Love of learning: Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer, PRCA champion Paul Tierney hosts roping clinic
KILLDEER — There are three stages to mastering a skill — learning, doing and teaching.
Tierney held his annual roping clinic at the Leanin’ Pole Arena in Killdeer this weekend to help young, aspiring ropers work on their craft.
“What I notice is as, being an instructor — and I’m really a foundation instructor — I really believe in the foundation of what we do,” Tierney said. “I always say, if you have good foundation, you can go ahead and build your own house. So I’m always working on the foundation. I usually don’t get the kids to come to my clinic unless they’re having some trouble.”
Tierney started organizing clinics in the 1990s after his pro rodeo career. Tierney started competing in calf roping and steer wrestling in 1977 and made nationals nine times and five times, respectively.
Tierney won the 1979 tie-down roping world championship and the 1980 all-around world championship, which helped him earn his spot in the hall of fame in 2008 as an all-around cowboy.
He ended his career in 1988, a year after severe back problems forced him to get surgery. Tierney then moved from the “do” phase of roping and looked forward to teaching.
Tierney hosts two clinics in the spring and two in August at Leanin’ Pole, as well as clinics all over the country. Spots he typically visits besides North Dakota are Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota.
While he enjoys all areas of roping, Tierney finds North Dakota ropers different as they appreciate and understand the process it takes to become a seasoned roper.
“I think the best set of kids I get to teach are in North Dakota because there’s a lot more people that understand you invest the time in the beginning, then you don’t have to correct so many things down the road and in the middle of high school,” he said.
Some clinics are easy to find around the areas, but most are far away and require extensive travels and money to stay.
Dustin Entzel built the arena to give young ropers in the area the same opportunity with a local option and world class instructors.
When Entzel is away chasing his own rodeo roping dreams — this weekend he was at the PRCA Pro Rodeo event in Fargo — his mother, Jackie, helps run the arena and tack store and loves putting on clinics for kids. Jackie said one of the great benefits of the clinics and rodeo itself is it instills responsibility and hard work at a young age.
“Our big deal is kids. We love, love, love kids,” Jackie said. “If you can get a group of kids like this and they’re not walking the streets, or I don’t know how you want to say it, it gives them responsibility.”
The Entzels and Tierney have known each other for years and started working together when Dustin was 7 years old and started to rope. Jackie said Tierney has an innate ability to teach and relate to his students.
“He just has a way where he doesn’t push them too hard but yet he gets the most out of them,” she said. “I don’t know how to put it into words but he’s pretty gifted as a teacher.”
It’s not just Jackie who realizes the passion Tierney has for teaching, so do the participants.
The clinics never exceed more than 15 kids at a time to ensure everyone gets their own tailored learning experience. Kids from all levels of roping come to Leanin’ Pole to work alongside a rodeo legend.
Megan Danks, 20, from Killdeer has been coming to Tierney’s clinics twice a year for the past five years and loves the individual attention he gives her. Each clinic, they work on something new and Danks leaves feeling confident for her competitions.
“He puts me where I should be,” Danks said. “He says I can rope, but every year I mess up on something and he’ll tune it for me and when I go to a competition, I’m ready. I’m not behind and ready to go.”
Prairie Topp from Grace City has put all three of her children — Lauren, Mariah and Logan — through Tierney’s clinics for years. Besides Tierney’s individual focus on the participants, Topp said one of the core reasons they keep coming back is because he stresses the importance of the competitive process rather than the outcome.
“We’ve just been coming back every year since because he’s really good with kids,” Topp said. “He’s super positive, he talks a lot about focusing on the price and not the prize. So he talks a lot about the process of training and the kind of daily rhythm and work rather than what you’re trying to win.”
Lauren Topp added: “He’s really good at remembering you and remembering what he worked on with you. He really gets into every person and just tell you, ‘You’re elbow is too far down.’ He gets into you and really focused on one person at a time. It helps a lot to know that he cares and wants to help you get better.”
Besides roping, Tierney has found a true strength in mentoring his participants.
But it’s not the satisfaction he gets out of hosting clinics. What Tierney loves most is seeing his kids return, work hard and succeed at different stages of their young careers.
“It’s not that I get the satisfaction when I’m at a clinic, it’s in hopes of having those kids two and three and four times and about that fourth year you see where they really went home and honed their skills,” Tierney said. “They always say when the information comes and the students are ready, the teacher appears.”