Money Mayfield is making it rain. And playing with pain. He’s daylighting the field in this year’s tie-down roping world championship race, with darn near triple what anyone else has won. This kid is lighting up every arena he steps into, and after dominating the 2024 Texas Swing stops in Fort Worth and San Antonio is closing in on $100,000 in early season earnings. It’s February, folks. He won San Antone Saturday night by over half a second, and was the only guy to put two wraps on his calf.


“There is a fun feeling of déjà vu from 2020, only better,” Shad grinned. “I placed at Odessa, Denver and Fort Worth early that year, too, but have a lot more money won this year. When I look at the standings now, it gives me chills.”


But there’s a painful plot twist here. And Shad just made a major pivot in his 2024 game plan that includes a big-picture gamble. As the 2020 Champ of the World—who also won a life-changing $600,000 at The American that year—gets ready to ride into NRG Stadium for RodeoHouston and Globe Life Field, where he won that gold buckle when Texas saved the 2020 NFR, for The American—I’m here to take you back behind the curtain on what this talented young cowboy superstar is up against while he’s out there making it look so easy.


I’m suddenly well-versed in the hip issues and injuries Shad is battling. I just sat through a similar, sad reading of X-rays and MRIs on my son Taylor, who’s been trying to tough it out since the 2021 NFR, when calves were kicking him a little extra because he couldn’t physically make his body get down as low as the best in the business need to go. His three runs at San Antonio pushed his body to the point of no return until surgical repairs fix him. 

Shad and Taylor both have torn labrums and impingement issues of varying stages and degrees due to the structural shape of their hips and femurs. According to the short-version basics on how Tandy (as in Dr. Tandy Freeman of the Justin Sportsmedicine Program) tells it, only 10 percent of the population has this structural issue, where the neck of the femur impinges on the outer ring of the hip socket because the neck is more horizontal than vertical. And of that 10 percent, the problem only produces symptomatic pain in people who participate in certain demanding athletic activities that stress this structural situation.


“Baseball catchers, hockey goalies and calf ropers have it the worst, because of the occupational hazards of what they ask of their bodies,” Tandy told us. “I sometimes see it in saddle bronc riders and bull riders, but it’s almost always the calf ropers that are impacted the most in rodeo.”


Shad and I compared notes over the weekend. Taylor has now passed the point of playing with pain, and is facing double hip surgery—one at a time—by Tennessee Titans’ team physician Dr. J.W. Thomas Byrd at the Nashville Hip Institute. Tandy says Dr. Byrd is the master at this procedure.


Taylor’s surgeries will include fixing the labrum tears with anchors, shaving the femur bone and removing bone spurs that are no longer allowing him to move like he needs to for his line of work. Tough stuff when you’re 29 years old, and a couple days ago thought you were riding into this week’s Timed Event Championship, where you won $103,000 in 2020, then RodeoHouston next week.


No two injuries are exactly the same, but in this scenario you’re playing beat the clock—rodeo Russian roulette—on cartilage damage. And if you cross that line, you’re facing double hip replacement. Taylor can’t kick this can down the road any longer. Shad’s not there yet, but here he is staring down a potentially life-altering decision at 23, and when he’s in a zone all its own.


This, ladies and gentlemen, is the rodeo roller coaster people talk about. This roll of the dice does not come with odds from Vegas, and when we asked Tandy about the chances of getting by for a little while longer, he said, “I’ll quote a doctor friend, who put it best—I have two balls, and neither one of them is crystal.”


Now you know why Shad was talking in interviews at the start of Fort Worth about trying to win enough by Houston to have a shot at making the Finals if he were to sit out from March until late in the year after taking a surgery time-out.


“I was thinking I could do the surgery after Houston, and maybe come back in August,” Shad said. “I figured I needed to win $80,000 before surgery to still have a shot at making the NFR, and surgery is the only option for fixing my hips. Then I kept rolling at Fort Worth, and started thinking, ‘This is so messed up. I’m still winning. My hips aren’t stopping me right now, and what’s going on here is unreal.’


“Dr. Byrd told me I’d have to wait about three months between surgeries, so I’d be looking at being out about eight months. As soon as I won Fort Worth, I made the decision to postpone surgery until next year. I felt like it was God talking to me, and telling me to keep going. Winning Fort Worth gave me that boost.”


His hips are still letting him play. For now. But for how long? God only knows.


