Life At The Top: Ted Nuce

By Joyce Whitis

Finding the secluded ranch and beautiful rambling home of Ted and Stephanie Nuce must be kin to going on safari. I’ve never been on a safari, but still the feeling must be about the same, traveling on unfamiliar trails through dense undergrowth and beautiful towering trees that must have stood there for centuries. The address for the Nuce home along with directions had been posted for me, but let me confess – I am really bad about following directions! In this case, I was distracted from reaching the Nuce ranch because of the birth of spring evident in every tree and bush along the paved road. I could hardly breathe for looking at the landscape. So after a few minutes of aimlessly staring out the window at all the beauty along the road, I resorted to a call from my cell phone to get more instructions. Eventually Stephanie said, “Just park there and Ted will come get you!”

168  After a warm welcome, coffee and a generous slice of chocolate sourdough cake that Stephanie had cooked up, I sat down at the table with Ted, Stephanie and their active little boys, Westyn and Wyatt. The wall in front of me was decorated with Ted’s back numbers from his successful qualifications to the National Finals Rodeo. There are 14 numbers fastened high on the ten foot wall, an impressive testament to the 14 times in a row that Ted Nuce qualified for the National Finals Rodeo; reminders of the years he wowed fans as he rode raging bull after bull, stuffing winning dollars in his jeans and waving his hat to the cheering fans standing in the bleachers. That in itself is enough to show greatness in a chosen profession, but there is even more to Ted’s remarkable story and how he remained at the top of the game for so long when the top challengers were his best friends.

The ’80s and ’90s might well be considered the years that the greatest bull riders ever to grab a rope competed for Number One in the World. Such outstanding competitors as Jim Sharp, Tuff Hedeman, Lane Frost, Cody Lambert, Gilbert Carrillo, Adam Carrillo and Ty Murray were all capable of capturing the Number One spot. Ted was number 1 in 1985 and 2nd ’86, ’87, and ’91. In 1987 he rode “Takin’ Care of Business” to score 80 points. That horned bull is usually remembered as the bull that killed Lane Frost as he lay in the muddy arena in Cheyenne. Lane had made a successful ride but fell when getting off and had trouble getting up in the muddy arena. The bull rammed one lethal horn into Lane’s side. It was July 30, 1989 at Cheyenne’s Frontier Days.

Consider the competition in bull riding in the ’80s. Ted was No. 1 in ’85; Tuff was No. 2 and Lane was No. 3. Ted was 2nd in ’86, ’87, ’88 and ’91. Tuff won in ’86, Lane was 3rd and Jim Sharp was 4th. In ’87 it was Lane in first with Ted 2nd, Tuff 3rd and Jim 5th. In ’88 Jim won 1st, by riding all 10 bulls with Ted 2nd and Tuff 3rd. Several times a buck off was the deciding difference between lst and 2nd.

                Interesting fact here is that of these NFR champions, none of them lived in Erath County in the ’80s, but soon Ty Murray, Jim Sharp, Gilbert Carrillo, Adam Carrillo, Tuff Hedeman and Ted Nuce were all calling this area their home. As one old hometown cowboy noted, “They just keep on a’ comin’.

“I was always relaxed when I rode bulls,” Ted admitted. “From the time that I started riding a pony at 5 years of age, I had good balance. Then I thought it would be fun to ride steers, and that was even better than riding a pony. I tried team roping and won my second place at a Junior Rodeo in Manteca, California near where I lived. I made it to the high school finals in team roping before I ever started riding bulls.

“I started riding bulls and for me, that was that. I loved bull riding more than anything … more than life itself. When I was 14, I met Larry Mahan. He was watching when I rode my bull, and afterwards he said to me, ‘If you keep improving you can be World Champion.’ Well, you can imagine that when a champion like Larry Mahan tells you that, you take it to heart.”

Ted looked thoughtful for a moment and then turned to me, “The difference between winning and losing is between your two ears.” The boys, Westyn and Wyatt, cowboy hats sitting thoughtfully on their young heads, looked at their dad with adoring smiles. They smiled recognizing the fact that they had heard this before and that they believed it was evident.

“When you hit the gravel, get back up and tell yourself, ‘You are the best!’ When times get tough…get tougher!”

In 1991 professional bull riders decided to take a new direction. They believed that the most popular event in rodeo could profit as a stand-alone sport, and one evening 20 bull riders met in a rented motel room and agreed to put up $1000 each to form the Professional Bull Riders, known ever after as the PBR.

Sville2012-Sun-014 tedNUCE wyattNUCE westynNUCETed Nuce was one of the original 20 and has watched the PBR gain in popularity. That this organization, which began with limited funds pitched in the pot from those that believed in the sport, would ever be sold with such a tremendous profit is testimony to the great faith these 20 cowboys had in their sport. In a few years, all of the original 20 had retired, but the popularity of what they formed goes on unchecked.

In 2007 Ted and his wife, Stephanie, left Oakdale, California and came to Stephenville to build their home. “Oakdale claimed to be the ‘Cowboy Capital of the World,’ Ted laughed. “So we left one Cowboy Capital and moved to another! I used to turn steers for Walt Woodard in California and he moved here. Besides, I knew so many other cowboys from competition days that have relocated here. My wife is a Texan so this is the logical place to live.

“Riding bulls was my life. I loved it. I had to be the best. I guess my absolute high point was in 1988 when Lane (Frost), Tuff (Hedeman) and I each won a gold medal in Calgary at the Olympics. I have a great picture of the three of us standing on the pedestal raising our hats to the cheering fans.

“To make a great ride, jump off, and hear the screams of 17,000 fans is a feeling that is hard to explain. I loved it so much. My rodeo career was a wonderful dream. I am so lucky to have experienced it. Still, there came a time when the thing to do was to stop. When you get that feeling, it’s best to climb down and walk away.

2594-33ac+tedNUCE++Growney-+Wo-796390786-O_filtered 5x7 “In 1996 that time came for me. I made a good ride and got off thinking that I had made it, but the judge said no, so I just retired at that second. I was done and I walked away from it. There are no regrets.”

Stephanie and Ted homeschool their two boys and have a room in their house set up as a classroom. The boys enjoy everything about their ranch – the horses, the chickens, ducks, dogs and whatever else they might bring home. Their manners are exceptional, with “yes, ma am” and “no, ma am” and handshakes and “happy to meet you.” The family worships God at the Cowboy Church of Erath County, and Jesus is a very large part of their everyday lives.

Life for the Nuces is very good with a beautiful place to live and a happy family.

“Remember to always think positive,” Ted advises. “Decide what you want to do and then get busy doing it.”

Photos by Cross B Photography