Third Time’s The Charm: Taycie Matthews Finally Bags CNFR Title in 2023

In her third College National Finals Rodeo appearance, Taycie Matthews finally gets to add CNFR champion barrel racer to her resume aboard Fame Fire Rocks.
Taycie Matthews 2023 CNFR barrel racing champion
Taycie Matthews and Poprocks in the 2023 CNFR short round. Jackie Jensen Photography.

Over the past three years, one of the Matthews sisters has captured the reserve national championship at the College National Finals Rodeo, but 2023 was little sister Taycie’s time to shine and take home the national title aboard Fame Fire Rocks in Casper, Wyoming, June 11-17, and led her collegiate team to a Women’s National Championship, too.

Matthews watched as older sister, Jaylie, won the reserve honors at the 2021 CNFR for East Mississippi Community College, then Matthews looked on as her 2022 ProRodeo hauling partner Sadie Wolaver got the win for Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 2022, while she took the reserve honors back to EMCC on her family’s famed stallion, Heavenly Firewater “Bud the Stud.”

Matthews took early domination of the 2023 CNFR on a new mount—Fame Fire Rocks, or “Poprocks,” the same 2017 daughter of Firewaterontherocks and out of W R Aces Fame (Dash Ta Fame) that Jaylie rode to a round win in 2022 in Casper.

Matthews and Fame Fire Rocks, better known as “Poprocks,” were a force to be reckoned with all week, clocking three of their four runs in under 14 seconds and taking home the first two round wins. Despite being a veteran in the Ford Wyoming Center, Matthews still had some nerves to overcome.

“I was nervous, but I just tried not to worry about it,” said Matthews, a junior at the University of West Alabama. “I pretty much said God has a plan, if it’s meant to be then it’ll be, if not then it won’t. I tried not to worry about it too much because it’s not in my power.”

CNFR Play-By-Play

“Casper’s a tough arena. The alleyway’s set up so weird. In smaller pens, the hardest barrel (on Poprocks) is the first barrel. She also stays calm going in, so that helps. It’s the setup—If I can just get my angle right going into it and not hit it leaving then I’m normally in good shape. That’s just the hardest thing to watch. I love, though, that she doesn’t quit me on the way out before the timers. That’s so helpful when you’re running into a closed alleyway and going out the side gate in Casper.

Taycie Matthews

Matthews and Poprocks started off the week in Casper, Wyoming, Monday morning in the slack for round one. As the second-to-last team out, they took the round win with a 13.77-second run.

“She worked great,” Matthews said. “She tried hard, and I really was not expecting to be that fast. She kind of got past the first barrel a little bit, but she just worked really well.”

Round two saw Matthews clock a 13.74, the fastest of the week and good enough for the round win once again.

“My second run was my best run,” Matthews said. “I was a little scared, though. That first barrel scares me. I almost hit it leaving it, so I had to cut my pocket off—it was the only way to keep it standing.”

The team drew up in the Thursday performance for the third round. Their 14.08 put them second in the round behind 2021 CNFR champion, Tayla Moeykens and “Yeti,” of Montana State University. Matthews held onto first in the aggregate with a 41.59 on three runs going into the short round, but Moeykens was right behind them with a 42.01, and Jaylie was quietly hanging onto third with a a 42.22.

Matthews and Poppy were last to run in Saturday’s championship round. When Moeykens posted a 13.84, Matthews knew she couldn’t hold back. 

“I just wanted to be clean,” Matthews said. “I felt like if I could get past the first barrel, I’d be okay. But I had to go for it. No other option. I couldn’t really hear everything in the back, but I realized it got louder, so I figured she made a pretty good run. So, we went for it!”

What Matthews didn’t know was that she only needed to be a 14.26 to get the win. Poprocks far exceeded that requirement, smoking a 13.94 to clinch the title. Their run also helped UWA take home the women’s team title, a first for the school that both Matthews daughters, and their teammate in the short round, Raven Clagg all attend.

The 2023 CNFR National Champion Women's Team from University of West Alabama, Heather McLaughlin, Raven Clagg, Jaylie Matthews and Taycie Matthews.
The 2023 CNFR National Champion Women’s Team from University of West Alabama, Heather McLaughlin, Raven Clagg, Jaylie Matthews and Taycie Matthews.

“I was excited, that’s for sure,” Matthews said. “I didn’t really have any time to breath because I jumped off my horse and onto the victory lap one, and then they grab you for the TV interview. But it was pretty awesome. Winning the team title was like icing on the cake, too, because that was the one thing my sister and I could win together.”

For Mr. Ronnie

While from the outside looking in the week looked like a breeze for Matthews, it still had its heartbreaks. Tuesday, June 13, after wrapping up the second round, Matthews learned of the passing of a dear friend. “Mr. Ronnie,” Coker. The family friend had lovingly helped Matthews and her sister travel to IPRA rodeos, where they both secured IPRA World Championships in their teenage years, and later to ProRodeos with Taycie when she barely missed the 2022 NFR. He was also a longtime caretaker of Bud The Stud, and was like kin to the Matthews.

“Mr. Ronnie called me every day,” Matthews said. “He was like another grandpa to me. It was hard, but he’s in a lot better place than where we’re at right now, and I just knew that he was watching over us as we ran.”

Wait….Isn’t Matthews sitting in the Top 15 in the WPRA world standings?

Poprocks and Matthews have a few more tricks up their sleeve— they’ve been quietly burning up the ProRodeo around their collegiate requirements. Matthews is already seated No. 15 in the WPRA world standings with $35,537.89 earned. She’s hungry for a trip to the big show after missing out on her 2022 Resistol Rookie title, bested by NFR qualifying- Bayleigh Choate, and narrowly missed a NFR qualification for herself.

During her 2022 Resistol Rookie run, Bud was Matthews’ No. 1 horse for the start of the summer. When the Cheyenne Frontier Days rolled around in July, however, Bud got hurt and Poppy got called up to first string. She’s been Matthews’ go-to ever since. In 2023, Poprocks is Matthews’ first string mount on the ProRodeo road going in.

The mare played a large part in Matthews’ reserve finish in the 2022 Resistol Rookie race, after winning $77,569.21 throughout the year. Matthews has noticed a difference in Poprocks since their rookie year.

“She likes big, outdoor pens, but she also does better in indoor pens than Bud does,” Matthews explained. “Bud also went to the breeding farm this year, so I had to keep riding her and it’s really worked out well.”

The 6-year-old mare was trained by Janna Brown and made her way to the Matthews family in January of 2022. Originally supposed to be “just,” mom, Kim’s horse, the daughters soon stole Poprocks away, just before the start of the 2022 CNFR.

Matthews has ridden Bud for the last seven years, so jumping on Poppy did take some adjusting.

“Bud almost ruined my riding because I’ve ridden him for so long, and he’s just like a rocking chair. He just does it,” Matthews said. “He’s kind of a crutch, and while Poppy’s not hard to ride, it was definitely different. I have to sit on her. I can hustle her, but I can’t just over kick like I do on Bud.”

As Poprocks matured on the road so did Matthews, and her rookie year lessons have helped her at both the collegiate and professional level.

“I still get nervous, but it has helped me get a little less nervous,” Matthews said with a laugh. “It was helpful to run in different pens and different setups—it made college rodeos not scary at all, because I was confident I could do well in all types of situations.”

For full CNFR results, click here.