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Biglow and Cox strike for Silver Spurs at Reno Rodeo

Clayton Biglow Silver Spurs Rodeo
Reno Rodeo champ Clayton Biglow is ready for prime time. Kirt Steinke Photo

After two weeks of living out of a suitcase between the Cowboy State’s College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, and the Silver State’s “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West” in Reno, I got comfortable in boxers and bare feet, and pulled up a chair on my porch to watch the Reno Rodeo short round—Saturday night live—on WranglerNetwork.com. After about the third event—and jumping up to pace every time an old friend’s kid rode or roped, like any aunt would—I realized I was texting high fives with the dads. Yes, it’s official: The next generation of our rodeo family has taken the wheel of this sport we all love so dearly. And it is so much fun to see young men I’ve grown up watching since they were little guys winning at the world-class level.

My sons, Lane and Taylor, grew up in the arena with two of this year’s Reno Rodeo champs. We camped with bareback riding winner Clayton Biglow’s family at Northern California Junior Rodeo Association events, and alongside team roping titlist Wyatt Cox’s tribe at West Coast Junior Rodeo Association rodeos. All the kids are also products of the National High School Rodeo Association’s Golden State arm, the California High School Rodeo Association. And though they’ve scattered to different schools for college, the four of them just had a pretty fun little rodeo reunion at the CNFR.

My first text of the Reno Rodeo short-round evening, at 7:44 p.m. on June 25, was to Clayton’s dad, Russ Biglow, on the occasion of the high man back dropping the hammer on the field by dominating the final round with a career-high, 89.5-point ride on Flying U Rodeo’s Lil Red Hawk. Clayton was 86 on her for second at the Red Bluff Round-Up this spring, and this time used the trip to daylight the pack by 10.5 points in the average with 253.5 on three and cash $10,986 in Reno checks to go with the traditional silver trophy spurs.

It was Clayton’s first time to ride at Reno, and he was gracious in victory, just like he was back in his days of dominating every event from barrel racing to goat tying, pole bending, calf roping, mutton busting, breakaway roping, steer stopping, calf riding, steer riding, junior bulls, team roping and cutting. 

“I drew good, I felt like I rode good, and it’s close to home (in Clements, Calif.), so a lot of family and friends are here. It’s pretty cool to do it in front of them,” said Clayton, who’s 20 now. “My dad being here is the best part.”

Clayton is genetically programmed to go for broke. “Every time you nod your head you’ve got to ride to win first,” he says instinctively. “That’s a bareback rider’s mentality. It’s full throttle all the way, as soon as you nod your head. This is the best job in the world, and I love everything about it. We have fun all the time.”

tonozzi-team-roping
Cox and Garrett Tonozzi won the team roping silver spurs at the 2016 Reno Rodeo. 

Clayton is a Russ Biglow clone. Looks just like him, rides and ropes just like him, craves it like his dad did and is really, really lucky to have such a wise home-team manager. Russ, who rode bareback horses from 1985-92 and won the RAM California Circuit Finals Rodeo as a rookie, didn’t let little Clayton run his hand in a riggin’ back when he first wanted to. He knew he needed to be bigger and stronger before it would work.

“Clayton always wanted to be a roughstock rider and a roper,” remembers Russ, who was named after my Uncle Russ, the cowboy rancher arena director at the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo for decades until he literally died in the saddle bringing his cows in one day. “When he was little, he’d get my photo albums out and look at my bareback riding pictures for hours. He was always roping the dummy—we’d call him for dinner, and it was always ‘10 more loops’—but I made him wait on the roughstock, because he was too small.”

Clayton’s mom, Jessie, grew up in a big-league equestrian family in the same scenic spot I did on the rural outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area. Her father and grandfather were world-class polo players, and Jessie and her sister, Jennifer, were big-time show jumpers. Though baseball, golf, football and rodeo were his competitive sports of choice growing up, Clayton jumped horses at home. It did wonders in developing the catlike balance he’s using today to lead the PRCA Resistol Rookie of the Year race and take aim at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Polaris RANGER. 

