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A Look Back at Previous NFR Champions

Credit to Oklahoma Historical Society

With the first NFR having taken place in 1951, in Dallas Texas, this year will mark the 62nd year of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. That means that there are 61 years worth of champions that have left their stamp on the rodeo world. Today we are excited to highlight a few of the men and women that took part in rodeo history and made a lasting impact that we all still see today.

Jim Shoulders – All Around, Bull Riding, Bareback

When people are meant to do something, there is very little that gets in their way. Jim Shoulders was born on May 13, 1928, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His family has no background in livestock or ranching for that matter. So how did such a prominent figure in rodeo come to be one of the best in history? He entered his first pro rodeo at only 14 years of age and right off the bat, his natural talent was enough to get him a whole $18 in the bareback riding. In order to sharpen his skills, he continued entering in rodeo and getting on bareback horses, bulls, and the occasional saddle bronc. Before he graduated from high school he had joined the Cowboys’ Turtle Association. He won $7,000 his first full year as a pro.  In 1949, at 21 years old, he won the first of his 16 world titles and was almost unbeatable for the next decade. Even after his career in rodeo, he went on to be a PRCA Stock Contractor and played a huge part in what rodeo is today.

Casey Tibbs – All Around, Saddle Bronc, Bareback

Casey Tibbs was born on March 5th, 1929 in Fort Pierre, South Dakota. This was another man that was bound for greatness from the start. At the young age of 14, he started breaking colts which eventually led to his feather-light touch style and perfect timing when riding rodeo broncs. Casey went on to win six saddle bronc champion titles, two all-around titles, and one bareback riding title between 1949 and 1959. He was also a major contributor to bringing national attention to rodeo a true, American sport. Even after a lucrative rodeo career, Casey went on to become a stunt man, stunt coordinator, technical director, livestock consultant, wrangler, and actor for the film industry. Casey Tibbs died from cancer in 1990 in his home in Ramona, California.

Bill “Cody” Smith – Saddle Bronc

Bill Smith was born on July 28, 1941, in Red Lodge, Montana. His horse riding career started when he was about 20 years old when he started breaking colts. In his rodeo career, he went on to win three saddle bronc riding titles, in 1969, 1971, and 1973. You will sometimes hear him referred to as β€œCody” Smith after his adopted hometown in Wyoming. He and his wife, Carol Smith settled down in a little town called Thermopolis, Wyoming, and went on to breed and sell top-of-the-line Quarter Horses.

Roy Cooper – All Around, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Roping

Cooper…the name might sound familiar because Roy Cooper is the father to Tuf Cooper. Roy was born November 13, 1955, in Hobbs, New Mexico. When he was a child, he had a really bad problem with asthma, which, at the time, gave him very little hope of making a career out of roping. Having worked through his early years with asthma, he overcame that hurdle and went on to be the most prominent ropers in the history of the sport. He earned the nickname β€œSuper Looper” and was the first PRCA cowboy to surpass $2 million in career earnings. Roy went on to win eight world championships, six in tie-down roping, one in steer roping, and one world all-around title.

Credit to Oklahoma Historical Society

Larry Mahan – All Around, Bull Riding

Larry Mahan will forever be known for his 5x consecutive All-Around World Championship Titles. A record that took nearly a decade to break. But how did he do it? Larry Mahan was born on November 21, 1943, in Salem, Oregon. His rodeo career started at only 14 years old when he developed an individual talent for three, very different events: saddle bronc, bareback, and bull riding. His All-Around Titles were captured starting in 1966 to 1970. His record was matched about a decade later by Tom Ferguson but wasn’t beat until 1994 by Ty Murray. After his rodeo career, he went on to create music, play on TV shows and have his own line of boots, clothes, and hats.

Martha Josey – Barrel Racer

If there was any woman that changed the scene of rodeo for women, it would be Martha Josey. Martha was born in Gregg County, Texas, on March 11, 1938. Her love for horses started at a young age as her father was one of the first directors for the AQHA. Her first horse was CeBe Reed and this was the horse that sealed the deal for her in barrel racing. Some of her career highlights include qualifying for the NFR 11 times on six different horses across four consecutive decades, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and won the WPRA barrel racing world title in 1980 on Sonny Bit O’ Both, the same year the duo also won the AQHA World Championship, a feat unmatched at the time. Currently, her and her husband run Josey Ranch, train and market barrel-racing and roping horses, and host clinics. There is no doubt that Josey made a huge impact on the sport of barrel racing and women in rodeo.

Don McLaughlin – All Around, Steer Roping, Tie-Down Roping

Don McLaughlin was born on October 24, 1927, in Chester, Pennsylvania. Having grown up in rodeo arenas and one of his first gigs being a trick roper, he was destined for a career in rodeo. One thing that really helped McLaughlin’s roping career was his keen “cow sense”. He was able to read the calf/steer’s body language to better position himself when roping. His NFR accomplishments include four consecutive tie-down championships, then the fifth title three years later, and three championship titles in steer roping. As an innovative thinker and roper, Don created a new form of tying calves. Instead of taking the first two wraps around three feet, he shaved his time down by only wrapping once around the back feet, then cinching it with a final half-hitch, forever changing the sport of tie-down. Don died on July 20, 1994, but will forever leave his mark on the world of rodeo.

While these NFR champions are just a small snapshot of all the champions out there if you have a story about a champion you’d like to share, please send it to to be considered for publishing.

CLN Community & Event Sponsor

Hi everyone! I'm Krysta Paffrath, I am a proud Arizona native who has a passion for everything business and rodeo. I am beyond thrilled to be the Editor in Chief for Cowboy Lifestyle Network. With my background in digital marketing and rodeo, this was a natural fit for me to join the team. My adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit has guided me to work in many places like the WYO Quarter Horse Ranch in Thermopolis, Wyoming, a working cattle ranch in Seligman, Arizona, and many places in between. I am passionate about preserving the western way of life and working with different brands and rodeos to make that happen. If you're looking for a write-up, please shoot me an email at Learn more about me at Looking forward to hearing from you!

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