Archive for November, 2010

postheadericon Four months is a long time without a check

Tana Poppino is quite busy this week getting ready for next week.

It’s time to chase the big dollars at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and the Big Cabin, Okla., cowgirl is excited to be back in the race where go-round winners earn $17,512 each of the 10 nights in Las Vegas.

But the reality is she’s played the dicey game of hold-on for several months. Horse injuries have put her on the sideline through the late part of the season. She needed to rest her trusty mounts so they would be able to handle the rigors of ProRodeo’s grand finale.

She’s been in Texas getting her horses prepared, then will return home for a few days before heading to the Nevada desert. But she’s excited to find the pay window again.

Poppino hasn’t earned a paycheck in a Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel race since the end of July. In fact, the $55,582 she’s earned this season is good enough for 12th in the world standings, which is why she’ll be competing in Vegas for the third time in her career.

Still, she trails standings leader Sherry Cervi by more than $124,000. It will take a miracle for Poppino to walk away from the Thomas & Mack Center with the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.

But I’m sure she’ll do what she can to earn her fair share of the $735,375 purse that’s available at the NFR. That’s why she’s there.

postheadericon Scheer to put talent to the test at National Finals Rodeo

LAS VEGAS – If you ask Cort Scheer about his rodeo dreams, he can give you explicit details.

They’ve been part of his life all his life, from his first days in the saddle in the sandhills of Nebraska to his first Prairie Circuit saddle bronc riding championship. It’s also part of every day over the past 12 months, the best year of his short career and the guiding force to his first qualification to ProRodeo’s championship, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“I’m dang sure happier than heck, but I don’t think it’s really set in,” said Scheer, 24, of Elsmere, Neb. “When I get there and stand behind the bucking chutes, I’m pretty sure it’ll set in.”

That will happen Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, home of the Wrangler NFR since 1985. Scheer earned his spot in the finale by finishing the 2010 regular season No. 7 in the world standings with $82,503 in earnings. It is just the next step for the four-year pro that has already made a name for himself in the sport, winning regional crowns and, just this year, the All-American Series title.

“He’s like the All-American kid,” said Jim Boy Hash, rodeo coach at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, where Scheer attended for two seasons before transferring to Montana State University, then to Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “He was dang sure a pleasure to have around here. Not only was he intelligent, but he was reliable. If I needed anything done, he was there.

“There is a small percentage of kids like him. It’s neat to see somebody like that be able to make it. I wish I could have six of him every year on my men’s rodeo team.”

Scheer has worked his way up the ProRodeo food chain, one bronc at a time. In 2009, he finished 25th in the world standings, just 10 spots out of qualifying for the grand finale. But he took a big step in 2010. He earned his way to the NFR through earnings – in rodeo, money equals points, and the contestant in each event with the most money won at season’s end wins the world championship.

This season, he won rodeos in Texarkana, Ark.; Amarillo, Big Spring and Pasadena, Texas; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Isanti, Minn.; and Strathmore, Alberta.

“He’s just a really good athlete who loves riding broncs,” said Craig Latham, a multiple NFR qualifier in saddle bronc riding who coaches the rodeo team at Panhandle State. “He’s an all-around hand, who also made the college finals in steer wrestling and calf roping.

“He was an outstanding bronc rider in college, and he’s just improved. He’s riding outstanding right now.”

It’s all part of the growth of a cowboy, who spent his youth competing in many sports in the Nebraska sandhills. Though his rodeo idol is five-time world champion Billy Etbauer, Scheer considers his father, Kevin, the biggest influence.

“He rode all three roughstock,” Scheer said of bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding. “Saddle bronc was his favorite. Once I started going, my parents hauled me all over heck. I had so many people who helped me out in Nebraska.”

He also had some big influences in western Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. His brother, Clete – who returned to Nebraska – was the assistant rodeo coach in Garden City under Hash, and some of the greatest bronc riders in the history of rodeo were part of the Panhandle State community – world champions Robert Etbauer, Tom Reeves, Jeffrey Willert and Taos Muncy were part of that rodeo team.

“Coming down here just topped it,” said Scheer, who spends much of his time away from the rodeo arena in Guymon, the Oklahoma Panhandle’s largest community. “It’s amazing how much you can learn, and it’s not only from the people who have been to the finals.”

It’s an eager nature, a fantastic attitude that has helped propel Scheer to the pinnacle of the sport, which takes place over 10 nights and features the biggest purse in ProRodeo.

