One year. Three hundred sixty-five days.
If Westyn Hughes seemed a little more emotional, a little more pumped over his victory at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo’s ProRodeo Tournament on February 4, 2023 than past winners, it was certainly with great reason.
“It’s a big win,” Hughes, 25, noted. “It was a cool one for it all to come back together on.”
The thing is, when Hughes left this rodeo a year ago, it was to go directly into surgery for a bad hip, an injury which had plagued the Caldwell, Texas roper throughout his second Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in December 2021.
“I hurt it at the NFR but I kept roping,” Hughes said. In fact, he won $130,000 at the Finals that year to land third in the final PRCA World Standings. “Before I roped my first round in Fort Worth last year, they said I was going to have surgery as soon as the rodeo was over. So, I went in the next morning.”
After successful surgery, and vigorous and committed rehab, Hughes returned to ProRodeo competition over the Fourth of July, amassing $95,000 in earnings in just over three months to nearly sprint back into Las Vegas again.
He finished 18th.
The 2016 PRCA Rookie of the Year is primed and ready for a full season in 2023.
Enter the 126th edition of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. In its third year of ProRodeo Tournament format, the $1.2 million event began with 56 competitors divided into seven brackets. After two rounds, the top two money winners moved on to the semi-finals while the third ranked cowboy headed to the wild card round. Once in those progressive rounds, every run becomes sudden death until the field is whittled to its eight-man finale.
Hughes competed in the third bracket, held January 24-25 and started out with a run of 10.4 seconds, good enough for a fourth place check. He rebounded the following night with an 8.4 second run that won the go round, giving him $2,200 in bracket earnings, second behind Richard Newton.
Over a week later on February 3, he returned for the second performance of semi-finals action. Following the first rule of tournament rodeo—keep advancing—he made a good run at 8.9 seconds for second place and another $3,000, moving on to the finals on February 4.
“On the first three, I was trying to be three or four inches off the barrier and make a smooth run,” Hughes revealed his strategy. “On that last one, I knew I had to press on ‘em, push that barrier and go as fast as I could.”
For horsepower, Hughes relied upon his thirteen-year old mare Zanna. He bought her about a year ago from hauling partner Blake Chauvin.
“Tim Pharr trained her and I bought her from Blake,” he noted. “She gives me the same go every time and makes it easy. Really, my job is easier than it should be because of her.”
When asked about her breeding, Hughes admits he’s never even looked at her papers. Fort Worth 2022 was one of the pair’s first rodeos and Hughes is excited for a full season on her in 2023.
On the final night in Cowtown, Hughes was stacked up against a field full of veterans and Wrangler NFR qualifiers along with three PRCA World Champions.
“I was nervous,” he admitted. Hughes drew the middle of the order at fifth out and backed into the box with Trevor Hale’s 8.9 in the lead.
“I got out there and got him down and went ahead and put two wraps on because I felt like I was in that middle-seven range there,” he said.
“My horse worked great and that calf was really good,” he continued. “I didn’t miss or mess up my tie so it was good.”
The clock stopped at 7.4 seconds, the fastest time of the rodeo, but Hughes didn’t feel safe with World Champs Tuf Cooper and Shane Hanchey behind him in the line up, along with Zack Jongbloed, who had tied the fastest calf of the rodeo prior to the finals during the Wild Card round.
“When Tuf Cooper is riding into the box right behind you after you’re 7.4 seconds, no one feels safe,” Hughes admitted. Cooper came closest, tying his calf up in 7.9 seconds but Hanchey and Jongbloed failed to budge Hughes from the champion’s seat.
“It’s the biggest check, outside of the NFR, that I’ve won at a rodeo,” Hughes said of the winner’s check for $20,000. “It was a big moment for me personally and my first big win in a building.”
The Fort Worth win perfectly fits with Hughes’ new game plan since returning from injury.
“It’s been good. My practice has definitely changed,” he noted, adding that he can longer tolerate roping as much outside of competition. “I’ve had to learn to use the runs I’ve got and not take any of them for granted or waste them.”
While limited practice has been a tough challenge, Hughes has already seen the advantage.
“It’s hurt me and helped me,” he said. “I’m better at reading the run because I know I have three runs instead of thirty.”
Throughout the rodeo’s run, Hughes had support on hand in friend JR Myers and girlfriend Conner Mordahl.
“It’s great to have support there . . . it helps with your mental game,” he noted. “Plus, you don’t have to track down someone to video!”
All totaled, Hughes earned $25,200, launching him to number one in the PRCA | RAM World Standings as he chases his third qualification to the Wrangler NFR.
“After the Finals in 2021, everything was really looking up,” Hughes said. “Then the injury happens . . . now, we’re into the next season and we all know how tough it is.”
“I was really needing this win,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll do it again one day.”