Meanwhile, Shad’s made some radical changes to his daily routine. There are physical therapy/special workouts aimed at increasing his flexibility every day he’s home. Ice baths to reduce the inflammation. No practicing. He only ropes at the rodeos now.


“I’m strictly taking care of my body and saving myself for the rodeos,” he said.


Fans like it when these guys, “Cowboy up.” It’s part of our ranch-rooted rodeo culture. But the mom in me—the rodeo mom with a very dear friend named Tandy—knows this is high-stakes gambling with life-long implications.


The young model-looking man they call Money has racked up fat checks in San Angelo, Odessa and Lubbock, and was the high money-winner at Denver. He then turned right around and won Fort Worth, and now San Antonio. This is a gamble that may well result in a second gold buckle. Record-breaking earnings even. Here’s hoping and praying the bottom track doesn’t fall out from under him before the end of his 2024 roller coaster ride.  


The physical side of Shad’s current situation is tough stuff. And there’s a whole set of emotions, including fear of the unknown, on the mental side, too. The special someone who’s been game-changing to Mayfield’s mental state comes as zero surprise to me.


“Last year, I went through a couple of losses of special people (friends Sydney Arthur and Charles Walton),” Shad said. “There were some tough times, and I was struggling with a new horse. Nobody sees the stuff that goes on behind closed doors. But I never had straight confidence in myself until I started asking Fred (Whitfield) for a little help with my roping last summer. I was having a lot of heck, and I called Fred one day and said, ‘Hey, I need some help.’


“Fred said, ‘If you’ll listen, I’ll help you.’ I started asking him questions on the phone, and sending him videos. What he helped me realize is that I know how to rope, but just never had enough confidence in myself. I called Fred after I missed my third calf at the NFR in December, and he talked to me for an hour. He told me I have to believe in myself, and it transformed me. I won Round 4, placed in Round 5 and was 6.1 in Round 6. Yeah, that calf got up. But my confidence soared through the roof that night, and hasn’t backed down since.”


Fitting after the pep talk from the Thomas & Mack Roof Raiser himself. And whose better lead to follow than Fred’s. He’s always masterfully navigated that line between confident and cocky to perfection, in my eyes.


“I don’t feel cocky, just confident in what I’m capable of doing,” Shad said. “I believe in what I’m fully capable of achieving, and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”


Perfect timing. Here comes Houston. And don’t get Shad started on The American, which he’s seeded into this year after finishing third in the world last year. Mayfield won a life-changing $600,000 when he split the $1 Million Contender Bonus with saddle bronc rider Wyatt Casper there in 2020.


“Winning The American changed my life forever,” Shad said; this year’s American is on March 9. “I come from nothing. I have my own place because of The American. I have great horses because of The American. It took so much stress off of my rodeoing. Having a home means more to me than anything else, and that came straight from The American.”


About his horse herd. There’s the gray Shad calls Platinum that came from Blair Burk. He just won San Antonio on him, and plans to ride him at The American. There’s the bay mare, Lollipop, Mayfield bought from Andrew Burks. There’s a second bay, Harry, that he won second on at his circuit finals. Shad’s won his 2024 riches on three different horses, and is hoping for a fourth in his red-roan Rampage’s return to the trailer this summer.


This all has served up a friendly reminder to me to have grace with others every chance I get. We really don’t know what people might be going through that we have no idea about. When those calves were kicking my son at the NFR, and well-meaning critics were telling him to get down a little lower—he couldn’t. As part of that 10 percent of the population born with this physical makeup, some of our sons have toughed this thing out a lot longer than they’ve let on.


“This is something I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid,” Shad said. “I’ve never been very flexible, and have always had to stretch a lot. It’s gotten worse the last couple years, and it has become a pain issue as what’s going on inside my hips gets worse. When it really started bothering me was when I was practicing hard for the 2022 NFR.


“When I went to see Tandy, I never dreamed I needed surgery. Now here we are. Winning, but knowing surgery is the only way to fix this. I’m going with what God’s put on my heart, and am going to power through for as long as I can.”


As for me, well, I’ll be cheering. And praying hard for all our cowboy sons. And daughters.

Swing stops in Fort Worth and San Antonio is closing in on $100,000 in early season earnings. It’s February, folks. He won San Antone Saturday night by over half a second, and was the only guy to put two wraps on his calf.


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