postheadericon Muncy is on a title quest

LAS VEGAS – If the cycle continues, the 2015 ProRodeo season will be golden for Taos Muncy, a two-time world champion saddle bronc rider from Corona, N.M.

He claimed his first gold buckle in 2007 during his inaugural trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Four years later, he added a second world title. Now he’s four years removed from that 2011 championship.

Taos Muncy

Taos Muncy

“My goal every year is to win the world (title),” said Muncy, who is “Riding for the Brand” of Tate Branch Auto Group, which has dealerships in the southeastern New Mexico communities of Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs. “I’d like a fighting chance when I get to the finals.”

He has one. He sits fifth in the world standings and is poised to make a run at this year’s NFR, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. That’s the richest rodeo in the world with a purse of $8.8 million; go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 for each of the 10 nights in Sin City.

Muncy has earned $98,654 this season and trails world standings leader Cody DeMoss by $20,743. That’s means the New Mexico cowboy is about a second-place go-round finish out of leading the world standings. He’s well within range.

This year marks his eighth NFR qualification in the last nine years – the one year he missed ProRodeo’s grand championship was because of an injury. What might be just as impressive as anything is that he’s just 28 years old. Of course, he’s been one of ProRodeo’s elite bronc riders since he was 19.

He won his first world title at age 20, about six months after claiming the college title while competing at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He became just the third contestant in rodeo history to have earned a collegiate championship and a world championship in the same discipline in the same calendar year, joining all-around great Ty Murray and bull rider Matt Austin.

That shows just how difficult it is. It would be akin to a Heisman Trophy winner being named the Super Bowl MVP in his rookie season; being a regular fixture at the NFR is also as telling to the cowboy’s talent. In addition to riding bucking horses at a top level, a rodeo cowboy must handle the logistics of being on the road and away from home and family for weeks – sometimes months – at a time.

“Time goes too fast, so you’ve got to enjoy your family as much as possible,” said Muncy, who lives on the ranch with his wife, Marissa, and their daughter, Marley, 3, not far from his parents, Blaine and Johnnie. “My family’s pretty tight. That’s the one good thing about rodeoing; I might be gone for 10 days tops, but when I’m home, I’m with them.

“In rodeo, we’re all one big family. It’s a great lifestyle.”

It’s even better for athletes that are winning, and Muncy won his share. Over the course of the 2015 regular season, he earned 12 titles. But in order to make nearly $100,000 in a year, he also placed pretty well along the way.

Still, that income can be misleading. Unlike other professional sports, rodeo athletes have no guaranteed contracts. They pay their own expenses and also must pay a fee in order to compete. They only collect a paycheck if they perform well and finish better than most of the field.

That’s why Muncy’s partnership with the Tate Branch Auto Group is so valuable. He is one of several cowboys with New Mexico ties who are “Riding for the Brand”: tie-down ropers Clif and Clint Cooper; team ropers Jake and Jim Ross Cooper; and steer roper Marty Jones. Muncy joins Jake Cooper of Monument, N.M., as the New Mexico contingent at the NFR this year.

“Tate is a big New Mexico rodeo fan, and that’s really neat,” Muncy said. “It’s an awesome team to be part of.”

So is Team Muncy. Starting Thursday night, he will battle toward a third gold buckle. That’s one of the many reasons he competes in rodeo for a living and why he’s part of the Tate Branch Auto Group “Riding for the Brand” team.

postheadericon Strong year propels Silcox to NFR

SANTAQUIN, Utah – Wesley Silcox has had some pretty good seasons over the course of his 12-year ProRodeo career.

His 2015 campaign ranks right up there with the best of them.

“I gave it all I had this year, and I’m happy to complete some goals,” said Silcox, 30, of Santaquin, who earned $105,778 through the rigors of rodeo’s regular season. “I didn’t win any money in the Xtreme Bulls this year, so that was all off rodeo. It feels pretty good.”

The Xtreme Bulls Tour is part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and money won at those events also count toward the world standings. Many of the NFR bull riders have utilized Xtreme Bulls money in order to qualify for this year’s championship.

Wesley Silcox

Wesley Silcox

“I rodeoed hard all year and made the Canadian Finals, too,” said Silcox, who has lived much of his life around Payson, Utah. “Unfortunately I didn’t get to compete there because of an injury, but it’s still nice to know I qualified.”

Now he heads to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time. His best finish was in 2007, when the Utah cowboy won more than $117,000 in Las Vegas and was crowned the world champion. He has earned more than $200,000 in a year twice in his career – nearly $229,000 in ’07 and more than $215,000 in ’10.

To say he’s feeling rejuvenated and energized might be an understatement.

“I felt really good all season,” he said. “I stayed healthy with just a few bumps and bruises until I separated my shoulder in September. I had a pretty positive attitude and traveled with some good guys. I just tried to win everywhere I went.”

It all came together. It helps to be riding well, but having the right traveling partners was also a plus. For almost all of his career, Silcox has traveled from one rodeo to another with Steve Woolsey, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Payson.

“He’s a year behind me, and we’ve been together ever since he graduated high school,” said Silcox, who was joined by Montanan Beau Hill and Canadian Ty Pozzobon. “We just understand each other. We know what it takes to be out there on the road and be away from home. It helps to have a guy that knows what he’s doing and knows what it takes to be a rodeo cowboy.”

It’s not an easy life, but it’s one the competitors love. Being successful is one aspect of it, but the passion must drive a person to be on the rodeo trail and away from home most of the year.

“If you ride bulls and ride them successfully, you love it,” he said. “You get to travel around with your buddies and see different parts of the country. The money’s not too bad either. I think everybody needs to experience it once in their lifetime to see what it’s all about.”

Of course, he continues to be one of the best in the game. Even though he hasn’t qualified for the NFR since 2011, he has been among the top 30 bull riders in the world each of the past three seasons. Still plenty of things have happened since he last rode in Sin City.

“Jerika and I have had two kids since that NFR,” he said, referring to his wife of five years and their children: daughter River, 3, and son Ledgen, 1. “They’ve played a big factor in leaving the house.”

Even that love affair with the game doesn’t take away from the occasional heartache of being away from the ones he loves.

“Fortunately I can FaceTime them whenever I want,” Silcox said. “It’s definitely changed the game, but you’ve got to stay with it and be strong.

