Missouri-based cowboy, chasing big dreams
Highlandville, Mo. – Growing up about 30 miles south of Springfield, Clay Clayman was raised on his family’s quarter horse ranch, and has always been involved with training and breaking colts, working on the ranch, and rodeoing.
Coming from a long line of bulldoggers, Clayman knew rodeo was going to be a part of his life.
“My family had always rodeoed, beginning with my great-grandfather, grandpa, uncles, and dad, John,” says Clayman. “I started breakaway and team roping when I was about seven years old.”
The early days
At the beginning, Clayman started competing in team roping, tie-down roping, and steer wrestling in the junior division of the Missouri High School Rodeo Association (MHSRA).
Traveling on the junior circuit allowed him to enter a lot more rodeos and provided him an opportunity for more experience. During his free time, he attended local jackpots, he explains.
“I didn’t go to one MHSRA rodeo until I was a junior,” Clayman jokingly shares. “After attending only four out of roughly 20 high school rodeos, I ended up qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) in the steer wrestling event.”
The year prior to qualifying for the NHSFR, Clayman shares he hadn’t planned on going to any high school rodeos. His goal was to attend Great Lakes Circuit rodeos, but his plans changed after his friend, Cooper Freeman asked Clayman to heel for him.
During his senior year of high school, his rodeo plans changed again and he attended every single Missouri high school rodeo. His goal was to win the all-around title.
Ending his 2021 NHSFR, Clayman finished the season tied for second in the all-around event, sixth in steer wrestling, and first in the team roping average.
Going up and down the rodeo road was always destined for Clayman, but despite his dad’s heavy involvement in steer wrestling; team roping heeling was where he found his passion.
Passion for heeling
Rodeo has been a large part of Clayman’s life. When asked what his favorite event was, he said, “You know it’s one of those deals – I love them both.”
“Heeling comes a lot more natural to me,” he continued. “In the winter when there is not a lot of rodeos going on I mainly focus on heeling, and in the summer when we go to a lot more rodeos I focus more on the bulldogging.”
Clayman shares, he is an adrenaline junky, and bulldogging is more of an adrenaline rush than heeling, but at the end of the day he enjoys them both – it’s rodeo.
Continuing a tradition at circuit finals
Attending the Great Lakes Circuit Finals rodeo in Louisville, Ky. has always been a childhood memory for Clayman. His grandpa, aunt, and uncles all have qualified for the finals, he notes.
With the 2021 circuit finals qualification of his cousin, Anna Cate Clayman in the barrel racing and Clayman’s qualification in heeling, the pair adds to the 100th qualification to the finals of the Clayman the last name, he adds.
“Qualifying to the circuit finals was always my goal when I turned 18 – I wanted to make circuit finals that year,” he shares. “My dad actually won the circuit finals heading when he was 18 years old.”
“I had never really been to the East or North rodeoing and it was cool to see the different places, arenas, and a whole new level of competition,” he adds. “It was kind of nerve-wracking because we decided to wait until the final two rodeos to be in the top 12, but it was fun.”
Having qualified for the circuit finals meant a lot to him. He finished third in the
average with his roping partner Jason Arndt with an average of 30.5 seconds.
“One of the cool things about circuit finals is the green dirt,” shares Clayman.
The rodeo is held in conjunction with the Great Northern Livestock Expo. Livestock producers from around the country meet to show lambs, goats, and cattle. When it's rodeo time, dirt gets added to the green pine shavings.
“Circuit finals will be the only place you go with a green arena, and is the one thing I always heard stories of,” he says.
With the sport of rodeo, contestants win some and lose some. Clayman recalls some of his biggest accomplishments in his rodeo career.
“Winning the 2021 national finals heeling is one of my biggest accomplishments,” shares Clayman. “Only four people from each state in the team roping get to go, then you have 150 teams there – the chances of not only making it to the finals but to win when you get out there, it’s pretty slim.”
With rodeo comes slow times. The heeler wasn’t winning anything at circuit or amateur rodeos and was considering going home for the remainder of the season.
At the NHSFR in the steer wrestling, things didn’t go as well as he had hoped. He ended up winning reserve all-around and was five points shy of a championship buckle.
“That was very depressing,” he said. “The following week after that, I went to Guthrie, Okla., for the Junior World Championships and ended up winning the steer wrestling and the all-around title. So, that was pretty cool to do that and be able redeem myself competing against some of the same 100 contestants I competed against the week prior.”
Winning the Junior World Championship also qualified him for the Junior Ironman competition in March 2022.
During the 2021 season in the steer wrestling, Clayman rode a 19-year-old sorrel gelding, named Tangles.
“I’ve got him when I was 13 and got him as a breakaway and heal horse,” he says. “I learned how to breakaway and tie-down rope on him. When I quit tie-down roping, we went to hazing on him a lot and it was just a gateway to start bulldogging on him.”
In the spring of 2020, Clayman started bulldogging on him and a month later he went to the state finals and won the average on him, he shares.
Clayman also owns a palomino gelding, named Shorty who is a half-brother to Tangles, and uses him as his heeling horse.
“I bought Shorty from my uncle, Jim Bob Clayman when he was five years old and he was my younger, back-up horse,” he shares. “When I went to start bulldogging on Tangles, the yellow horse had to step up and be my good horse. He has been a solid, good horse ever since.”
“I’ve been blessed with two really good horses and our haze horse is actually another half-brother to Tangles and Shorty,” Clayman adds. “They can be quirky at times, but as long as they work good, that’s okay with me.”
Looking ahead, Clayman plans to utilize a new string a horses for the 2022 rodeo season – Gus and Jet are new bulldogging horses and Diamond is new hazing horse. He’s looking forward to hitting the road with his new equine partners.
Future plans and advice
This year he has some big goals and has his eyes set on another qualification to the Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo and a championship. Going into to the rodeo season it won’t be hard to miss Clayman and his roping partner, Mason Appleton as the pair has traveling plans to hit as many circuit rodeos as they possibly can, he shares.
“Mason is a long time buddy from Chelsea, Okla., and heads very good and also ropes calves,” he shares. “I’m excited to travel and haul my new bulldogging team.”
The pair has their eyes set on qualifying for the Great Lakes Circuit Finals rodeo scheduled for November 2022 in hopes to count earnings won at the finals toward rookie of the year for the 2023 rodeo season.
For anyone looking to compete in rodeo Clayman offers some words of advice and encouragement.
“For one practice – practice all the time,” he says. “When I started bulldogging good, it’s because we got to running steers five times a week. It didn’t come from wishing I was better, it comes from me saying, “I want to be better.”
“If you have a good attitude and the more people like you, the more opportunities you’re going to get,” Clayman adds. “Nobody wants to be around someone with a bad attitude, and if you have a bad attitude, it directly affects your performance.”
“If you can look on the bright side, instead of the glass half empty, things are going to be a lot better,” shares Clayman. “Set small attainable goals, because if not it can be hard to track progress and improve if you feel like you’re not improving.”
At the end of the day rodeo is something Clayman does for fun and is a way of life and is looking forward to hitting the rodeo trail in years to come.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do on a Thursday or Friday night – get off of work and go rodeo,” he concludes.
Brittany Gunn is a corresponding writer and social media manager for Avid Visual Rodeo Photography.