The top three Wilderness Circuit tie down ropers entered the finals with more money won than the No. 1 roper in any other circuit, and Shane Hanchey and Chance Thiessen roped their way into the history books.
Hanchey secured the year-end title with $57,211 in earnings while Thiessen was 25.3 seconds on three head to win the average.
Had Hanchey not a dime outside of the Wilderness Circuit this year, he would have still finished 40th in the PRCA World Standings.
Hanchey’s New Line on a Packed Resume
Hanchey has won better than $2.4 million in his ProRodeo career, including the 2013 PRCA World Championship, and he’s headed to his 14th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) next month.
Shockingly, Hanchey had never claimed a year end circuit title until 2023 when he rolled to the Wilderness Circuit championship after earning $57,211 at rodeos in Utah, Nevada and Southern Idaho.
“I’ve been to the Ram National Circuit Finals (RNCFR) four times, but I’d never won the year end,” Hanchey, 34, said.
Hanchey, a native of Sulphur, Louisiana who now lives in Texas, tried out both the Southeastern and Texas Circuits during his career but finally made the move to the Wilderness at the urging of friends Lance and Clint Robinson.
“Clint’s been telling me for ten years and I finally listened,” Hanchey joked. “Since 2012, I’ve based out of their place in Spanish Fork for the summer rodeos. It’s so much easier, you’re not going from fairgrounds to fairgrounds. I can take my horse and go to the rodeo and come back. Honestly, it’s been one of the biggest contributors to my horses staying sound.”
Rules requiring PRCA contestants to make a minimum number of rodeos within their circuits contributed to the decision as Hanchey needed to make the most of his 80 allowed rodeos as he pursued another NFR qualification.
“The Wilderness Circuit has the best rodeos . . . I mean, in one week they have Salt Lake City, Ogden, Nampa and Spanish Fork. Those are some of the best rodeos of the year and that’s just one week up there,” Hanchey said. “It’s a little challenging getting the rodeo count but it’s a no brainer since all of your circuit rodeos have to be part of your [overall] count.”
Pioneer Week actually gave Hanchey the lead that he would never relinquish. He won Salt Lake City for $18,000+ and picked up big money in Spanish Fork as well. He slammed the door shut with another $15,000 week at Caldwell and Gooding, Idaho in mid-August.
“I had a great summer and most of it happened to be in my circuit,” Hanchey said. His total for the year is likely a new record for the circuit. “It’s crazy, that’s how much it used to take to make the NFR.”
Hanchey carried an insurmountable lead of nearly $20,000 into the circuit finals rodeo and decided to rest his horse, Stylish Bugsy (who was recently voted the 2023 Nutrena PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year).
“I flew up there and rode Clint’s horse Bull,” Hanchey said.
“We actually bought him together from Blane Cox and Clint bought me out a year ago, so I’ve ridden him a lot and had a lot of success on him,” Hanchey said.
With the pressure off for the circuit title and advancement to the NFR Open, the current incarnation of the RNCFR, Hanchey was zeroed in on taking advantage of the leg up in the new year’s standings that roping at the circuit finals offers.
He took the first go win with a lightning fast 7.8 second run and picked up a second check with a 9.6 in round two. Thought he finished out of the money in the final round, he was able to take home second in the average to earn $5,420 in Heber.
“It’s a heck of a rodeo that counts for 2024 standings,” Hanchey said. “With the burden of trying to qualify for the NFR Open off my chest, I just let my hair down and had fun.”
Hanchey is focusing on the upcoming Wrangler NFR where he starts as the fourth ranked tie down roper in the World Standings. Once the NFR is out of the way, he’ll turn his focus to the NFR Open.
“I went once when it was in Oklahoma City and three times in Kissimmee and I’ll always look forward to going to it,” Hanchey said. “It’s huge and comes right there in the middle of summer. The only maneuvering is with Calgary but Haven [Meged] managed it last year and he didn’t even win [the NFR Open] and won $18,000.”
“A man’s gotta be there.”
Chance Thiessen’s Mission Accomplished
“I wanted to beat Shane Hanchey,” Thiessen, 21, joked of his strategy going into his first Wilderness Circuit Finals Rodeo.
Entering the finals ranked fourth, Thiessen knew that Hanchey had the year end title sewn up, leaving just one path to Colorado Springs. “I had to win the average.”
“That was my plan and it worked,” he said.
Thiessen roped his way to 25.3 seconds on three calves, 2.6 seconds ahead of Hanchey to accomplish his goal, winning $6,846 in Heber.
Thiessen followed Hanchey’s path in choosing the Wilderness Circuit over the Prairie, where he makes his home in Elk City, Oklahoma, with much the same reasoning as the World Champ.
“You have to count every rodeo and it’s hard to get your count in [for the circuit finals],” he noted. “For the Wilderness, we’re already there for the summer and going to those rodeos.”
In 2023, Thiessen finished the season ranked 27th in the standings with a large chunk of his earnings coming within the Wilderness Circuit with big checks from Salt Lake City, Oakley, Vernal and Heber City’s regular season rodeo, held outdoors.
Returning in the fall for the indoor show, Thiessen got his circuit finals off to a good start with an 8.6 in round one. He won third in the go.
Thiessen was helped by his number one mount, the ten year old Rotel. The horse was trained and seasoned by Clay Brown of Missouri and Tyler Milligan owned him for about half a year before Thiessen bought him in September of 2022.
“He’s a lot different style than I was ever used to,” Thiessen said. “It took awhile to get with him and Clay helped me learn how to ride him.”
At first, Thiessen did best with Rotel over long scores in big arenas but notes that the horse is good in all setups.
“I think he’s been the best horse at Salinas the last two years,” Thiessen said. “Last year, when Tyler owned him, Hunter Herrin won Salinas on him and Tyler was second. This year, I won third and Luke [Potter, Thiessen’s hauling partner] rode him too.”
“He’s super fast and quick footed and he makes things happen,” he said.
Rotel definitely helped make things happen in the small confines of the Wasatch Event Center during the circuit finals.
“In the second round, I had the best calf on them,” Thiessen explained. His 7.7 second run won the round and helped Thiessen take the average lead into the final round.
“In the short go, I was leading the average and roped last so I knew what I had to do,” he said. When Hanchey went 10-seconds on his calf right before Thiessen, he knew he had some time to spare. “I knew a mid-eleven would win it so I made sure to get out clean and go tie her down.”
His 9-flat didn’t place in a tough go round but he easily cruised to the average win, capping a remarkable three week run that saw the talented roper win the Oklahoma’s Richest Calf Roping in Guthrie, then take third place at the San Angelo Roping Fiesta before the lucrative Utah run. All totaled, he banked about $22,000 with his rope in three weeks.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s nice to put some money in your pocket when you’re not rodeoing.”
While ProRodeo slows down this time of year, Thiessen won’t be putting his ropes up.
“My dad still trains horses and we’re partners on a couple so we rope every day and I’ll go to jackpots on the weekend,” he said. “I’m gearing up for the winter rodeos; hopefully we’ll have a big winter and keep it going all the way to the NFR.”
Thiessen knows the NFR Open could be pivotal for a guy chasing his first qualification next summer.
“It’s huge. There’s only 24 guys there and you can win $20,000,” he noted. “That’s a big help in the middle of the summer.”