“Riding bulls is basically how I make money for my family. If I’m not riding very good or going to rodeos at all, it’s pretty tough to keep the family fed. It’s tough leaving the house, but once I’m out and doing my thing, it makes it a lot easier. Winning definitely helps and keeps everybody happy, especially me.”

There are no guarantees in rodeo. Not only must a cowboy pay a fee in order to compete, he must then beat most of the field in order to get paid. Silcox found himself at the pay window often this season. He won at least a share of the title at eight rodeos, so most of his earnings came from finishing just outside of the top spot.

“I think the success to the year was a combination of confidence and everything else mixed in,” he said. “At the bigger rodeos, I drew some pretty good bulls to ride and ended up winning a good amount of money at those rodeos.

“When you’re feeling good and riding good, you seem to draw good at the same time. When you have the right attitude, it seems like the possibilities are endless and anything can happen.”

He expects to keep that attitude when he arrives in Las Vegas for the biggest purse in the sport, a record $8.8 million. Go-round winners will collect more than $26,000 each of the 10 nights, and the contestant with the best 10-round cumulative time or score at the end of the championship will pocket an additional $67,000 for winning the NFR average.

“The money in rodeo has risen a tremendous amount since I first started,” Silcox said. “This is where rodeo needs to be. People see how much we can win in a year, but nobody sees how much we spend.”

That’s true. Unlike most professional athletes, whose teams cover all expenses, cowboys and cowgirls pay their own way down the rodeo trail – food, fuel, lodging. It adds up quickly.

“I’m sure happy to make it to the NFR this year where the money has changed,” he said. “I was thinking about slowing down after next year, but this money at the NFR might keep me motivated a little more.”

Rodeo is all Silcox has known. His father, Brad, rode bulls, and his older brother, Shawn, rode bulls and bareback horses. Wesley Silcox has played the game since he was a young man growing up in Utah.

“I rodeo a few calves and steers when I was pretty young but didn’t like it much,” he said. “I liked roping a lot better. I was almost 17 when I got on my first bull. I hit the ground pretty hard, but I won some money on the next one I got on. I thought it was a pretty easy way to make money. I didn’t have to haul my horse around; I could just take my gear bag and go rodeo.”

Nearly everything he knows about riding bulls he gained from his father and brother, but he also counts on his mom, Julie, and sisters, Jennifer and Ashlee, for support. Combined with his wife and children, he has a pretty enriched life on and off the rodeo trail.

“Your family is the thing that holds you together,” Silcox said. “Everybody’s very supportive of what I do. They know what it takes for me to get down the road. It definitely helps.”

Now he’ll lean on them – and his past NFR experiences – as he pursues a second world championship gold buckle.

postheadericon NFR a dream come true for Aus

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – To be a champion in any sport, it takes great sacrifice, determination and talent.

For 25-year-old Tanner Aus, he’s experienced it all the last few years. Now the bareback rider from Granite Falls will showcase his grit to the world at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that I’m going to the NFR, because it’s something I’ve worked for my whole life,” said Aus, who competed in college rodeo at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. “My parents put in the time and money, and it’s been a big group effort to get me to where I am now. It’s the culmination of all the work I’ve made to make my dream come true.”

Tanner Aus

Tanner Aus

The workload is there. No man will attach himself to a bucking horse without putting in the effort. It’s too dangerous to not be physically and mentally prepared. Aus not only put in the hours in the gym and in the practice pen, he also made other sacrifices needed to push him toward the elite athletes in rodeo.

Two years ago, the young cowboy had injured his groin so badly that it was threatening to his livelihood. He opted for an elective surgery to repair the ailment, but it wasn’t without trepidation – there still was uncertainty that he’d be able to ride bucking horses again.

“I had worked and saved up my money for the surgery, then I went to Philadelphia to have it done,” Aus said. “The pain from the surgery was as bad as when I hurt it the first time. It was a long, ugly recovery. When I could, I went back to work until I could ride again.”

With surgery in the fall of 2013, he returned to the arena five months later. He went through the 2014 season feeling better than he had in a long time, but he was still experiencing the pain; his surgeon had told Aus to expect it.

“It took a little while to get back into the swing of it,” he said. “I have a lot of scar tissue. My groin’s sore a lot of the time, but it’s not near what it was.

“They fixed me.”

It showed in 2015. Aus earned $85,660 through the regular season and heads to the finale eighth in the world standings – only the top 15 on the money list advance to the NFR, which offers a record $8.8 million purse. He earned at least a share of the title at nine rodeos through the course of the season, the biggest being his victory at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days.

“I was nervous the whole time about Cheyenne,” he said. “We were in the first set, and I was leading. By the end of the last set, I was still leading going into the short round. I was nervous. But I got on my short-round horse and monde one of the best feeling rides I’ve ever made.

“When the whistle blew, I couldn’t quit laughing because all I was thinking was, ‘I think I may of just won Cheyenne.’ It’s a dream come true, but it’s harder to explain than that.”

He won nearly $14,000 at that one rodeo, so maybe that’s explanation enough. That was a significant push to his first NFR qualification. Of course, this is the place Aus had always believed he would be since he first began riding bareback horses at age 9. That’s what happens to the son of a ProRodeo cowboy.

John Aus rode bareback horses for years and earned titles all along the way. His biggest victory came in 1988, two years before Tanner was born, when won the year-end championship in the Great Lakes Circuit – one of 12 regions that are part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the premier sanctioning body in the sport.

Tanner Aus is a two-time champion of the RAM Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo, earning his most recent title in mid-November when he won all three go-rounds and the aggregate championship.

“Those are the last few horses I’ll be on until I nod my head in the Thomas & Mack,” Aus said, referring to the Las Vegas arena that has hosted the NFR since 1985. “People have asked me quite a bit if I’m ready for the NFR, and all I could tell them was, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready, but I’m excited.’

“By the time the bareback riding was over Saturday night at the circuit finals, I knew I was ready. It just couldn’t have been any better. I drew great and rode good, and it was fun.”

It also was the perfect place to prepare for the NFR, which not only features the top 15 cowboys in the world but also the top 100 bareback horses. Aus also realized some things taught to him in 2011 by veteran cowboy D.V. Fennell, a two-time NFR qualifier.

“D.V. told me that you’re going to win a few big licks, but it’s a grind day in and day out,” Aus said. “He told me to try to make $3,000 a week. If you maintain that and get in a couple big licks, it’ll all help. Some weeks you’re going to get skunked, but you’re also going to get your big licks in.”

