Matt Sherwood and Walt Woodard won $56,000 a man plus prizes at RodeoHouston. – RodeoHouston/Impulse Photography
By Lane Karney
Special To Ropers Sports News
Set the record and get paid. Sounds so simple. But that’s a pretty tall order when you’re talking about going faster than any team has ever gone before at RodeoHouston—and asking that of a team with 110 years between them.
Matt Sherwood, 48, and Walt Woodard, 62, are walking deeper into the roping record books by the run. The pair of two-time world team roping titlists—Matt was the champ in 2006 and 2008, and Walt won the world in 1981 and 2007—came through with the 4.0-second record run in the Finals at RodeoHouston on March 17 to outgun teams like Cody Snow and Wesley Thorp, and Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, who were 4.1 right in front of them and right behind them in the final four. Matt and Walt each won $56,000.
“I’d obviously never been 4.1 in that arena in my life—that was the record,” said Matt, who’s roped at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo five times, in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016, and after winning the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo with Walt earlier this
year has a pretty good start on a sixth trip to Vegas. “I rode
in there thinking, ‘I better go at this son of a gun.’ I saw what I thought was the minimum start to still get out, got it on him as fast as I could, turned him as fast as I could, and Walt heeled him on the first jump.
“I knew it was a good run. It felt fast and smooth. But I was surprised when I looked up and saw 4 flat. That was happiness. That’s as good as it gets. Breaking the record to take the lead against the best guys in the world—there’s nothing better in our line of work than that moment right there.”
“We had to be 4 flat—the fastest steer that’s ever been roped here—and we did it?” Walt said. “That’s awesome!”
Walt won his first world championship roping with fellow California native Doyle Gellerman in 1981. Twenty-six years later, at 52, he struck again for a second gold buckle in 2007. Matt won his first world title in 2006 roping with Walt, and his second in 2008 heading for Randon Adams.
The only hickey on that first one was being involved in the first split team roping titles ever. Matt and Allen Bach won the world that year, and their NFR partners—Walt and Chad Masters—were the reserve champs. The good news is that Walt and Chad won it all that following year, in 2007, in a similar situation that this time went their way.
“I don’t care who you are, that puts you in an impossibly tough position,” said Matt, who lives in Pima, Arizona, with his wife, Kim.
The Sherwoods have seven kids and two grandkids. Grandson Houston was born two years ago during RodeoHouston, and his baby brother, Denver, was born during RodeoHouston this year. Walt and Darlene Woodard live in Stephenville, Texas, and have one son—Travis won the 2003 BFI with Mikey Fletcher five years before Walt won it with Clay Tryan in 2008. Travis and his wife, Rachel, have two kids. Wyatt’s 5, and Audrey’s 2.
“Both are wonderful, but they are completely opposite,” Grandpa Walt said. “Wyatt has feelings. Audrey is fearless.”
Wyatt loves to ride his pony, Crackers. Audrey rides Blueberry with Walt, “and she likes to go fast.” Walt rode Blueberry—who’s 10 and has been trained start to finish by Walt and Travis— at Houston.
“He’s an amazing horse,” Walt said. “We’ve had him since he was a yearling. This horse is the product of a system we believe in. Having been raised by horsemen, there’s a lot of self-satisfaction in that.”
Matt rode a sorrel mare he calls Murphy, who’s 13 now. He bought her from an elderly woman in Indio, California, before she was 2, and trained her himself. Matt sold Murphy to Riley Minor when she was 9 or 10, and bought her back last year. Murphy’s closely related to Matt’s most renowned sorrel horse, Nick, that he won both championships on. In honor of that fact, Riley called her Nickie when he owned her.
“She scores and she runs,” Matt said of Murphy. “Those are her two greatest strengths. She’s really pigeon-toed and sort of small-boned, so she does not have primo conformation. But’s she’s built to fly. And she’s never taken a lame step.”
The top 40 teams in the world rope at RodeoHouston. Matt and Walt won Super Series 1 to move on to the Semifinals, but actually advanced to the Finals by placing second to Cody and Wesley in the Wild Card round after going out of the Semifinals.
“Naturally, I was disappointed to miss in the Semifinals,” Matt said. “The six teams that don’t advance from each Semifinals (Wednesday and Thursday) went to the Wild Card round on Friday night. Just on the math, you have a 40-percent chance of making the Finals out of your Semifinals. But in the Wild Card, there’s only a two out of 12 chance, which is a little less than 17-percent odds.”
They squeaked into the Finals, where the slate is clean for 10 teams. After that 10-team Finals long round, the fastest four make one more sudden-death run for the $50 grand a man. Those four teams were Matt and Walt, and Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, both with 4.8-second runs; Cody and Wesley, who were 5 flat; and Dustin Bird and Jake Minor, who were 5.2 in the 10 round.
In the final four, Dustin and Jake drew the strongest steer, Bird went at him, and missed. They finished fourth, for another $5,000 a man. Then Cody and Wesley tied the arena record with a 4.1-second run. There have been a lot of days in the last few decades when Walt Woodard would have tended to business and taken that $20,000 second-place check with a smile and as planned. But not on this day. Matt and Walt were 4 flat, and the crowd went crazy.
“Then here comes the two greatest ropers going right now,” Matt said of Kaleb and Junior, who roped last. “We did all we could do, but there was a good chance those guys were going to beat us.”
They tried. And they made an amazing run. But in the round that paid $50,000, $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 a man, Kaleb and Junior were 4.1. They split second with Cody and Wesley, and all four guys got $15,000 for that one steer.
“What an emotional moment,” Matt said. “$56,000 is obviously huge for me and my family. And at 48, you realize the fun won’t go on forever. Moments like that one don’t happen very often. There’s a good chance that’ll never happen to me again. I was overwhelmed.”
So was Walt.
“Last year (Walt roped with Charly Crawford at RodeoHouston in 2017), Zac Small and Levi Lord roped right before me, and they were 4.1, just like today,” Walt said. “Charly and I had to be 4 flat to win it last year, and didn’t get it done. Then today, the best team in the world had to be 4 flat to tie us, and they were 4.1.
“What just happened here is crazy. It’s really hard to win a major. “I just won $56,000, a saddle, and a buckle—plus $500 for signing autographs. It doesn’t get any better than this.
“I practice going fast every day. I live in Stephenville, Texas, so I can train against the best guys in the world on a full-time basis. These guys today are the greatest ever. They can rope a lot of steers in a row fast. They’re amazing ropers, and they’re quality human beings. They aren’t just great ropers. They’re nice.”
So far, so good for Matt Sherwood and Walt Woodard in 2018.
“Our 2018 season is a work in progress,” Matt said. “We won Fort Worth and have made some good runs, but we’ve messed up some good chances also. We feel like we’re working hard and roping good enough to get to the Finals and have a chance at the championship. But we can’t keep messing up chances.”
One’s closing in on 50. One’s on the other side of 60. But they have wisdom, they are winners, and winners always seem to find a way to win.
“Winning to me is like par,” Walt said. “Winning Houston was a great win. Am I shocked I won Houston? No. Did I think I had a good shot at winning Houston when I got there? Yes. I expect to rope both feet. I expect to win. I have a great horse and a great partner. Matt has roped amazing this year. It’s not shocking to me when I win.
“I don’t know what 62 is supposed to feel like. I’ve never been here before. But I don’t feel 62 years old, I really don’t. No one lasts forever. Muhammad Ali fought too long. But there’s nothing wrong with me, so for now I don’t feel old.”
Sherwood and Woodard went faster than any team ever to win RodeoHouston in a record 4 flat. –RODEOHOUSTON/Impulse Photography