Two weeks after winning her second Charlie 1 Horse All Girls Challenge Team Roping at BFI Week (and almost $30,000) Whitney DeSalvo of Monticello, Arkansas, was informed her new handicap would be an 8 – something no female roper has ever achieved. We sat down with the defending and three-time WPRA world champion heeler to get her thoughts on what it took to get here.
BFI Week: We are so proud to be the platform on which you became the first female in history to be classified as a No. 8heeler! But we hope you’re not irritated by that. How did it feel to get that call?
Whitney DeSalvo: It felt pretty good. But then again, a lot of things have to change once you get up to this point. That number has honestly been kind of a goal of mine for a couple of years now. I’ve been a 7 and a 7.5 for about two and a half years. I was just at a weird spot in my roping. I was roping pretty good,but not as good as I knew I could – until those weeks leading up to the BFI.
BW: You’re an elite breakaway roper and that event is going gangbusters. Why are you heeling more, instead?
WD: I moved my focus more to steers probably three or four years ago. I feel like you’ve got to have a really good breakaway horse right now, and I don’t have one at the level I want to go compete with those girls every day. I roped calves until I was 14 or 15. I only started focusing more on steers a few years ago and it just took off. I almost still feel like I’m a little behind.
BW: What do you think it is about heeling that draws you?
WD: It was almost like a new challenge for me because it wasnot easy in the beginning. Heeling is really hard until you fight through that and figure it out. Then you’re like, ‘Why haven’t I been able to do this?’ I think it’s just something I wanted to be good at and wanted to get better at. I struggled at it for so longthat I just stayed after it until I figured it out.
BW: What schools did you attend, or who helped you the most?
WD: I bet I was 14 when Britt Bockius and Doyle Gellermancame down to Lori and Brandon Thone’s house. Thones lived like 15 minutes from home. I went over there a couple of days early. My mom and Lori were team roping partners in high school and I’d grown up over there. I stayed and got to rope with Britt; in fact, I did a couple of Britt’s clinics right there at Lori’s. Then I was staying with Jackie Crawford one time and her and Rich [Skelton] did an all-girl school at Rich’s house. I went a day early and stayed at Rich’s three days. That school at his house kind of flipped a switch for me.
BW: You’re from Arkansas; how’d you end up spending all that time in Texas so young?
WD: My last three years of high school, I was home schooled. At first, my mom paid Jackie for me to come stay a few days for lessons; then we became decent friends and I was able to comeand stay at Jackie’s or out at Lari Dee’s on the way through Abilene. But I was a pain in the butt. I was a rotten child to deal with. They’ll all tell you that! Honestly, I still don’t like to lose, but then I HATED to lose and had a terrible attitude about it. Being with those gals all the time, though, really turned my attitude around. They put me in check. I used to get so mad. I remember sitting in Jackie’s heel box and being so mad at her. I was taking the boots off my horse and she came and gave me a speech about how good I handled my rope and how nobody could beat me – except my horsemanship was terrible. When I was younger, I wasn’t good at taking that. I was the teenager who already knows everything, right? But sooner or later I realized they were right; I needed to listen and learn.
BW: How did you pick things up from so many NFR heelers?
WD: In 2015, I was at Lari Dee’s place and Shay Carroll was there and about to leave for the summer. He was looking for somebody to stay at his place and ride a bunch of horses while he was gone for a few months. So I lived in my trailer at hishouse. I rode some good horses and when he was home, he helped me a bunch. When that was over, I sent Paul Eaves a text and asked if he could use help. I ended up living at his place alittle over a year. I fed for him while he was gone and helped clean up the brand-new place they had bought. We talked about roping and he helped some, but he was gone a lot. Paul hadn’t built his arena yet, and it was the year of the ERA so Ryan Motes was home roping every day. I roped at Ryan’s two or three days a week. He helped me with my horses; I got to ride some of his horses…. that was probably the biggest thing that helped me, was getting to rope with those guys.
BW: You know that you’re allowed to tie on at jackpots, right? Why do you dally?
WD: I tried tying on and didn’t like it. Me and Annette [Stahl] talked about it; it’s a different feel. I never feel like I rope as sharp tied off. That could just be in my head. I tried it because a lot of girls do it. Because, what if you lose your dally for $30,000 and you could have been tied on? But I also don’t ride very big horses, and I feel like it’s hard on them. I don’t like going to a jackpot and making eight runs tied off and jerking the crap out of them every time. It doesn’t happen every time, but some places you go, headers might hit the end of it harder and not face as good, so it jerks them around a couple times. My horses are pretty small.
BW: So you’ve never hurt your thumb?
WD: Oh yeah, I’ve had all kinds of issues! In 2017, when I entered my very first Open roping, I had just heeled this steerwhen I dropped a coil accidentally and it half-hitched around my thumb. I didn’t feel it until it was right behind the saddle hornand I thought it dang near took it off. It was splintered, so I have screws in my right thumb. And in 2019, I was practicing and dallied on a steer and my rope popped off the top of the horn, pulling my hand into the horn backwards and breaking the crap out of my ring finger. I still can’t close my hand completely. I had pins in it for weeks, plus 12 weeks of physical therapy. Right now, I burned my left hand yesterday pretty good.
BW: What are your goals at this point?
WD: I bought a PRCA permit and rodeoed a little bit last year. I placed at a couple, heeling for Dilan Rucker. After going to those, I know I could get along at the Great Lakes Circuit rodeos really good. Jackpot-wise, now it’s going to be different. I’d like to get sharp enough and get one more heel horse so I could start roping in some Opens. It’s going to take a lot of work; I know that. I don’t expect to just jump in and enter the Opens. The Wildfire Open in February? Maybe I’m ready by then! As of right now, I know I’m not. But I feel like I’m capable of getting there – it just depends on how much I work at it.
BW: But you’re not going to hit the road too hard?
WD: I have a really good job. My boss in Arkansas, Randy Hawkins, takes care of me and keeps a bunch of steers. And he knows where I’m at in my heeling and wants to help me do what it takes to be the best I can be. His grandsons, Blaine and Cooper Caldwell, and I rope every day when I’m home. I was with Randy when Lari Dee called and asked me to fly to Cheyenne to rope. He said, ‘You’re going, aren’t you?’
BW: We, like everyone glued to the Wrangler Network, were in awe watching you dominate our lucrative women’s Open ropingfor almost thirty grand. Can you point to one major factor that led you to be able to do what you did in Guthrie?
WD: The main thing, I think, was I made the decision to be disciplined enough to catch every steer in the practice pen. It might be on the eighth hop, but I decided I would rope two feet every time. Just before I started living at Paul’s, I spent a summer in Arkansas roping a lot with the McNabbs. Luke and Layton had three head horses and would spin me 30 or 40 steersa night. I didn’t do anything fast; I just tracked around until I could catch two feet every time. Until I could do that for a whole week and never miss or rope a leg, I never tried to speed things up. I probably had three or four heel horses saddled and it was so hot and humid that we’d start at 9 or 10 p.m. and rope until 2 or 3 in the morning. I honestly tracked 30 or 40 a night until I could catch two feet every single time.