Besides Fennell and his father, Tanner Aus has learned many valuable lessons along the way – some from his mom, Rae Ann, or his younger sisters, Dani and Braelee, but also from his longtime girlfriend, Lonissa Jones, and some longtime family friends.

“Wayne Herman is a good family friend of ours and one of my mentors,” Aus said of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame cowboy who won the bareback riding world title in 1992. “Between him and my dad, they got me started and taught me how to ride. He said, ‘You can have a bad round and still have a great finals.’

“That’s the way you have to approach rodeo. You can’t get too high or too low.”

Of course, having success early this season made the world of difference in the young cowboy’s mental game.

“After San Antonio in February, I had more money in my bank account than I’d ever had in my life,” said Aus, who won the college title in 2012 while at Missouri Valley. “It was just enough financial security that I could just go rodeo and not have to worry about the little things. I was able to take a step back, take a breath and handle my rodeo career more professionally instead of having $1,000 in the bank and $2,000 in entry fees to pay and wondering how I was going to do it.

“That helped me focus on the nitty gritty of being a good bareback rider. I could just focus on riding every horse like I was supposed to.”

Of course, it helps to have that great support all year long. Both his parents come from a rodeo background, and that has been a major attribute for the Minnesota cowboy. Since his surgery, he also has maintained better conditioning, thanks in large part to his girlfriend, Jones.

“She’s all about exercise, too, and she encourages me to eat better,” he said. “Family is everything to me. I’ve had people tell me that I don’t know how lucky I have it. I’ve got an awesome girlfriend I’ve been dating for four yours. Even my extended family is very tight. I make a point to not take it for granted.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I would’ve never made it this far without them.”

It’s the main reason why he has a shot at ProRodeo gold this year.

postheadericon Jayne living his rodeo dreams

ROCKWALL, Texas – As a boy growing up in France, Evan Jayne fell in love with rodeo.

He and his father had stopped at a friend’s house, where they watched a recording of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ProRodeo’s grand championship.

“I saw my first NFR on TV, and I was completely hooked from there,” he said. “All of my energy after that was leaving France and coming to the United States to be a rodeo cowboy.”

It worked, and Jayne has earned his first qualification to the NFR. He parlayed an incredible 2015 season into a No. 4 finish through the regular season, which ended in September. Now he’ll make the rides of his life during the 10-day finale, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Jayne, who lives in Rockwall with his wife, Kristin, and their daughter, Sienna. “It’s everything I’ve been working toward the last 17 years. Ever since I came to the United States, that was my goal and what I’ve trained for.

Evan Jayne

Evan Jayne

“When I saw the yellow bucking chutes on TV, this is what I wanted to do. I feel like I’m in an unreal parallel world. When you’ve wanted something so bad for so long, I can imagine my heart is going to be beating outside of my chest in that first round.”

Jayne became interested in the Western world as a youngster when he would follow his father, Jean Pierre Jayne, a trick rider who performed for a rodeo/Wild West show. He even helped his dad. Once he was bitten by the rodeo bug, he found his way across the Atlantic Ocean as an exchange student. He landed in the tiny community of Magnolia, Texas, just outside Houston.

“I moved in with the Rigby family my junior year,” Jayne said. “Within two months of me being there, I had such a good relationship with my American dad that he said, ‘Why don’t we try to get you to come back next year and get you to graduate high school and go to college.’

“It’s all thanks to him that I’m actually still here.”

The cowboy returned to Texas for his senior year. Because he had exhausted the exchange student program, Jayne enrolled in a private school, where he graduated in 2000.

“It was a little school,” he said. “I was eating lunch with 5-year-olds. I had 10 people in my class I was the weird kid, because I wore boots and jeans, and they were all city kids. I won the high school championship that year in bareback riding.”

He then carried over to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where obtained a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. He also chased his gold buckle dreams in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the premier rodeo organization. He’s been a member for 13 years.

Each year, he battled and learned and progressed so that he could eventually make it among the top 15 in the world standings and compete at Las Vegas in December.

“I had to change some things in my riding,” Jayne said. “I wanted to give my rodeo career one more year, but with that, I knew I was going to give myself the tools to succeed. I changed the way I worked out, the way I ate, the way I thought about it.

“I improved the technical aspects of my riding, and it just clicked. It was a little bit rough at first, because I had to adjust some things I was doing. Once I hit San Antonio (in February), it all started being in the right spot.”

As the year progressed, his riding and his self-confidence just continued to improve. By early April, he was among the top five on the bareback riding money list. After a great run over the Fourth of July, he moved to No. 1 and remained atop the world standings for several weeks.

“The big thing this year was consistency,” he said. “It’s always been a problem to utilize your horse. That’s how guys get to the finals, and that’s what worked: Utilizing every horse I had. Even if I wasn’t winning first or second, I was always sneaking in there and catching a check. I didn’t have any huge wins, but I was catching second place a lot. I utilized the horses that I had to the best that I could.”

He also leaned on those closest to him to grow as a professional cowboy. Last December, he and Kristin went to the NFR to cheer on friends Austin Foss and Richmond Champion, and Jayne introduced his bride to the biggest event in the sport.

“When we left, she told me, ‘I know why you want to come here,’ ” he said. “She was pushing me. She said, ‘I’m not holding you back. You quit working three years ago as a school teacher, so just go do it. It’s within your reach. You’re good enough.’

“You don’t have a lot of people that can understand that you have to leave for 200 days a year to be on the road. Rodeo is dangerous on its own, but I think the road is more dangerous. For her to be supportive of me living this lifestyle means the world to me.”

But being on the road means he’s away from Kristin and Sienna, now 3. That makes it tough on anybody, and it’s why he leans on his traveling partner, Clint Cannon, a five-time NFR qualifier from Waller, Texas.

“I’ve had a lot of traveling partners, and they’re just like a wife,” Jayne said. “You’re with them more than you are with your own wife. You’ve got to get a long, and Clint is the guy I will finish my career with. We’re best friends. We tell each other things that nobody else knows.”

It helps, too, that Cannon is a veteran. When Jayne needed a boost, Cannon provided it.

“He’s one of the main reasons I’m at the finals this year,” Jayne said. “He told me that if I stayed healthy and kept going it would come. At one point, he told me, ‘You’re one rodeo away from winning a lot of money.’ The next weekend, I won $22,000.”

He kept adding to it. He finished the regular season with $93,020 in earnings. Now he’ll ride for the biggest purse in the history of rodeo. The NFR will pay out $8.8 million over 10 December nights. Go-round winners will earn more than $26,000.