Years ago, Russ traded PRCA funnyman Charlie Too Tall West a miniature pony for a miniature jumping mule named Sweet Pea. Pint-sized Clayton put Sweet Pea through her paces, jumping her over and over again with nothing but a calf-riding rope; not even spurs. Talk about a balance booster. 

Clayton and Lane were teammates on Coach Jesse Segura’s 2016 NIRA national championship men’s team from Feather River College in Quincy, Calif. Though some at the CNFR were surprised the bareback rider could head and that the heeler was heeling on his head horse, it came as no surprise to those of us who watched those kids rope the junior rodeo days and nights away on Fast Lane dummies all the days of their childhood. 

Clayton didn’t enter the bareback riding until his sophomore year in high school, and was the NHSRA national champ as a junior. That’s a meteoric rise by all standards, but doesn’t factor in the countless hours spent on the spur board in the Biglows’ backyard that prepared him to ride right. The waiting made him want it that much more—and thanks to the likes of old Sweet Pea, he was ready.

“I never had to ask Clayton if he’d been spurring his spur board or roping his dummy,” Russ laughs. “We always knew where we could find him. People ask me if I’m surprised by Clayton’s success. I’m more happy than surprised.”

When Garrett Tonozzi and Wyatt Cox won the short round, average, $8,783 a man and the silver spurs at Reno, my text did surprise Doug Cox. “Wyatt winning Reno rivals right up there with him being born,” Doug beamed. “This is a big one for anybody you know and love. This is what he’s been dreaming of since he was a little kid out there roping the dummy with your boys pretending to be at the NFR.” 

Doug was the dad who stayed horseback in the return alley all day long at the junior and high school rodeos. We always got to visit a lot, because I’d pick a video perch on the fence where I could open and close the gates for Doug while he rode back and forth bringing up the calves and steers. Wyatt’s mom, Cindy, is best known as Precious at camp, and is renowned for specialties such as her world-famous walking taco (and Wyatt’s personal favorite, her Baked Ziti—“think lasagna with a different kind of noodle”). Precious was the mom who put Plain Jane moms like me to shame with her tiki torches and creative camp décor. Doug’s mom, Peggie? Well, she’s the cookie bakingest grandma West of the Mississippi.

Wyatt is a huge-hearted gentle giant who looks a lot more like a bulldogger than a heeler. It should surprise no one that he was an all-league, all-county offensive lineman all-star as a senior in Arroyo Grande High’s Class of 2013. Like Clayton, Wyatt’s 20, a loyal friend and fierce competitor. It was Wyatt’s second trip to Reno. He raced off to another rodeo right after roping, so we caught up by phone on the Fourth of July, as he and Garrett were pulling into Livingston (Mont.). 

“I’m still in awe over winning Reno,” he said the day after taking the 4.9-second lead at Mandan, N.D.—he and Garrett roped right after a 45-minute torrential-rain and tornado-warning delay, and ended up winning the rodeo. “I still don’t believe it. I was just trying to make my own run and go place. I don’t think it’s really set in yet, as crazy as it’s been. It’s amazing, really.”

Doug and I still hang our heads in shame for drag racing our golf carts at the junior high finals in Gallup, N.M., Wyatt and Taylor’s eighth-grade year in 2009, with our kids riding shotgun. That final sharp left turn onto the main drag launched dear, sweet little Wyatt into the ditch on the side of the road, and we picked gravel out of his roping arm for days. Wyatt was a sport about it, and his ability to roll with the punches of football injuries and the sometimes daily disappointments of the rodeo road are serving him really well right now. 

“I’ve always liked traveling and I love to rope, so I’m having a lot of fun out here,” Wyatt said. “It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning, but when you have a good partner who has a good attitude, it’s still fun even when you aren’t. I’m having a blast.”

As Doug so perfectly puts it, “Not sitting in front of a TV playing video games made these kids what they are today.”
 
 
 
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