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The Furnace’s Papszycki is on Fire in 2024

April 16, 2024

The home of the first ironworks in the state, the tiny, unincorporated community of Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee was founded in 1793; the small town once produced cannonballs used in the Battle of New Orleans in 1812 by then-General Andrew Jackson.


While that rich history has been the town’s claim to fame in the past, it’s a young bareback rider who may put Cumberland Furnace on the map in the 21st century.


Tate Papszycki is just 18 years old but he’s well on his way to having folks learn the correct way to pronounce his last name . . . it’s Pap-sickee, by the way.


The phenom already has an appearance at the International Finals Rodeo (IFR) — the season-culminating championship event of the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA) — under his belt and is well on his way to his second in 2024.


“That was a pretty cool experience, just to go there and compete against the guys you get to compete against there,” Papszycki said of the $500,000 IFR54 held in Guthrie, Oklahoma in January 2024. “They’ve got some really good horses—they bring Hampton ProRodeo, Rockin R, Lone Star—so it’s really cool to get on good horses like that.”


Papszycki grew up the only child of a bareback riding, rodeoing dad, Matt, and a barrel racing mom, Kelly.

“I went with my dad as a child and bareback riding was one of the things he’d done,” Papszycki noted. “It just lit a spark in me to do it.”

No matter which rodeo association, bareback riders are somewhat rare but Papszycki seems to be part of a recent wave of young guns in the event who are making a mark early in their careers.

“It’s just the thrill,” Papszycki struggled to find the words to explain why he chose likely the sport’s most physically demanding event. “It’s just a joy I have for it.”

“I have fun and get to chase my dreams.”

The yin and yang of the sport crashed down on Papszycki in a matter of months in 2023. Fresh off a successful venture to the 2023 National High School Finals Rodeo in July, where he qualified to the finals, the dangerous side of the event hit home with an injury in the fall.

“I got hurt. I tore the ligaments in the thumb on my riding hand and had to have surgery,” he explained. Riding hand injuries can be some of the toughest for bareback riders, who rely on their grip in the riggin’ to maintain control and stay aboard bucking horses during their competition.

“I had to sit out a couple of months,” he continued, noting that surgery happened in September.

Despite missing the final months of the 2023 season, Papszycki still qualified to the IFR as one of the fifteen best bareback riders in the IPRA.

“I came back in late-December, starting getting on some practice horses for the IFR,” he said of his comeback. The IFR was his first rodeo following the surgery and rehab and he managed a top-ten finish in the final IPRA World Standings with better than $18,000 won for the year.

It appears that is just a preview of things to come.

Flash forward a few months down the road and Papszycki has made a strong start to the 2024 season, currently sitting third in the standings. After wins in Shelbyville and Memphis, Tennessee and Lexington, Virginia, he trails leader Blayne Hughston by a mere $450.

“I’ve just been going on the weekends because it’s busy with school,” Papszycki admitted.

He’s a freshman at Murray State in Kentucky where he’s knocking out courses for a pre-veterinary degree. Papszycki is aiming to become a large animal vet after growing up around horses and cattle for most of his life.

“It’s a good deal, something to do after rodeo,” he said.

For now, Papszycki is part of the Racer Rodeo team, a team with “very good coaching” according to the cowboy—the head coach is none other than his dad, Matt.

“I learned everything from him,” Papszycki said. “I went to some schools but they basically all told me the same things my dad had been already.”

Papszycki has been thriving in the team setting at Murray.

“I really like our team. It’s a fun, friendly atmosphere and everyone is really supportive of one another.”

Though he missed his entire first semester due to the injury, Papszycki isn’t giving up on qualifying to College National Finals Rodeo in June.

“I just got started but there’s always that chance,” he said. “I believe that.”

It’s hard to argue with his positivity or against his resume which includes Tennessee State High School Rodeo titles, a bronze finish at the huge International Finals Youth Rodeo in 2022 and a Reserve World title in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association.

And don’t forget that IFR qualification against the best in the world in his first try.

But Papszycki is more apt to discuss his experiences than his accomplishments.

“I won Athens, Alabama last year, that big rodeo down there,” he noted when asked his favorite wins. “At the National High School Finals last year, I finished eleventh.”

“That was a fun experience,” Papszycki noted. He also enjoyed a trip to Oklahoma and the chance to compete in IPRA events west of the Mississippi for the first time. “It’s all just rodeo.”

Away from the arena and school, Papszycki says he and his teammates have taken up a little golf.

“It helps the day go by and it’s pretty fun,” he observed. Otherwise, he enjoys hanging out at rodeo team practice, helping teammates out with their practice and working on his own craft.

To secure his 2024 goals—namely another IFR and winning the average this time around—Papszycki is plotting some big, exciting experiences.

“I’m debating on going to St. Tite [the Festival Western de Saint-Tite in Quebec, one of the largest rodeos in North America],” he said. “I’m really wanting to go up north to New York and Vermont, go to the Painted Pony Rodeos and Pond Hill Rodeos.”

“I’ve never been up there in that part of the world and I think it would be a really cool experience.”

It’s clear that no matter where he ends up, Papszycki will show up with a great attitude.

“I think it’s going to be a good year,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”