any kind of junior rodeo.”
He’ll compete with former Cisco College teammate Cooper Freeman. They will attempt to treat their time in Casper as just another rodeo.
“Like at most of them, if you score good on every catch, you’re going to do all right,” Rice said. “That’s my mindset going in.”
Tie-down roper Crandall, a senior animal science major from Spanish Fork, Utah, finished 10th in the region, making the finals in three rodeos and winning third at Howard and Clarendon. He is the oldest of four brothers, all of whom are ropers.
“It’s a family thing,” he said. “My mom was a barrel racer, and Dad was a roper and a bareback rider.”
He already has some experience in the CNFR spotlight, having qualified as a member of the Ranger JC team last year. “I know how fast I need to be. It helps me strategize a little more. Sometimes on the big stages the nerves can creep in, but since I’ve been before I kind of know what’s going on.”
Like his purple-vested teammates, Crandall is confident they have a good shot at defending Tarleton’s 2022 team crown.
“We could be pretty dominant,” he said. “Tarleton is always good at the CNFR, and the guys we have going this year are really talented. We’ve been there and done that, so I think we should be pretty confident going in.”
Why wouldn’t they be?