The Dickens Family
The Dickens, Jacy, Kim, and daughter Sara, are carrying on a family tradition. “Sara is the fourth generation on my side, and the third on […]
Six of the 15 steer wrestlers at the 2021 National Finals Rodeo have two things in common. They’re all chasing the gold buckle, and each of them will be using the skills they learned in Tom Carney’s Steer Wrestling 101 program to try to win the world. Combined, these six cowboys are bringing 27 collective qualifications to the NFR and three world titles.
“It’s huge, but I’d like to have more than half,” Tom said. “That’s a personal goal of mine. But, I’m just as happy to have a guy out there trying to get his first steer thrown down as I am about having six guys at the NFR. That’s where it all starts. I look at these guys and to see them get where they are is beautiful. I know where they came from and they were in my pen starting from scratch. How many am I training now that will be in that same position? I hope it’s all of them.”
Jacob Talley, 30, finished the regular season No. 1 in the PRCA World Standings. He will be joined by Dakota Eldridge, 30, who finished third followed by Tyler Pearson, 36, in fourth. Tyler Waguespack, 30, ranked sixth for the regular season and Rowdy Parrott, 27, was 12th, followed by Tristan Martin, 25, in 14th.
“Rowdy Parrott is the smallest guy at the NFR, but he’s one of the most powerful because his technique is so good,” Tom said. “On the other end of the spectrum, Jacob Talley is a workout guru and one of the most powerful guys out there, but we softened him up and don’t let him use his size. We made him smaller.”
Tom grew up around rodeo and had legends such as John W. Jones Sr. guiding him and influencing his style. Watching how other cowboys steer wrestled and cherry picking the parts he liked is how he developed his own style, but that wasn’t his only source of inspiration. Tom was 10 years old when his 20-year-old brother died in a car accident.
“He was my hero and so I said I’d be like him,” Tom said. “I wasn’t the athlete he was, but I stayed with it and gave it everything I had trying to be like him.” Tom enjoyed a bit of success as a steer wrestler, qualifying for the high school and college national finals rodeos.
“But on the pro level, my students are better trained and better athletes. All of them have their own individual talents and strengths, so we don’t try to cookie-cutter them. Their styles are all a bit different but if you look at their basics, they’re pretty similar.”
Now 65, Tom is a Gold Card member of the PRCA. Unlike other sports, rodeo didn’t have a standard training program when Tom started Steer Wrestling 101 about 40 years ago. In 1989, Joey Roberts became the first of Tom’s students to go to the NFR and the list of steer wrestlers who went on to achieve great things continued to grow.
“Last year we had nine state high school champions and that’s phenomenal,” Tom said. “Our style is advantageous to the smaller guys because we involve a lot of core strength. We have a lot of tools and it’s one the most efficient styles in steer wrestling.”
Tom’s schools are typically held twice a year, one in Utah around Easter and one in Louisiana near Thanksgiving with about 40 participants. “My roster fills up within 30 minutes of announcing it online.”
Tom also helps other schools around the country and pitches in with the college rodeo teams that ask for his guidance. When he’s not training steer wrestlers, Tom works for American National Insurance Company in Ruston, La.
Tom’s training is from the waist down instead of the waist up, so footwork is imperative.
“We’re one of the only schools to train from the waist down and that’s huge in our training,” Tom said, adding that he watches the footwork in boxing matches and the focus in the eyes of Olympic athletes. “Just watch the eyes of my guys. You won’t see any expression, that’s how Olympic athletes behave.”
Unlike coaches in other sports, Tom didn’t limit his instruction to just scheduled time in the arena. He and his recently-deceased wife Tanya, T-Dog, brought the steer wrestlers into their home for extended stays while they perfected their craft. “She was such a big part of this because she would mother them and make sure they were fed right,” Tom said. “We had guys live with us for months and years trying to hone their skills and we’d take them in. She was like a mother to them, so it’s been quite a change not having her here.”
Affectionately dubbed T-Dog, Tanya holds a special place in the hearts of each of the six steer wrestlers heading into the Finals as well as the rest of the cowboys she helped. “I’ll always remember the hospitality that he and T-Dog provided for me,” Dakota said.
Pearson’s first time training with Tom was during his freshman year of high school and he recalls the impact she had.
“He started us, but I think his wife had just as much to do with our success,” Pearson said. “Ms. Tanya was awesome and she’ll never be forgotten. She was the rock, the glue, that held everything together, that’s for sure. She was the reason I went back; she was a good-hearted woman.”
Tyler Pearson’s coming into his fifth NFR (2013, 2017-19 and 2021). He won the world in 2017.