“What got him to the NFR is a little bit of everything,” Hash said. “His work ethic, his attitude, his demeanor … he has a never-quit attitude.”

Scheer also has a humble nature, and all those attributes are fairly typical of ranch-raised cowboys who find their ways into the best rodeo arenas across this land. But what does it take to make ProRodeo’s grand finale?

“It’s like that Chris LeDoux song, ‘One Ride in Vegas.’ ” Scheer said of the song about a cowboy that handles the challenges rodeo throws at him in order to compete at the championship. “It takes more than you can get. That many miles on the road are tiring on a guy. You’re driving, eating cheeseburgers and drinking Mountain Dew.

“But it dang sure is a gift to have. The only thing you’ve got to think of is that if it were easy, everybody would do it. Anything you have to work for is going to be worth it.”

postheadericon McDaniel surges through late-season run to make NFR

LAS VEGAS – Justin McDaniel has earned $81,850 so far this year.

He did it on the backs of the some of the toughest bucking horses in ProRodeo. More importantly, he did it in just four months, having to be a short-order specialist in order to qualify for his fourth straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which will take place Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Justin McDaniel

Justin McDaniel

“I didn’t really want to sit out seven months, but after the finals last year, I knew I had to get things fixed,” said McDaniel, 24, of Porum, Okla. “After I hurt my back last year, I just went to the rodeos I had to go to in order to make the finals. I had a pretty good finals overall, winning two rounds, but my right leg was just dead.

“After the ninth round, I couldn’t even sit in a chair.”

The problem was two herniated discs, which were repaired during surgery Feb. 5. Once the deformity was fixed, it was months of rehabilitation, individual workouts and dreams of winning another gold buckle to match the one he earned by winning the 2008 world championship.

“While I was off, I got the deal with James Hodge Ford,” McDaniel said of the Muskogee, Okla., auto dealership, which has partnered with the cowboy in a number of ways. “Jack Hodge was in the gym with me every day, ran every mile I did and lifted weights with me. He helped me get back into shape.

“Jack pushed me to be the best. He was there every time. He’s a great guy and a good friend.”

The young Oklahoman utilized that momentum and worked his way back into the arena in early June. His back felt better than it had in years, but he had to regain his confidence – the best way to do that is getting back in the mix and on the backs of bucking broncs.

“The year was kind of up and down all the way to the end,” McDaniel said. “It came down to the wire the last couple weeks of the rodeo season, but those last two weeks were awesome. I started drawing good and started winning.”

Sitting on the outside looking in – the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season earn the trip to Las Vegas and the NFR – McDaniel earned about $30,000 the final two events of the season, both playoff spots on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour. That moved him to ninth place, and while he’s still $77,000 behind standings leader Ryan Gray, that gap can be made up with the big money available in Vegas, where go-round winners will earn $17,512 each night.

“I was kind of worried there at the end,” McDaniel said. “It came down to the last tour rodeo in Ellensburg (Wash.) to see if I’d finish in the top 24 to make the playoffs. I was 24th, and I ended up winning second in Puyallup (Wash.), which got me in to Omaha (Neb.).

“That’s what I like about rodeo. If it was easy, anyone could do it, but knowing you have to do well at those rodeos in order to make the finals puts it on the line for you.”

That’s nothing knew. Fennell, who began traveling with the younger cowboy when McDaniel was still in high school, has seen a winning attitude for a number of years.

“That’s a bad little man; you can never count him out,” said Fennell, 37, who jokes that their partnership began before McDaniel owned a driver’s license. “I’ve been telling people that since he was 15. It was fun watching him make the finals, and he had a couple key weeks in the end. I know he was really tickled about it.”

So are rodeo fans who love to watch great athletes compete. In bareback riding, cowboys not only stay atop the wild bucking broncs while gripping a rigging that’s strapped to the animal, they must also spur in time with the horse’s bucking motion. The scores on the 100-point scale come from how well the animal bucks and how well the cowboy does his part with the spur ride. It takes tremendous athleticism to spur from the horse’s neck to the rigging all in time with the bucking motion.

There are also the more than 100,000 miles of travel each year getting from one rodeo to another. Cowboys don’t live a glamorous lifestyle, but they’re following their passion.

“Some days you’re just so sore you can’t get out of bed,” McDaniel said. “There are times you haven’t been to bed in three days, but once you’ve stepped into that Thomas & Mack and you’re about to nod your head at the National Finals Rodeo, every mile you didn’t get that sleep makes it all worth it.

