By Joe Kusek
Thompson and DeSalvo Rope 2020 Team Roping World Title
Whitney DeSalvo knows.
When DeSalvo backs in the box, waiting for the steer to break free into the arena, she knows exactly where partner Hope Thompson will throw her rope and know where the steer is going to turn.
“Her deal is the same thing every time,” said DeSalvo of Thompson’s loops. “I just know what she is going to do.”
“Ninety-nine percent if something goes wrong, it’s on me. No, make that 100 percent,” she finished with a laugh.
Those watching Thompson and DeSalvo know things rarely go wrong for the talented team roping duo.
Riding the crest of a season-defining win at the Bob Feist Invitational earlier in the summer, Thompson and DeSalvo won the WPRA year-end team roping titles at the World Finals, Nov. 14-15 at the Extraco Events Center in Waco, Texas.
It is the fourth consecutive team roping heeling title for DeSalvo who calls Monticello, Arkansas home.
“Yeah, it’s pretty special. It’s a pretty big honor,” DeSalvo said of claiming the championship saddle and buckle four consecutive seasons.
DeSalvo finished with $35,172 won for 2020, well ahead of reserve champion Annette Stahl, of Salt Flat, Texas who had $22,727. Rylie Smith, of Whitsett, Texas was the rookie of the year.
It is the second team roping heading title for Thompson of Abilene, Texas and third WPRA championship overall. She and DeSalvo also swept the team roping titles in 2017. Thompson won the WPRA breakaway roping world title in 2013.
“It never gets old,” said Thompson of adding more championship hardware. “It’s as special as the first.”
Thompson closed 2020 with $33,307 won, ahead of friend and horse training business partner Lari Dee Guy who had $29,132. Bethanie Shofner of Las Cruces, New Mexico was the team roping header rookie of the year.
“Whitney and I have roped together for many years now” Thompson continued. “I’ve been fortunate to have won a lot with her. Knowing she’s back in the box, my confidence level is at a high level. I know if I just do my job, I know she will do her job and that gives us a chance to win.
“There is a chemistry there.”
That roping chemistry wasn’t concocted in a science lab. It’s from a combination of talent, hard work and a deep respect for one another.
“I feel it’s not just our friendship or chemistry,” said DeSalvo. “It’s knowing when we back in the box, we have a shot to win. Hope is a tremendous roper.”
Thompson traded platitudes.
“First and foremost we’re friends,” Thompson said. “Whitney is a natural. She is a friend who works hard and wants to be the best. I know how hard Whitney has prepared and she knows how hard I have prepared.”
The pair drove into Waco with comfortable leads in the standings. But that didn’t temper their competitive fire.
“Sure, there is a comfort zone there, knowing you’re probably going to win,” said Thompson. “But the competitor in you always wants to win. You want to make sure you do well.”
The two opened the WPRA World Finals by winning the first round with a time of 6.3 seconds.
“Even with the BFI (money) we still went at it,” said DeSalvo. “At that point, I feel with the lead, we looked at trying to win as much money as we could.”
However, the pair struggled in the next two rounds, with Thompson breaking the barrier in the second round and DeSalvo only catching one leg in the third. They still managed to place sixth in the average.
DeSalvo also roped with Jimmi Jo Montera of Greeley, Colorado, placing second in the second round and third in the average. Kelsie Chace, of Dublin, Texas and Jackie Crawford, of Stephenville, Texas were the team roping average champions at the Finals. Crawford also placed second with Jessica Remsburg of Leighton, Alabama.
And DeSalvo had to endure some horse drama before the two competed in their first run. Her horse LJ, came up injured right before DeSalvo and Thompson were to rope.
“He came up limping,” DeSalvo said. “I jumped on him to trot him around and his head was bobbing up and down. I didn’t have time to change horses. I had to ride him and hope for the best. I didn’t know how it was going to go.”
She would be aboard her primary horse, Becky, for the final two rounds. DeSalvo also rode the nine-year-old sorrel mare during her big money payday at the BFI.
“She runs hard and is easy to catch on,” said DeSalvo. “But she has an attitude … a personality for sure. She grinds her teeth when she’s mad or nervous. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. I tell her, ‘If you weren’t so good, I wouldn’t have anything to do with you.’”
Thompson, who also qualified for the inaugural National Finals Breakaway Roping, rode Andre, an eight-year-old sorrel gelding named for his size with a nod to the professional wrestler Andre the Giant.
“He scores really well,” Thompson said of her four-legged partner. “His reaction time is good and he paces the steer really well. He loves his job.
“He is kind of funny. He gets excited and pumped up when the music starts playing. He likes attention and to be told when he’s done well.”
Thompson and DeSalvo garnered plenty of attention by winning the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girls Challenge during the BFI at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
The pair each pocketed $15,000 for the win and both raised the bar.
DeSalvo placed 1-2-3 in the category, placing second with Guy and third with Audrey Hart to earn a whopping $28,875 at the event. Thompson also placed sixth to collect $21,000 at the BFI.
“I am just so thankful to the people in rodeo industry who dang sure did their part to give us a chance to compete,” said Thompson.
“In rodeo, I’ve been blessed. It’s time to get back to work.”
DeSalvo is still mulling over her plans for 2021.
“Not sure what it’s going to look like next year,” she said. “I am appreciative of everything we’ve done and everybody who gave us these opportunities to compete.
“I have some new goals. I don’t want to get stuck on the ladder. I have some other things I want to accomplish. I want to try and climb the ladder a little more.”