By: Kendra Santos
Riley Webb is a roping gunslinger whose rodeo resume includes his current reign as the 2020 National High School Rodeo Association tie-down roping titlist. Webb’s been busy climbing the rodeo ranks from an early age. And Saturday night—when Riley rides into the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s July 20-24 Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo in Salt Lake City—he’ll take a swing at becoming the youngest cowboy millionaire on rodeo record.
“For anybody to get to rope for a million dollars is amazing—to have this opportunity at my age is unbelievable,” said Webb, who calls Denton, Texas, home. “To even be included in the talk of being the youngest millionaire in rodeo is just incredible.”
Webb put himself into prime position to pounce on the WCRA’s Triple Crown of Rodeo—a $1,000,000 bonus awarded to any rodeo athlete of any age who wins three straight WCRA majors—by taking back-to-back titles at last summer’s Stampede at the E in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and this spring’s Rodeo Corpus Christi, which was held beachside in May in the Lone Star State.
Webb plans to purchase his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association permit when he turns 18 next month. Meanwhile, he’s been mixing it up with the men, including some of his cowboy heroes. Webb worked his way into the spotlight through the WCRA’s DY Division Youth, which is open to kids 13-17 and is one of many new opportunities available to today’s young guns.
“The WCRA has allowed me to compete at the highest level at an early age,” said Webb, whose rodeo accolades also include qualifying for The American in Arlington, Texas, the last two years. “For me to be able to nominate open jackpots and rodeos to earn points to get into the WCRA majors and rope against the top guys in the world for life-changing money is outstanding.”
The only child of roping producer dad Dirk and roping secretary mom Jennifer, Riley’s commitment to his roping craft is no coincidence.
“When I was a little kid, my parents were putting on ropings (Dirk also now serves as rodeo manager at The American), which they still do, and I went with them to all of the ropings and rodeos,” said Riley, who just wrapped up his academic year, and is now officially a home-schooled high school senior. “I was always around it and watching the best guys rope.
“To have my parents’ full attention and them be all about it when it comes to my roping has been amazing. All three of us are 100 percent into this goal I want to accomplish. I want to rope for a living and hopefully become a world champion one day.”
Riley played baseball until he was 11. But he figured out early on that anything that took time away from his roping had to go.
“When I quit baseball at 11 is when I went all-in with my roping,” he said. “I was never serious about baseball or any other sports. I only wanted to rope, and I knew I wanted to rope the rest of my life. So doing anything else started to seem like a waste of time.”
Young Riley started entering the goat tying and all the roping events when he was about 7.
“When I was 12 or 13, I started to have success and realize I was kind of good,” he said. “I was sort of self-taught. I always roped, and I always loved it. We were at ropings and rodeos all the time, and I had a rope in my hand 24-7. Handling my rope came naturally from countless hours messing with it. And we spent a lot of hours—just me and Dad—roping and tying calves and trying to figure it out.”
Roy “Super Looper” Cooper’s oldest son, Clint, was another important person in Riley’s corner as a kid. Clint, Clif and Tuf Cooper are a rare trifecta of Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier brothers.
“When I was 11 or 12, Clint helped me get going with my roping and helped me with my horses,” Riley remembers. “He boosted me up when I was a little boy trying to get going.
“I’ve had a lot of people in my corner who’ve helped me get here. It takes lots of hard work and a good attitude—no matter what happens, good or bad—to make it in this world. My mom and grandma have helped me a lot with that. When you mess up, it’s over, and you have to just move on to the next one.”
Clint’s not the only Cooper who’s watched Riley grow up. The eight-time Champ of the World Super Looper has seen it coming, too.
“Riley grew up roping fast, so when the conditions suit him, look out,” said roping revolutionary Roy. “He’s fast, and he’s got a future. He’s a good kid, too.”
Super Looper’s baby boy and four-time World Titlist Tuf Cooper, who owns three gold tie-down roping buckles and one all-around model, made rodeo history in 2013 when he became the youngest cowboy millionaire in rodeo history a few weeks after turning 23.
“I’ve known Riley since he was 2 or 3 years old, so I’ve gotten to watch him rope all his life,” Tuf said. “And I think it’s the coolest thing ever for a 17-year-old kid to get to rope for a million dollars. That this industry has come up with a way for someone that young to win that much money—wow.
“I’ve expected Riley to perform at every level along the way, and he continues to get it done. If he doesn’t get it done this time, there will be a lot of next times for Riley. His success inspires me, and how he’s able to keep figuring out how to improve is quite impressive. I love watching him rope. Riley earned this chance. And bravo to our industry for giving it to him.”
But is he tough enough to withstand $1,000,000 worth of great expectations from the cowboy crowd?
“Without a doubt,” Tuf said. “That’s not a problem. And no matter what happens, it’s going to make him better. What would I do to get ready to rope a calf for a million dollars? The better question is, what wouldn’t I do? Riley will look at it the same way and will do everything he can to give him the best possible chance.”
World Champion Tie-Down Roper Shane Hanchey finished second to Webb in Corpus Christi and, like Cooper, will rope in Salt Lake City. That’s two tough guys right there who stand between Riley and that Triple Crown finish line. And they’ll have company.
“Riley’s grown up with a rope in his hand, so he handles a rope phenomenally,” said 2013 Champ of the World Hanchey. “He’s an unbelievable combination of big and strong, and also really fast. Riley’s also strong in the horsepower department right now. That sorrel horse of his (Titus) is very underrated. He’s one of the best horses going right now.”
Riley will blow out 18 candles on his August 4 birthday cake and plans to hit the professional rodeo road running. Then and now, he’s on a mission to take advantage of all the additional WCRA money up for rodeo-athlete grabs.
“It’s a no-brainer when you can nominate any rodeo you go to, win, earn points and get to go to WCRA majors and rope for all kinds of money,” Webb said. “The plan is to get my permit when I turn 18 and get it filled so I’ll be ready for the 2022 rodeo season. I want to try and win rookie of the year, make the Finals and make a living roping. But I’ve just gotta take it one day at a time.”
This week’s Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo will play out at Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City. And Salt Lake City, here he comes, as Riley rides into town laser-focused on making million-dollar magic. So how’s a 17-year-old high school kid handling the pressure cooker of possible history in the making?
“I’m looking at Salt Lake as just another rodeo,” Webb said. “I have to. I’m not going to change anything I’ve been doing that’s been working. I have to show up prepared and do my deal. All I can do is treat it like another rodeo, and if I win it, that’ll be an awesome bonus. You can’t count on anything until it happens. All you can do is your job, like any other day.”
Wise words for one so young. Still, he’s human. And there’s no containing the thrill of this particular possibility.
“I’ve been practicing hard, so my horses and me can show up in shape and prepared,” he said. “I’m going to show up with a good attitude and do the best I can.”
Webb has his eye on the prized pot of gold and seems to be doing a fine job of maintaining big-picture perspective while he’s at it.
“A lot of people never win a million dollars in their whole career,” he said. “I don’t feel nervous. I’m excited. This is unbelievable. To even be talking about a chance like this is amazing. When you’re competing at any big event, you just have to have confidence in your practice and all the hard work you’ve put into it, then just go make your run. All you can do is your best.
“I don’t like losing, and that pushes me harder to try and be faster. I’m always trying to get better at my roping. If you want to win, you have to figure out how to be faster than everyone else. I’m coming off of a high from winning Corpus Christi, and I can’t wait to get to Salt Lake. Everything’s clicking right now. I’m ready.”
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