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Commentary: Tilden Hooper headed for big things in 2020

by SCOTT KANIEWSKI | Feb 08, 2020

PSN Editor

FORT WORTH, Texas – Not bad for a guy who never grew up on a ranch and didn’t start bareback riding until he was 15.

Really not bad for a bareback rider who says, “When I tell you I wasn’t very good, a lot of people can’t truly understand how bad I was.”

Tilden Hooper might be from Texas, and once upon a time he might not have been a very good bareback rider.

But right now, Hooper is one of the best in the world.

On Saturday, the 32-year-old who makes his home in Fort Worth about 10 minutes from Dickies Arena won the bareback riding at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo with a rodeo-record 91.5-point ride on Calgary Stampede’s Agent Lynx. The win had Hooper cash in for nearly $25,000, $20,000 of that coming for winning the rodeo.

That’s quite the result from when he first started. Hooper wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire then.

“They (my parents) started hauling me around to watch me ride for about three seconds at a time,” Hooper laughed.

RELATED: Dawson Hay wins saddle bronc riding in Fort Worth

Hooper has a chance to do great things this season. Over the last couple, he’s been climbing. There’s no sign that’s going to slow down.

Last season, Hooper finished fifth in the PRCA | RAM World Standings with $238,239. He earned more than $100,000 at the Wrangler NFR. It wasn’t his best Finals performance. That came the year before, when he earned more money at the Finals than any other bareback rider, finishing third in the world.

Big rides are par for the course for Hooper. In 2010 he tied the ProRodeo record with a 94-point ride on Classic Pro Rodeo’s Big Tex at the Wild, Wild West Pro Rodeo in Silver City, N.M.

At the 2019 RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla., Hooper’s rodeo-winning ride (another record-setting moment for the Texan) had not only the crowd whooping and hollering, but it also had his fellow cowboys standing on the chutes cheering and clapping.

That moment is one of many that sticks out in Hooper’s mind.

Another is from 15 years ago. Hooper was at a bareback riding camp put on by Will Lowe, Wes Stevenson and Pete Hawkins. While all the other campers had been on about three horses, Hooper had been on half a dozen, “getting killed.”

Hawkins pulled Hooper aside.

“He was like, ‘Hey, I can tell you’re trying to impress us, and we’re impressed, you’re tough,’” Hooper recalled.

Hawkins told Hooper to slow down and hold his feet until Hawkins said to spur. It worked.

Hooper climbed aboard a yellow horse (he remembers distinctly).

“My feet blew out, then went back, blew out and went back,” Hooper said. “Then I could hear Pete yelling, ‘Now, now, now!’

“… From that day on it started getting real fast.”

Two years later, Hooper was the 2007 PRCA | Resistol Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year. The next year he was at his first Wrangler NFR.

Hooper entered the finals of Fort Worth, Saturday, nowhere near the top 50 in the standings. Why? Because he hadn’t entered a rodeo since the season flipped to 2020.

He’ll skyrocket up the standings after cashing his fat Fort Worth check.

Hooper didn’t know his destiny lay in the rodeo arena until he saw rodeo on television and Steve McQueen in “Junior Bonner.” That’s when he decided he wanted to be a cowboy.

Hooper’s dad, Terry, and his mom, Patti, weren’t exactly rodeo parents. Terry did some bareback riding but not much, according to Hooper. Terry made his living in the oil and gas industry. Patti worked in a beauty salon, but mostly “kept us all in line.”

Tilden and his sister, Mia, weren’t into rodeo. Mia (an “amazing athlete” according to Hooper) played softball and volleyball, while Tilden was into football and other sports.

“I tried to (play other sports), but I wasn’t good at any of them,” Hooper said. “Then I found bareback riding and I wasn’t very good at that either.”

When Hooper declared he wanted to be a cowboy, his parents were prepared to haul him to rodeos, sort of.

“I wanted to be a bull rider and my mom wasn’t having any of it,” Hooper laughed. “I saw some pictures of my dad riding bareback, and somehow we convinced her that that might be less (rough) on me than bull riding. I think she found out after that was a lie.”

Mom wasn’t aware of that when she caved. It’s too late for her to go back now. And even if she could, she probably wouldn’t, not seeing what her son is capable of.

Hooper also knows what he’s capable of. So do most bareback riders and fans of the sport. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Hooper adds a different kind of buckle to his belt.

“Truth be known, I’m not just concerned with making the NFR,” he said. “I’m trying to win a gold buckle.”

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