That will pay a lot of bills, but there’s more to it. In rodeo, dollars also equals championship points. The contestants in each event who finish the year with the most earnings will be crowned world champions.

“I think what drives me is the habit of being competitive and always trying to be the best; that’s just my DNA,” he said. “I’m not going thinking about the gold buckle. If it happens, that’s great. I’m just going to enjoy it every night, have the biggest smile on my face and a warm heart. I’ve always had a fear of being 55 or 60 and thinking that I should’ve kept going.

“That’s one thing I’ll never have to say. That’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”

He’ll share those emotions with not only his wife and daughter, his American family and a host of family members coming over from France just for this experience. They’ll relish in every moment as Evan Jayne battles for big money in the Nevada desert.

He’s worked awfully hard to be in this position, and he deserves to be there.

postheadericon Larsen relishing in amazing 2015

INGLIS, Manitoba – This has been a year to remember for Tyrel Larsen.

“This is one of the biggest years of my life,” Larsen said. “I got hurt last year, so I went up to Canada to work. I came back, bought a house and planned a wedding while I rodeoed all year, and then found out that we’re having a baby.

“It’s going to be a little hard to top it.”

He’ll have a chance to add to a phenomenal 2015 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. This marks his first qualification to ProRodeo’s grand finale, featuring the largest purse in the game. Go-round winners will collect more than $26,000 per night for 10 glorious days in the Nevada desert.

Tyrel Larsen

Tyrel Larsen

“It’s awesome to finally make it,” Larsen said of the NFR. “It’s almost like I’m not as worried about it anymore. It’s a big relief off your shoulders after being so close for a few years. Anything I get done out there is a big plus.”

Larsen has been on the outside looking in for several years. He joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association six seasons ago, and just missed out on making the NFR in 2013, when he finished 16th – only the top 15 in each event qualify for the year-end finale.

“With all the money that’s out there, it’s very possible for a guy in 15th to jump up there and win a gold buckle,” he said.

In rodeo, the contestant in each event who finishes the campaign with the most earnings is crowned the world champion. Larsen has given himself a chance with a last-ditch effort that paid off. Heading into the final weekend of competition in late September, he sat 16th in the standings and needed a few thousand dollars to move up one spot.

“I think just being in that situation before was really beneficial this year,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about it, just nervous about making it into the top 15. I just needed to focus on what I could do; if it worked, it worked. That helped me stay calm through those last rodeos. Just go ride and not worry about anything else.”

It worked. Now he will join his brother, bareback rider Orin Larsen, as the first two cowboys from the Canadian province of Manitoba to qualify for the NFR. Orin Larsen also is heading to the NFR for the first time after finishing 19th a season ago.

“That’s pretty cool having both of us there,” Tyrel Larsen said. “You don’t always see each other very much traveling so much, but it’s great when we do see each other. We’re always helping each other and trying to keep each other pumped up. We’re both really excited for the finals.”

They should be. It’s the perfect explanation point to years’ worth of hard work and excelling in the sport of their choice. Of course, rodeo always was a way of life for the Larsens, including their brother, Kane. Now 22, he followed in his brothers’ footsteps and is competing in rodeo at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell.

“We all grew up on a ranch helping my dad at home,” Tyrel Larsen said. “I played baseball in junior high and started riding steers a little bit. Dad said it was either baseball or going to rodeos. Ever since then, we never looked back.”

It’s treated him well. In Manitoba, he learned the lessons of hard work and understanding livestock. He carries that with him today.

“It’s a long winter,” he said. “We’re right at a valley, and you’re working cows in the trees. There are times you can’t go in there with all the snow, and the cows are hiding in the trees.

At Panhandle State, Larsen met his future bride. Chaney Larsen is the daughter of then-rodeo coach Craig Latham, a nine-time NFR qualifier in bronc riding. That’s where Tyrel Larsen truly developed into a consistent competitor.

“My freshman year in college, we had a pile of good bronc riders there,” he said, pointing to a group that includes two-time world champion Taos Muncy, four-time Linderman Award winner Trell Etbauer and the reigning two-time reserve world champ Cort Scheer. “When you went to practice with all them, it was good a good bronc riding.

“You learned to put out the right amount of effort. You had a lot of alumni that were there helping, too, like Craig, Robert (Etbauer) and Danny (Etbauer). All those guys would show us what it meant to try hard.”

Craig Latham and the Etbauer brothers – including middle brother Billy – traveled the rodeo circuit together through the late 1980s and ’90s. Robert Etbauer owns two bronc riding world championships, and Billy Etbauer is a five-time titlist. Combined the four of them have dozens of NFR qualifications.

Larsen fine-turned his craft as he worked closely with some of his rodeo idols.

“Craig’s always been there for me,” Larsen said. “When I first showed up in Goodwell, I wasn’t that great of a bronc rider, and he kept me out of trouble.

“He has helped me so much. He bought me a saddle when I was in a bind, and he always believed in me. Just having him walk Chaney down the aisle was pretty cool.”

Larsen spent much of his 2015 season traveling the rodeo trail with Muncy, Isaac Diaz and Zeke Thurston, and all four have earned the right to be in Las Vegas this December. That doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a sign that there is a lot of talent all riding in one vehicle from one event to the next.

Like Larsen, Thurston is heading to his first NFR. He is 21 years old from Big Valley, Alberta, while Diaz returns to the NFR for the fifth time; this year, the Desdamona, Texas, cowboy sits fourth in the world standings. Muncy, of Corona, N.M., is fifth heading to his eighth NFR.

“I think staying healthy was one of the biggest things for us all this year,” said Larsen, whose parents, Kevin and Wanda, live in Inglis. “Isaac and Taos were way up there in the standings, and Zeke had an unbelievable year. Everybody in the rig won some pretty prestigious rodeos. By having that much confidence in the van this year, it’s pretty hard not to win.”

Of course, having support away from the road is always valuable, whether it’s with the Lathams in Oklahoma or his own family in Manitoba. While his father runs the ranch, his mother runs a barber shop. His sister, Cassie, also is a hair stylist, and she and her husband are part of a family farming operation.

“I went to college, because it was big in the family to get your education,” he said. “When my parents found out you could get your education paid for by rodeoing, they thought it would be a good idea.

