ProRodeo Hall of Famer Paul Tierney on life and roping
The 1980 All-Around World Champion was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as the 2008 all-around cowboy. Today Tierney raises and trains American Quarter horses on his ranch near Hot Springs, South Dakota, and conducts roping clinics.
Long before Paul Tierney was a ProRodeo Hall of Famer, he was "just a little boy milking cows down in Broken Bow, Nebraska." He may not have laid claim to a rodeo heritage, but he did have a dog-eared book and the determination to teach himself.
Photography by Dawn Faught
Paul Tierney, 1979 World Champion Tie-Down Roper and 1980 All-Around World Champion, was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as the 2008 all-around cowboy.
"Roping was just something that became a desire in my heart," Tierney says. "Every night before I went to bed, I'd read my Toots Manfield Roping Guide. Toots was a revolutionary world-champion calf roper back in the late '40s who took roping to another level." The heart's desire of the young cowboy eventually took him to new heights: Tierney became the 1979 World Champion Tie-Down Roper and 1980 All-Around World Champion, highlights of a rodeo career that culminated in his 2008 induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as all-around cowboy.
Tierney will be the first one to tell you that he didn't do it by himself. "Clark Brown of North Platte, Nebraska, was truly my mentor. He taught me how to win. I knew how to rope, but I didn't know how to win. Jack Hannum and Dean Oliver were both heroes in my eyes who happened to say something to me at the right time in my life that encouraged me. From them I learned to believe I could do this if I wanted to. I could win the world [championship]."
Today Tierney raises and trains quarter horses and operates a cow-calf/yearling operation on his ranch near Hot Springs, South Dakota. He also conducts roping schools with a mind toward inspiring others to follow their dreams.
Down a dusty road bordered by taut barbed wire encircling lush pastures and herds of cattle, C&I caught up with Tierney at his ranch. While mares and colts gathered near water tanks filled by squeaky windmills, Tierney and son Jess roped calves in the arena, and Dad coached his daughters as they practiced breakaway roping. In between, we talked to the Hall of Famer about roping, horses, and the power of encouragement.
Today Tierney raises and trains American Quarter horses on his ranch near Hot Springs, South Dakota, and conducts roping clinics.
Cowboys & Indians: What inspired you to rope and who encouraged you during your journey to world?
Paul Tierney: My beginnings come from the Toots Mansfield Roping Guide and an older brother who roped. I was 5 years old when he was killed in an accident, but I just wanted to rope like him. I was so passionate, I figured if I threw 10 loops every time I walked past the roping dummy then I'd throw between 60 and 80 loops before I got into the practice pen. Commitment is hard work. I learned this when I worked for my dad for a half day — from 7 in the morning to 7 at night.
I was never filled up. I was satisfied occasionally with my performance, but I was always willing to practice. I didn't know how good I was, but I came to a certain time in my life that I wanted to find out. I had saved up enough money to go to all of the winter rodeos, so there was no financial stress. That spring, I came home with the money I had in my can plus $14,000 in winnings.
After I made finals in 1978, Jack Hannum of Ogden, Utah, told me, "You have just as much ability to win the world as anybody." That fall, I was in Dillon, Montana, roping a bale with Dean Oliver, eight-time world champion calf roper and three-time world champion all-around cowboy. He also told me I had the ability to win world. Up to that time, I knew I was a National Finals contestant, but I didn't think of myself as having the ability to win world. Two guys I highly respected spoke it into me. I started believing it and won world the next year.
Looking back, you see key things that went on in your life to maybe up your level of belief and self-confidence. Maybe someone said the right thing at the right place and time, not knowing how it affected you and how the words of others can sometimes either promote us or defeat us. I try to share that whole process with my kids and at my schools — how to be very positive and encouraging.
Tierney, wife Robin, and daughters Amy and Jordan after Amy's all-around win at a high school rodeo in Sturgis, South Dakota
C&I: Tell me about your quarter-horse program.
Tierney: It's what I love. I love roping, I love my horses. I get to work every day in my passion. Two things go into a successful competitive horse: the training and the horse. If you have good horses but don't have good training, you end up with a mediocre product. We are constantly looking for the superb athlete. My mares are carefully chosen for conformation, performance, and bloodlines and are bred to my stallions PTS Frosted Cash (Frosty Feature) and Frenchmans Sanwood (Frenchman Guy). Confirmation makes a difference on the stop and turns for barrel horses and makes a huge difference on a calf horse, so he is able to stop and not be all run. We start them and then decide which job he is best-suited for. ... The thing about the horses is you can make an average horse and sell him for so much, but if you have a little better horse, you can sell him for a quite a bit more. If you have a really good horse, you had better keep him.
C&I: You put on many roping schools. How do you inspire others to become successful in life and rodeo?
Tierney: I try to get kids to realize that God made them just like He made me. If you have a passion, if you will commit yourself and understand how to be disciplined, dedicated, and diligent to what you want to accomplish, you can do this. There are no obstacles so big that you can't overcome them. This is not an easy road no matter what level you are at. Treat roping like you are going out for football practice and get yourself on a regimen and practice every day. At my schools, we take it back to the basics of riding, roping, and the swing. If your foundation is correct and if things start to go poorly, you can fall back a step or two and figure out what is wrong. The swing will determine the outcome. If you can't swing the rope correctly, then your rope isn't in the most opportune place to do its job.
C&I: How has being named to the Hall of Fame affected you?
Tierney: One of my main preaching points to my kids is to maintain your character and values in life through your success. Rodeo will humble you. About the time you get on the high side of the street, it will knock you right back down to the bottom. You have to be gracious in the winning times. When you lose, you have to maintain a certain amount of composure. Losing is learning — a stepping stone to where you are going. Success will not define your character, but your character will define your success. I feel my success didn't affect me at all. It would be a bit headier if you were [actively] rodeoing when they put you in the Hall of Fame, but the last year I rodeoed was 1987. I was honored for my achievements. I am thankful.
For more on Paul Tierney, his horses, and his schools, visit www.paultierneyperformancehorses.com.
Paul Tierney's rodeo record
• 2008 ProRodeo Hall of Fame All-Around Cowboy
• 1981 fourth all-around
• 1980 World Champion All-Around
• 1979 World Champion Tie-Down Roper
• Reserve All-Around Champion: 1977, 1979
• Top 10 all-around cowboy, seven times: 1977–86
• NFR qualifier tie-down roping, nine times: 1977–82, 1984–86
• NFR qualifier steer wrestling, five times: 1977, 1979–81, 1984