It was a tight race at the RAM Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo held in Davie, Florida, Nov. 10–12, 2023.
A pair of young ropers battled through the weekend, ending in a rare tie in the average race with matching 23.5-second times on three calves. However, the edge for the year-end title went to Cole Walker, the permit holder from Sparta, Tennessee, who edged out Arkansas rookie Booker McCutchen by $499.
Both cowboys will make their first appearances at the NFR Open, hosted by Pikes Peak or Bust in Colorado Springs next July, to represent the Southeastern Circuit.
Making It Count
The Southeastern Circuit is geographically one of the largest circuits in ProRodeo, and it’s a long drive from Magnolia, Arkansas, to Davie, Florida.
“Even once you hit the Florida Panhandle, you still have eight hours,” McCutchen, 23, said. “But they added more to the circuit finals this year … It’s a long way to drive so you might as well have a chance to win some good money.”
McCutchen and his traveling partner, Roan Hudson, worked out their strategy during those long hours behind the wheel.
“They give away a chance to go to the NFR Open so we were after that average,” he said. “We didn’t go into it with a whole lot of money won [towards the year end] so we figured we needed to win the average.”
McCutchen was riding his good horse, JJ, a gelding that came from his dad.
“Dad found him. He bought him as a colt when he was 3 and I heeled on him for a while,” McCutchen explained. “Then we decided to make him a calf horse about three years ago.”
McCutchen grew up roping with family and close friends in his hometown of Harrison, Arkansas, near the Missouri line.
His passion for the sport led to a scholarship to Southern Arkansas University, where he spent all four years of his college rodeo eligibility and graduated with a degree in ag business in 2023.
Along with finishing school, McCutchen also jumped into ProRodeo. He finished inside the top 10 for the Resistol Rookie of the Year title rodeoing primarily inside his circuit.
Entering the finals ranked eighth, McCutchen struck quickly, winning the opening round in 7.5 seconds.
“They had a really good set of calves you could be fast on,” he noted. He followed up with runs of 8.1 and 7.9 seconds. He picked up two more checks for third and a split of third and fourth, respectively.
Though he carried the lead into the final night and roped last, McCutchen wasn’t sure he’d won despite a fast time in the final round.
“Cole roped so good,” McCutchen said. “After I ran the last one, I wasn’t sure I’d won it. Then they said we tied, so that was better than getting beat.”
The winning time was 23.5 seconds on three and McCutchen picked up $8,890 in Davie. The total was worth the drive but the drama didn’t end there as the two cowboys waited to see who finished on top in the year-end race.
“If I wouldn’t have split in that final round, it would have been enough for me to win the year-end,” McCutchen said. “We won about the same down there but he had a little more than me going into the finals so that didn’t go in my favor.”
Still, the finals brought a “needed check” and secured his the NFR Open.
“I think it’ll be good. My buddy went last year and spoke highly of it,” McCutchen said. “It’s a lot of money in the dead middle of summer.”
The opportunity plays well into McCutchen’s future goals.
“I’m going to rodeo a couple more years before I settle down into getting a regular job,” he said. “I want to try to get into the top 40 and get into the building rodeos [in the winter] so I need to get out there a little.”
Roping and Ag Economics; Math? Not so Much
After winning his second straight go-round in Davie and tying for the average win, Cole Walker was trying to figure out the math in the year-end championship race.
“I did the math and I thought Booker won it by like $60,” Walker, 22, said. “But I didn’t realize he split in the round so I was off.
“I’m getting my master’s in ag economics at Tarleton so that made me feel pretty dumb,” Walker joked. “But I’m glad I was wrong. I’m very excited.”
Walker entered his second circuit finals ranked sixth but fighting a slump.
“I hadn’t run a calf for a couple weeks; I’d been driving,” he noted. “But my old coach was big on the mental game so I was practicing in my head while I was driving.”
Despite drawing a good one in the first round, Walker mishandled his string, rolling out a 9.2 that failed to catch a check.
“I was down mentally and I had been in a slump,” he said.
Some tough love from his big brother—and best friend—Ben, helped turn things around.
“He’s nine years older than me and he got in the sport when one of our dad’s customers said he’d teach him to rope,” Walker said. “I grew up not knowing anything different. My brother is my coach and taught me all that I know.”
So what did Ben tell his little brother?
“He said I always go fast and to try not to safety up,” Walker said. “Actually, he said, ‘as bad as you tie, you need to throw faster.’”
The brotherly teasing was a good kickstart for Walker’s red-hot run. He stormed through the next two rounds in 7.1 and 7.2, respectively, to wrap up two round wins and the average tie. He earned $9,238 in Davie.
After getting by a calf no one kept standing during the third round, his math got the better of him again.
“I thought I was beat,” he said with a laugh. “But I was a tenth off and we actually tied.”
The year-end was a last-minute surprise.
“With all the great ropers ahead of me and the good set of calves . . . if you’d told me I would have a chance at it, I would have said no way I can pull that off.”
The big win has thrown a wrench into what Walker had planned for 2024. An all-around hand, he had planned to focus more on his heeling next season, looking to make his first circuit finals in that event after two close misses, and he already decided to stay on his permit for another season.
“I didn’t want to try to rodeo while I’m still in school,” Walker said. He competes on the rodeo team at Tarleton and won the All-Around at the 2022 College National Finals Rodeo during his undergraduate time at the University of Tennessee-Martin. “I know a lot of guys do that but I wanted to get things knocked out before I try for my rookie year in 2025.”
But the chance to rope at the NFR Open has him rethinking things.
“A lot has changed in the last 48 hours,” he joked. “Tie-down has been my first event since I started roping calves, but I’ve been heeling more and I wasn’t going to tie down as much this year.
“Now, I think I better get back to 24/7 roping and I’ll probably enter more than I initially planned so I can stay sharp for the NFR Open.”