“About halfway through my education, my ability started to improve, and I saw this was an opportunity to make a little bit of money rodeoing. If I can make a living riding broncs, that’s what I’m going to do. If I can support my family and pay for stuff through rodeo, then there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”

Tyrel Larsen is chasing his dreams one bronc at a time.

postheadericon Ratliff’s 2015 added up to NFR

LEESVILLE, La. – Winn Ratliff takes a simple approach to competing in rodeo for a living.

“Nickels and dimes add up to a dollar, so any time you can win money at a rodeo, it adds up,” said Ratliff, a bareback rider from Leesville who is making his way to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time. “If you can stay healthy and be consistent, you don’t necessarily have to win rodeos to do well.

“If you can place at every rodeo, you have the opportunity to move up in the standings and qualify.”

He should know. The Louisiana cowboy earned $75,754 through the regular season. Sure he won his share of rodeos in 2015 – 11 in all, including big-money events in Nampa, Idaho, and Prescott, Ariz. – but he moved up the money list by finishing among the leaders at most events in which he competed.

Winn Ratliff

Winn Ratliff

That made all the difference when the regular season concluded the end of September. He finished the campaign 15th in the world standings – only the top 15 in each event advance to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which features the largest purse in the game; this year’s $8.8 million is a record.

“That type of money hasn’t changed my mindset,” he said. “My plan going in is to be aggressive and try to win every night. Hopefully we’ll draw the right horse. They’re the best horses in the world out there, and some horses are going to be better than others. Sure the stakes are high, but you can’t look at it that way.

“You can’t change what you’ve done all year. It’s just another rodeo. You just can’t think about the lights and the glitter and the purse money. If you do your best, all the other stuff will fall into place.”

That’s been Ratliff’s mantra. He craves the competition, something that was bred into him by his parents, Jim Dupree and Rebekah. They also passed that along to Winn’s siblings, brothers Ethan, Elli and Luke, and sister Emma.

“I enjoy winning,” Ratliff said. “My parents are very competitive nature, and they instilled that in all of us. They’ve always taught me that if you’re not going to give it your best, then don’t waste your time in doing it at all. To me, that’s trying to win every time you nod your head.

“I’m very thankful for that. Some people don’t understand that, but you’ve got to be competitive.”

He has been. Ratliff also loves baseball and played it all through high school in Oklahoma. When his father, a Department of Defense contractor, moved the family to Louisiana, Winn Ratliff seriously considered a career in baseball. He leaned on his faith to make a decision.

“My mom threw out the idea that McNeese (State University) has a rodeo team,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in prayer to see what doors would open and shut, and He made it clear to me that rodeo was my path.”

Faith and family are a big part of the man and the cowboy. In addition to spending as much time with his parents and siblings, Ratliff makes sure his priority is with his wife, Brittany, and their daughter, Maryclaire, who was born this past May.

“That’s given me a drive and motivation this year,” he said of his daughter’s birth. “When you’re single and you don’t feel like performing, you can kind of get by with it. When you have a family, it’s not about you anymore.

“Not only am I trying to perform at my best, but now I’ve got a wife and a little girl that depend on me. Rodeo pays most of my income for my bills. When I felt sick or tired or homesick, it gave me that incentive to step up and do my job.”

Now he’s got more work to do, and the NFR is the perfect place to showcase his abilities. Go-round winners will earn $26,231 each night for 10 rounds in the Nevada desert. The top cowboys and cowgirls in the world will have a grand opportunity to make life-changing money in just a week and a half.

“Having an opportunity to qualify for the finals and have my whole family there is what it was all about for me,” Ratliff said. “As long as my family is there watching me, it makes my sacrifice of being gone from home worth it to me. They get to enjoy the experience and ride along with me.”

That ride is likely to be a wild one. That’s what 10 days in Las Vegas is supposed to be for all 119 NFR qualifiers, but it’s especially true for roughstock cowboys – bareback riders, saddle bronc riders and bull riders.

Not only will they be trying to ride the best bucking animals in ProRodeo, there will be a few opportunities to try their skills against the nastiest and toughest to ride. It’s part of that challenge that makes the NFR such a special time.

“I got on sheep when I was little, and it didn’t kill me off, so then I tried to ride calves and started going to junior associations,” he said. “I never thought I’d be a bareback rider. I was wanting to be a PBR (Professional Bull Riders) guy, but the Lord has a different plan in my life.”

He wouldn’t change it for the world.

postheadericon Scheer has a hunger for gold

ELSMERE, Neb. – There always has been a competitive fire that burns inside Cort Scheer.

The furnace has been overtaken by the flames for the saddle bronc rider from Elsmere. His hunger for gold is greater now than it has ever been, because he’s finished oh-so-close each of the past two seasons.

Scheer is the reigning two-time reserve world champion, the runner-up to the titlist. In 2013, it was Chad Ferley of Oelrichs, S.D. A season ago, Scheer finished just behind Spencer Wright of Milford, Utah.

“I’m not very good about accepting failure,” said Scheer, who returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the fifth time when it takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. “Second place is the first loser; that’s losing, and I don’t like it. If you want to be the best, you have to do it. Nobody wakes up and is the best. You have to work at it.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“Winning the title is my No. 1 goal. I don’t like being No. 2.”

Scheer attended Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Montana State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. Since then, he’s been one of the best bronc riders in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. In fact, the only year he didn’t qualify for the NFR was 2011 when he suffered a knee injury midway through the season; still, he finished 25th in the world standings.

He finished the 2015 regular season seventh in the standings, having earned nearly $89,000. This year’s NFR will feature the largest purse in the event’s 57-year history, where winners will earn more than $26,000 each round for 10 nights.

“I think this is an opportunity to win a championship,” Scheer said. “As soon as the NFR got over last year, that was still losing. You have to wait the whole year to have a chance at it. Now the chance is here to go back at them this year.”

Gold buckles are awarded to the contestants who finish the year with the most earnings in each event. That’s why doing well in Vegas is so critical.

“It’s going to come down to who makes the money there,” he said. “The NFR is love-you or hate-you. If you’re drawing good and riding good, that’s the perfect time. Spencer proved that last year.

“I’m feeling healthier this year than I ever have. I’m more focused.”

Much of that can be attributed to his girlfriend, Katelyn Webb. When he’s not on the rodeo trail, he and Webb are gym rats, and workouts are a big part of their routines.

“I’m really excited to have Katelyn in my life,” Scheer said. “No matter how much I think I work hard, she always works harder. She gets up early every day and works out. She’s got me in the best shape of my life.