“Pearson has great horses and is a great horseman — he’s just smart,” Tom said. “He bulldogs smart and has always been that way.”
Dakota had already competed at the NFR three or four times before he got a chance to work with Tom. This year marks Dakota’s eighth NFR (2013-17 and 2019-21).
“The first three years I made the Finals, it was off of having a great horse and athletic ability and the drive to win, and not so much technique,” Dakota said. “Before, I relied on my size and athletic ability but now I have just as good of a technique as anyone. Size and athletic ability are fine, but if you have all three it’s a great thing.”
Dakota came close to claiming a world title after winning the NFR average in 2015 and 2017.
“He breaks it down in a way that is very understandable and you can relay it to a lot of styles,” Dakota said, adding that he’s applied steer wrestling styles from a lot of people to his approach. “Tom was a huge part of bringing my steer wrestling to the next level of being consistent and knowing what I was doing in every run.
Tyler Waguespack is entering his seventh consecutive NFR (2015-21). Winning the NFR average in 2016 and 2018 helped him win the world title both years. His dad, Mike Waguespack, would work with Tom and that played a big role in the young cowboy’s development.
“Him and his wife, they’d go out of their way to help anyone at all; whether it was rodeo or not,” Tyler Waguespack said. “Tom was always willing to help and in a lot of sports there aren’t many people willing to go out of their way to help and he’s great at motivational talks. He’s a really good motivator. They’re two very special people to me.”
Jacob started training with Tom in 2010 and this year marks his fourth time at the NFR (2016, 2018, 2020-21).
“When I went there, I had no idea what to expect,” Jacob said. “I had ridden horses for fun, but nothing serious and not involved in rodeo. Tom’s program is so broken down into the baby steps where you can get all the little details figured out before you even jump your first one.”
Rowdy is returning to the NFR after last qualifying in 2017. Growing up near Tom’s place, Rowdy has worked with Tom countless times since his freshman year of high school.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without his help,” Rowdy said. “I’m a smaller guy, 5-10 and 185 pounds, so I have to do it correctly and he teaches how to do it correctly.”
Tristan got his start in steer wrestling by working with Tom when he was about 10 years old. Now he is celebrating his first NFR qualification.
“Growing up, there was never a lot of steer wrestlers coming from the South, but now there’s more guys coming in from Louisiana and that’s a big statement in itself,” Tristan said.
There’s no secret to their success as the Steer Wrestling 101 YouTube channel has been active for several years with instructional videos that were shot by Rob Pierce and are free to the public. Some of his videos have been viewed as much as 80,0000 times. Whether it’s in person or online, Tom breaks down the run and slows it down so that every aspect is fine-tuned, and then it’s on to repetition and dummy work.
“You see if now with little guys sliding steers and making great runs,” Dakota said. “I don’t remember kids being able to technically bulldog like they do now at a young age. When I was in high school, it was grab them by the horns and wrestle them, but he has it down to a science and technique.”
The game has changed over the years. It’s no longer just cowboys learning to steer wrestle as athletes from all walks of life are getting in the saddle.
“They come from being football players and wrestlers, and it’s just amazing the level of talent we’re getting now,” Tom said. “We had to step our game up and take an Olympic approach where they train like those pros do.”
In addition to the basics, Tom works on the finer details that fans in the stands might not be able to see.
“Things like the eyes and facial expressions, things you don’t see in their runs but I do,” Tom said. “I teach them to breathe, just breathe. In weight lifting, the first thing they teach you to do is breathe but nobody was looking at that in our sport. We’re training athletes and not just cowboys.”
Tom also helps competitors rehab after an injury, such as when Jacob tore his pectoral muscle.
“I’m never satisfied with where we’re at, if we quit learning then I’m done,” Tom said. “I’m a sponge. I absorb it and try to implement it if it works; and we’re receptive to all kinds of styles. We never say a style is wrong. If you can take a style and win with it, then it’s all right. I teach my guys it’s not about trying to beat any steer wrestler, it’s about beating your steer.”
He also trains the parents and coaches on the importance of positive reinforcement since maintaining an upbeat attitude is imperative in rodeo.
The adrenaline rush draws them in, and the friendships are often why they stay since their competition is frequently hazing for them. No other rodeo event or sport does anything like this.
“Not only are they good guys, but they’re good people,” Tom said. “The spiritual side of it is huge.”
I love the steer wrestling mentality. They’re all pulling for each other and are such a big family. It has more camaraderie and there’s not a selfish aspect about it. I love that, and we demand it — helping each other, hazing, pushing steers and those things. That’s the biggest part of steer wrestling and that’s not how it is in the other events.”
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