Dream Big: Professional Bareback Rider & Rank 45 Sponsored Athlete Tilden Hooper's Story



There are many things that make up a rodeo cowboy. Hard work, athleticism, fearlessness, and determination to name a few. And in the words of professional bareback rider and Rank 45 sponsored athlete Tilden Hooper, “a thrill-seeker attitude and a little bit of grit. A lot of grit, actually.”


With his laidback, down-to-earth personality and quick sense of humor, Tilden differs from some of the “grizzly bear” guys who walk into the arena fists curled and teeth grinding like they are heading into the ring of a UFC fight. Not Tilden. “I'm going to be standing there chewing gum, talking trash, and doing my thing.” He says all of this nonchalantly with a slight smirk in his smile, but Tilden Hooper has all of the rugged grittiness and fighting spirit it takes to be a rodeo athlete and then some.




Raised in the small town of Carthage, Texas, Tilden grew up hunting, fishing, and trying out different sports. Although he was undeniably athletic, nothing really grabbed hold of him until rodeo. Tilden found his calling in the Western novels he read as a child and at the small town rodeo he went to with his family every year. “I was reading these books about cowboys back in the day, out in the range, gun fighting, and I just wanted to be a cowboy. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I just fell in love with the lifestyle.”


While he initially had his heart set on bull riding, Tilden saw old photos of his father in his early twenties competing in bareback riding in small rodeos. That’s when Tilden decided to go for the same event. Tilden’s father taught him the basics of the sport. “He built me what we call a spur board. It's a stationary dummy, and he was just like, ‘Get to practicing on that thing. And when I decide it's time, we'll do the real thing.’” For the next several months, Tilden trained like it was the real deal until finally his father decided it was time to get on a horse. The day of his first ride was as wild and unexpected as the event itself. “We had a friend of ours bring over a roping horse that would sometimes buck and we flanked him, did all the bucking horse stuff. I just remember I got everything ready, was about to nod my head, and the gate just opened. And so here I go, just out there riding, didn’t ride very far, but it was the biggest rush. And I didn’t die. I thought, ‘This is awesome. This is what I want to do.’”



Tilden went on to compete in high school and college rodeos until he started competing professionally by the time he turned 18. But the speed at which his career took off is a testament to his rugged determination to not quit until he mastered the sport. “I kept working at it. Just kept putting in the work and in my mind, I never thought I wouldn’t get to where I'm at now. But it wasn't like I showed some sort of ability straight out of the gate. It was quite the opposite. It was three long years before I truly started picking it up.”


Tilden’s relentless pursuit of his goals was never deterred by the challenges of the sport. In fact, his worst rides are some of his biggest motivators. “You don't learn a lot when you're winning, or at least I don’t. I learn more in the moments where I get knocked on my ass. Houston, Texas in 2016/2017, I got on this horse and I got real worked up before I got on. I was trying real hard and just got aggressive. As soon as I nodded, I fell off at the end of the gate, fast. I learn more from when my back's up against the wall or I've got knocked down. All the big learning moments in my life have hit me in the guts, knocked me back, set me down and made me think, ‘Hey, wake up, look around.’” This is the mentality it takes to compete in one of the toughest sports in the world.


The physical demands of bareback riding are the other half of what makes it so tough. Like most bareback riders, Tilden faced the challenge of injuries and recovery. A whole year of missed events and having to sit back and heal when every part of him just wanted to get back out and compete. Doctors recommended changing career paths, but after coming so far in his career, that was not an option for him. “The year before that all happened, I had the best year of my life. I was number one in the world from February until August, whenever I had to go home. So getting a taste of that and seeing what I was capable of, it really made me reevaluate things. I knew that if I got to come back and ride, I would leave it all out there every time.” And Tilden has done just that. Since coming back to the sport, his standings have improved with every year and in 2021, he arrived at the Wrangler NFR as the season leader for the first time in his career.




After turning his childhood dream into a full-time career with 8 NFR qualifiers, it is no doubt that Tilden Hooper is grit and tenacity personified. There is a vibrancy in the way he speaks about rodeo that shows how passionate he is about his sport. “It's the wildest, coolest freaking event there is. You're hanging on with one hand, the horse is pailing four feet up in the air, trying to buck you off. And the look you get from guys that ride bulls… they look at you like you're crazy. That's kind of cool."


While his goals since he started competing professionally have been set on becoming a world champion, his primary focus as a rodeo athlete reflects the rugged determination of a true rodeo cowboy. “My goal is to be a world champion; everyone's goal is to be a world champion. But my main goal is to go out there every time, give it everything I got, and really work at it. As long as I get every point out of every horse I get on, leave it all out there, and I'm able to support my family doing this, I'm really happy with that.” He might not be out on the range, shooting off guns like his younger self once imagined, but Tilden Hooper is as cowboy as they come.


SHOP RODEO GEAR



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