“She’s awesome, and we share a lot of the same values. She’s a Christian, and that’s very important to me. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.”

She’s another addition to a supportive family. Scheer grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills with a powerful work ethic. He and his siblings – brother Clete and sister Kema – know the labor of love that comes from their family ranch. Father Kevin runs the operation, while mom Pam teaches school.

That support system is vital as he travels the rodeo circuit chasing his gold buckle dreams.

“My family is very supportive of what I do, and I get to talk to them on the phone quite a bit,” he said. “When you’re riding good, they don’t want you to come home. Our rodeo careers don’t last very long, so it’s pretty awesome that they support you so much so you don’t have to worry about anything but riding broncs.

“I’ve also got a lot of help from Justin Boots, Cinch Jeans, Outlaw Buckers and Bismarck Ranch, because I wouldn’t be able to do this without their support. They make it possible for me to compete at my best and not have to worry as much about some of the other things.”

Of course, there’s not much to worry about when a cowboy rides as well as Scheer. In 2015, he won at least a share of nine rodeo titles, including some of the biggest events in the sport. That’s helped him get to this spot. Now he’s hoping his mental approach is what makes the overall difference.

“I think what’s changed the most in the last year is maturity, and I put a lot on my traveling partners,” he said, noting that he commutes from one rodeo to another with fellow NFR qualifiers Chet Johnson, Tyler Corrington and Wade Sundell; though injuries knocked Johnson and Corrington out of this year’s finale, Sundell returns for the seventh straight year.

“After the last two years, I realized I either start strong or finish strong. I want to put it all together, and I think I can maturity-wise. My dad always told me was that you learn more from losing than you do winning. Throughout the year, I was winning consistently. Whenever I had my chance, I capitalized on it. Whenever you have your chance, you don’t want to let it go.”

That’s the theme for Scheer’s season. He and his traveling posse spent a great deal of time north of the border competing at Canadian rodeos, many of which were co-sanctioned by the PRCA and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. He returned to the Canadian Finals Rodeo, where he won the average championship in 2014.

“Winning the Canadian title is another goal,” Scheer said. “The top 15 guys up there can ride with anybody down here. There’s a lot of money at a lot of great rodeos, and there are a lot of great people. A lot of those guys don’t come down from Canada. The scenery is amazing.

“We get paid to see beautiful places, meet wonderful people and hang out with them.”

He made a run in mid-November at the CFR and earned nearly $26,000 in Edmonton, Alberta. He finished fifth in the Canadian standings. With that now in his saddlebags, Scheer has his eyes focused on Vegas and that elusive world title.

“As long as you can take advantage of opportunities, everything is open to you,” Scheer said. “It comes down to how you handle those situations.”

Spoken like a true champion.

postheadericon Larsen heals wounds with NFR

Orin Larsen of Inglis, Manitoba, competes earlier this year in Omaha, Neb. The two-time college champion has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career and joins his brother, saddle bronc rider Tyrel Larsen, as the first two cowboys from Manitoba to compete at the NFR. (PRCA PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

Orin Larsen of Inglis, Manitoba, competes earlier this year in Omaha, Neb. The two-time college champion has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career and joins his brother, saddle bronc rider Tyrel Larsen, as the first two cowboys from Manitoba to compete at the NFR. (PRCA PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

INGLIS, Manitoba – There was a pit in Orin Larsen’s stomach, an agitation he couldn’t release.

“I drove into my yard and thought, ‘I’ll never let that happen again,’ ” said Larsen, a bareback rider from Inglis.

That was in September 2014, when he finished 19th in the world standings and missing out on a qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which features only the top 15 contestants in each event in the year-end championship.

“I was driving home to Goodwell (Okla.), and it really got to me,” said Larsen, who also was attending Oklahoma Panhandle State University at the time. “This year I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a repeat of last year.”

Orin Larsen

Orin Larsen

It’s not. Larsen finished the 2015 regular season ranked 10th in the world standings, earning one of those coveted spots in the finale’s field. In fact, he’ll be joined at ProRodeo’s grand finale by his older brother, Tyrel, who finished the regular season 15th in the world standings.

“It’s a great honor to be part of the top 15 in the world,” he said. “I’m very blessed to be part of it. It’s way more special to be there with your older brother. When you, as brothers, dream of this moment, it’s another form of special no one else will ever know.”

Orin Larsen attributes a great deal of success in a change in the rodeo schedule he made with his traveling partner, Seth Hardwick of Laramie, Wyo., who finished the regular season 12th on the money list. The tandem opted to going to fewer rodeos, while focusing their attention on the ones with bigger purses. That worked for them both.

“I ended up going to 60 rodeos this year, and, in my opinion, that played a huge part in our successes,” Larsen said. “There are a lot of guys that will nod their heads at 100 rodeos. There’s no way I could do it. This year, we dialed it down a little bit and went to the rodeos we wanted to go do. We were healthier, and we were hungrier. It’s a system that works.”

Being healthy is vital in rodeo, especially in bareback riding, where cowboys wedge their hands into a rigging that is strapped to a bucking horse. It is the most physically demanding event in rodeo.

“I think the thing that changed mostly for us this year is that we were rodeoing smarter, but mentally, I approached this year a little differently,” he said. “This year we were just going to have fun doing it, and we’re going to get paid doing it. Traveling with a positive partner like Seth dang sure helped a lot, too.”

On the road, traveling partners become siblings. They support each other and lean on one another when they need. But Larsen has a great deal of support, something that’s been part of his life since his childhood growing up in the valleys of Manitoba on the family’s ranch.

Father Kevin operates the outfit, and mother Wanda runs a barbershop in nearby Roblin, Manitoba. Orin Larsen is one of four children, and the oldest, sister Cassie, is a hairdresser like their mom. The boys – Tyrel (26), Orin (24) and Cane (22) – all took to rodeo. In fact, all the boys found their way to college rodeo and Panhandle State, which is recognized as one of the top collegiate programs in the country.

Orin first went to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, where he earned the College National Finals Rodeo bareback riding title in 2013. He then transferred to Panhandle State and won the crown again in 2014.

“I chose the College of Southern Idaho because Kelly Wardell – who lives 45 minutes north of Twin Falls – has taught me everything I know about bareback riding,” Larsen said. “That was the deciding factor. After I did my two years in Twin Falls, I felt like I had gained a degree, and it felt like was more out there for me.

