By Jeff Helms
Armed with a lasso and an ingenious idea, Will Jordan galloped into Auburn University’s (AU) Tiger Cage this spring and rode away with $16,000 to help make his invention a reality.
The Clay County native didn’t face jungle tigers or gridiron giants. Rather, he squared off against business titans like those made famous on the reality TV show “Shark Tank.” Jordan’s idea: an autonomous training robot for team ropers.
In team roping, a pair of mounted cowboys race the clock to catch a runaway steer. The header lassos the calf’s horns, then his partner, or heeler, snags its back legs.
“Being at rodeos all the time, I see a lot of team ropers — especially headers — miss,” said Jordan, whose other enterprises include making toy lassos for national customers like Dolly Parton’s Stampede; promoting cowboy events with his brother, Russell; and entertaining crowds with rope tricks as a rodeo clown.
“They’re not getting realistic practice with what’s on the market,” he added. “I began to think, ‘How can we fix that?’”
Jordan’s Best Roping Dummy — described by some as a Roomba steer — combines the lifelike hind leg motion of simulators with authentic head action of live cattle.
“If we can replace the need for live cattle in practice and build a better simulator, it solves a problem,” said the senior studying agricultural communications. “It’s about providing realistic practice without breaking the bank on cattle.”
Jordan, a former state FFA reporter, won $12,000 for placing second among 20 entrepreneurs in the annual Tiger Cage Business Idea Competition, sponsored by AU’s Harbert College of Business. He earned an additional $4,000 for prototype development from the Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management in AU’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
“I believe agricultural communications and my time as an FFA state officer gave me an edge,” Jordan said. “Being able to tell a story and putting those judges in the saddle helped them see why the Best Roping Dummy is important.
“Picture yourself on the back of that horse. You’re 3 seconds away from the prize money. You nod for the steer; you throw your rope; and just like that, you miss out,” Jordan recalled telling the judges. “These people lead million-dollar businesses, and their eyes perked up. They were like, ‘Holy smokes, this is a big thing.’”
Clay County Young Farmers Chair Jordyn Upchurch said the community is proud of Jordan’s Tiger Cage win and eager to see what he accomplishes next.
“It’s exciting to see a student from Clay County being recognized for his ingenuity and desire to develop tools that benefit the agricultural sector,” she said.
In addition to developing the Best Roping Dummy, Jordan has written a children’s book he plans to publish by early 2023. “Wally the Wrangler Visits a Ranch” is first in an anticipated series aimed at giving students a more accurate picture of the beef cattle industry.
“I really enjoy helping people; I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy communicating,” Jordan said.
The young inventor uses “work” and “fun” interchangeably when describing his varied pursuits. He credits his entrepreneurial success to faith, hard work, curiosity and the ability to pivot.
“You really need to be able to take some, ‘Nos,’” Jordan said. “It also takes a sense of childlike wonder. I enjoy learning new things.
“Making a roping dummy is cool, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Writing a book is cool; it’s going to be a lot of fun. But at the end the day, caring about people and loving Jesus is what it’s all about.”