“I ended up going to OPSU because of their track record and their resume in college and pro rodeo. I’m happy the way I did it.”

He’s known since he was little that rodeo was something he loved. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, and that competitive fire continued to develop.

“When Tyrel started riding calves and steers, he was being successful,” Orin Larsen said. “It was a brotherly thing where I wanted to beat him, and my younger brother wanted to beat both of us. Growing up on a family ranch like that, we grew up around horses and cows. We had the Western lifestyle. It wasn’t something that was foreign to us.

“We knew how to handle horses, and that helps with a rodeo career.”

It turns out, Larsen handles them quite well. This year, he won seven rodeo titles, including some big ones in Greeley, Colo.; Molalla, Ore.; and Salt Lake City. In fact, he pocketed nearly $22,000 at those three rodeos alone, and that was added into the nearly $82,000 he earned in 2015.

What drives Larsen to ride bareback horses, and what pushes him to be one of the best at it?

“I have no idea,” he said. “Even before I knew what bareback riding was, I remember watching the NFR on TV and thought, ‘Those guys are crazy.’ In my bedroom, I always pretended to be a bareback rider.”

He doesn’t have to pretend any more, and he has family and others who make a big difference in how he handles his business and his life.

“Without my family – between Mom, Dad and my grandparents – there is no way I could make the finals or be any way successful in my career or my life,” he said. “You hear guys that don’t have that kind of support, and it makes me feel bad. It’s such a great thing to have.

“They help forge you to be the person you are. They’ve helped me with everything imaginable. Without family, I’m nothing.”

That includes his girlfriend, Alexa Minch.

“My girlfriend and other people will tell me, ‘I’m jealous of you; you get to have a ball doing what you love,’ ” Larsen said. “I’m very blessed and very fortunate to have the career I’ve had. It’s been crazy the last couple of years how much fun I’m having with rodeo.”

That fun continues at the NFR, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. It features the largest purse in the game at $8.8 million, with top dollars being paid out each day for 10 December nights.

He is one of six Canadians who have qualified for the NFR and joins brother Tyrel as the first two cowboys from Manitoba ever to earn a trip to ProRodeo’s grand finale.

“It’s extremely special to go to the NFR with my brother,” Orin Larsen said. “When I get to Vegas, I’m just going to be oblivious to the world. I’m going to roll with the punches and enjoy it. I get to have fun with my brother.”

That sounds like a great time.

postheadericon Irwin taking momentum to NFR

ROBERTSDALE, Ala. – There’s nothing like an amazing 10 days in Las Vegas in December for a rodeo cowboy.

Kyle Irwin experienced that a year ago, and he’s continued to use that rush through the 2015 ProRodeo season. Now the steer wrestler from Robertsdale returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year when it takes place Dec. 3-12 in Sin City.

“I think momentum was the key this year,” said Irwin, 25, who competed on rodeo scholarships at Western Oklahoma College in Altus and Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. “Last year’s finals was momentum, and it just carried over. I’d only been to Denver once before this year and did terrible, but I went back this year, finished third and won $7,000 to start the year.

Kyle Irwin

Kyle Irwin

“I won $87,000 at the finals last year, and it just kept going.”

He hopes the drive continues through this year’s NFR, which features the largest purse in the history of ProRodeo’s marquee event. He will battle for his share of the $8.8 million purse, which will pay round winners more than $26,200 each of the 10 nights.

“It means a lot to go back,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of guys say that once you make the finals once, you figure out how to do it. But I’ve also seen guys who have struggled making it back.

“I did put forth the effort, and it paid off.”

He did. In fact, he pocketed more than $76,500 – nearly $17,000 more than he did during the regular season a year ago – and heads to the NFR sitting fifth in the world standings.

“There are people who say you can’t make a living rodeoing, but actually you can,” Irwin said. “If I go out there and if I do the exact same thing this year that I did last year, I will win an additional $61,000; that’s how much the money has changed this year.

“Plus if I don’t mess up those times like I did last year, there are even more opportunities out there. I just need to go out there and take care of my business.”

That’s easier said than done. There is great pressure to compete at a top level, and the NFR is rodeo’s Super Bowl and World Series. The difference is that rodeo contestants have no guaranteed income; they only earn when they finish better than most in the game. Dollars equal championship points, and the contestants in each event with the most money earned at the end of 2015 will be crowned world champions.

Irwin finished runner-up to world champion Luke Branquinho a season ago, propelled by an excellent run during the sport’s 10-day finale. He’d love to move up just one spot.

“It’s especially tough this year because of how the money stayed within the same 25 guys all season,” he said. “It never really separated. Until the last rodeo, I still had the opportunity to move to No. 1.

“It’s a great group of guys that keep you on your game. That shows the level of competition. With the money like it is in this year’s finals, it’s going to be an interesting 10 days.”

That’s what any true championship should be, but it’s not all that Irwin has focused his eyes on this year. No, the cowboy found a cowgirl, and she became a priority. On Nov. 7, he and Randa married. The two have known each other for many years but had been together for more than a year and a half.

“We wanted to kind of do it quiet and go about our business,” he said. “We decided just to do it that way.”

Quiet works well in his private life, but he hopes to make a loud statement inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. He’ll have a great chance by riding Sketch, a talented horse owned by Tyler Pearson. Sketch has been the guiding force behind both of Irwin’s NFR qualifications.

The horse also guided Tyler Waguespack to his first finale; the Gonzales, La., cowboy finished the regular season seventh, while Pearson just missed out on the NFR by finishing 18th.

“We’ve also got Rowdy Parrott and Orinn Fontenot in our rig, and Pearson’s got both Wags and I riding Sketch with Tyler hazing for us,” Irwin said, pointing to Pearson’s key role as an assistant there to keep the steer lined out in the arena. “It was a good team effort this year.

“I’ve always traveled with good guys, the ones that make you better and make you get better. To have those guys in your rig makes all the difference in the world.”

So does Sketch.

“That horse makes a huge difference for me,” he said. “He’s changed my career.”

It all comes together in a nice package. Irwin also realized this season that it takes a great deal of self-confidence to be successful at a high level, especially in steer wrestling.

“I think I learned more about my ability, the God-given talent I’ve been blessed with,” he said. “I’m always real hard on myself and always have been, but I feel good about my ability to win maybe when the odds are stacked against me. Never quit believing in yourself and go back to the roots in the basics that you’ve learned. That will prevail.”

It’s worked so far.

postheadericon Proctor ready to relive Vegas success

Coleman Proctor prepares to rope his final steer in Guymon, Okla., this past May. Proctor and partner Jake Long return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this December to battle for that elusive world title.

Coleman Proctor prepares to rope his final steer in Guymon, Okla., this past May. Proctor and partner Jake Long return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this December to battle for that elusive world title.

PRYOR, Okla. – Coleman Proctor will never forget the first time he made his way into Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas.

In his 30 years on this earth, the Oklahoma cowboy has spent countless hours watching the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on TV and through many recordings. He dreamed of competing inside those golden fences in the Nevada desert. He had never seen them in person until a year ago, just days before competing at the Wrangler NFR for the first time.

“The first time I saw the Thomas & Mack was when we were coming in the tunnel to break in the steers,” said Proctor, of Pryor. “There’s actually nothing like that feeling. Then you get to be part of it, part of the grand entry and the smoke and the pyro. When you see it on TV, all you catch is the beginning. You don’t really experience it. That first night, I got to really experience it. I took it all in.”

Coleman Proctor

Coleman Proctor

Proctor returns to Las Vegas for the Wrangler NFR, ProRodeo’s grand championship that takes place Dec. 3-12. After finishing the 2014 campaign fourth in the final world standings, he returns to be among the elite rodeo contestants in the world by finishing among the top 15 for the second straight year where he will be roping with lifelong partner Jake Long of Coffeyville, Kan.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t want to go until I made them,” Proctor said. “When Jake made them and I didn’t, I wanted to go out there to support him; I had to work in the offseason to help pay for everything for the next season or I would have been there.”

So he waited until his first qualification. Each go-round in 2014 offered lessons in Wrangler NFR competition. Now he hopes those classes pay off.

“This year I’ll have a little better grasp of what happens out there and a better feel for the start and how the rodeo goes,” he said. “Nothing prepares you for that arena and that rodeo than going for the first night. It’s one of those lessons you learn after you get there. When I got there, it was a pretty short learning curve, from the time you nod your head to how fast you have to be.”

He also leans a lot in his partner. Long returns to the Wrangler NFR for the fifth time in his career; this is his second straight with Proctor. He also has at the finale with Brady Tryan and Travis Tryan. Nonetheless, Long and Proctor have been the best of friends since they were babies.

“It’s really cool that I’ve been to my first two NFRs with Jake,” Proctor said. “Early on, Jake and I loved the game so much. We started out this journey together, and now we’re actually doing this, competing at a high level and having success and doing something we’ve dreamed about. That’s special. It’s probably the coolest thing for me.”

A year ago, the tandem placed in six of 10 Wrangler NFR go-rounds, winning on the fifth night. They pocketed about $74,000 in Las Vegas. Now they’d love to exceed it, but this is the year to make that happen. The purse for the finals has increased to $8.8 million, and go-round winners will earn more than $26,200 a night.

“We’re about $60,000 behind the leaders,” he said of Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, the two-time reigning world champion team ropers. “It’s going to be a bit of work. We’d hoped to be within a go-round (payout) of them when we got to the NFR; now we’re two go-rounds from it.

“It’ll make for more drama when we get there.”

That’s perfectly fine for Proctor and Long.

“We first started roping together when we were 2 or 3 years old,” Proctor said. “Since I was 12 or 13, we were all a team. It was just a dream, and for it to turn out to what it became has been phenomenal.”

That means changes over the years. The NFR will be their last competition together for a while, as each will compete with different partners for 2016. Even with split, they remain close.

“We’re going to rope with different partners, but there’s no animosity between him and me,” Proctor said. “We are friends first. Roping partners come and go, but those friends you consider family … those are a huge part of who you are. Our roots run so deem, no matter who we’re roping with, that we will always be friends.

“The way my life has changed, the way I’ve grown and developed as a person, Jake is a big reason for all of that.”

That’s because they’ve shared a dream since toddlers. Now they’re chasing it.

“We have wanted to win the gold buckle as kids,” he said, referring to the trophy given to the world champions. “We have absolutely nothing to lose in this partnership. We have our ears laid back. We’re going to leave it all on the table, give it all we can and do what we can to catch Clay and Jade.”

That likely also will be the same game plan for the other teams in the mix. The reason gold buckles are so coveted is because of the work it takes to retrieve one. Proctor has learned that over the years, not only because of his own ability but also that of those who support his career.

“Three things changed my career over the last couple of years: Shane Boston, Speed Williams and this horse,” he said of some valuable partners, including his horse, Carmine, and some great sponsors in Boston’s Southern Welding LLC; Williams’; Riverbend Arena in Inola, Okla.; Lone Star Ropers; Justin Boots; Wrangler; Coats Saddlery; CSI Saddle Pads; Brazos Valley Equine Hospital; and Larry the Cable Guy.

“Shane has been there since Day 1 and is my biggest sponsor and biggest supporter.”

Boston is not the only big part of what Proctor has accomplished. Two seasons ago, Proctor roped as a heeler behind Williams, an eight-time world champion. Williams also sold Carmine to Proctor in March 2014. The 15-year-old sorrel gelding has been the perfect fit for Proctor.

“That’s my go-to guy,” Proctor said. “Having that kind of extra horsepower has made a difference; he was a game-changer. I knew I need to have him to go to the next level.

“Carmine is just a heck of an athlete. He can fly, and he makes your job easy. If you do your job, he allows you to win. I’ve never had a horse that was this close from the back of the (roping) box to be able to run them down. He just allows you to be more consistent and run one further and still be fast.”

Part of that is natural athletic ability, but it also goes to how the animal moves with ease. Part of that is training.

“He runs extremely hard, and he’s smooth about it,” Proctor said. “He allows you to be running wide open and, once you rope, he allows you to put the steer on the end of the rope and be ready for the heeler to finish fast. He finishes strong.

“He’s one of my favorite horses that I’ve ever swung my leg over.”

It all has contributed to a stellar season, but so have those closest to him, including his fiancé, Stephanie Arnold; the couple will marry next May.

“We’ve been together for about eight years,” he said. “She’s been amazing for me, and her family is so awesome. They’ve taken me in as one of their own. They’ve been there with me through thick and thin.”

Things have been pretty thick for Proctor. He approaches rodeo in a different way than most, and that’s a good thing.

“My reason behind doing this is maybe I can make a positive impact on somebody’s life,” he said. “We are all here to make a difference in somebody’s life, and rodeo is my vehicle to do that.”