“To win a world championship takes the right mindset. I’ve won the world championship a million times in my head growing up. I rode in that 10th round a million times before I even got there. In my opinion, winning is a choice; you can either know you’re going to win or you can hope you’re going to win, and I usually expect to win.”

postheadericon Durfey ready to take great season to a new level at the NFR

LAS VEGAS – Tyson Durfey admits he’s having the best season of his career.

There’s no reason for that to change now – especially now, as he prepares for ProRodeo’s grand finale, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It’s the fourth straight year the Savannah, Mo.-born cowboy has qualified for the NFR as one of the top 15 tie down ropers in the world standings at the conclusion of the regular season.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

“Every year just seems to get a little better,” said Durfey, 27,  of Colbert, Wash. “Through the regular season, I won a lot at the bigger rodeos. I won three tour rodeos, Logandale (Nev.), Red Bluff (Calif.) and St. Paul (Ore.), then I hade some other pretty big ones.”

Durfey speaks of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, a select number of elite events that, while still part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, count toward the tour standings and a two-event playoff. Through the season, which concluded the end of September, Durfey earned $89,174, which puts him in seventh in the world standings heading into the finale.

“I feel like it’s my job to get there,” he said. “It’s an expectation I have for myself, and it’s one of my goals – actually, my goal isn’t just to make the finals but to win the world, and I know I have to make the finals to win the world. It’s about staying focused on task.”

The NFR is where the big money is paid, and it’s where the top cowboys fight to make a profit through the rugged rodeo trail – while Durfey’s annual earnings would mark a nice salary for most, he doesn’t turn in an expense report to the corporate office; oftentimes, cowboys and cowgirls break even with their expenses and their winnings, so those who make the NFR consider it a time to make some money.

And why not? Go-round winners will earn a $17,512 paycheck each of the 10 nights of the NFR. Even sitting No. 7 on the tie down roping money list, he trails leader Trevor Brazile by $53,500. But he can make up most of that ground in three nights.

“I prefer to see it as a fourth place in a go-round and the average win,” Durfey said of the 10-round cumulative, where the fastest combined time wins $44,910. “That’s the way I try to look at it, because the most consistent guy over the 10 rounds is going to win a lot of money.

“I just want to rope sharp every time and let the cards lay where they will. If it’s meant to be, then it will; if not, then it’s next year. I’ve got to do everything I can to be prepared.”

The son of a tie down roper who trains ropers and calf roping horses, Durfey understands preparation – from the high-level practices to focusing on techniques to riding great horses; the latter being 13-year-old Bailey, the mount he’s had for almost three years.

“This is definitely his best year also,” said Durfey, a two-time Canadian tie down roping champion. “He really got solid and started working the same every time this year. All horses take time to form into what they’re going to be. Most good horses don’t get good until they’re 13, 14 or 15.

“This year he’s really come around a lot. He’s not near as nervous about things. He’s really shaped up.”

That’s just one of the keys to Durfey’s success. But there are plenty, like his striving to improve, even though he’s been considered one of the elite tie down ropers for several years. There are so many variables in roping calves that Durfey does what he can to stay on his game.

“The best part of the NFR is the people, the energy,” he said. “It has energy like no other rodeo I’ve ever seen. It’s almost crazy, the amount of people that show up there. You can’t help but get excited when you get there.”

postheadericon Missouri cowboy ready to take care of business at NFR

LAS VEGAS – It took D.V. Fennell 15 years for his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

His second trip to Sin City took just 12 months.

D.V. Fennell

D.V. Fennell

The Neosho, Mo., bareback returns to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which features the top 15 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association contestants in each event, based on their finish from the regular season. In Fennell’s case, he’ll get the chance to ride the nastiest bucking horses in the business during the NFR, set for Dec. 2-11 in Las Vegas. The broadcasts will air on the ESPN networks.

“The best part is knowing that you’re going to the NFR,” said Fennell, 37, who turned pro in 1994. “That’s what you work for all year long. It’s nice to see a return on your investment. There are a lot of guys and girls that rodeo all year long, and they don’t get that in the end.

“To get to nod your head with the best players and the best stock is just great. You eat cake all year, and you get the icing at the end.”

This season, Fennell has earned $64,485, finishing the regular season No. 15 in the world standings – in rodeo, dollars not only pay bills, but they are also championship points; the contestant in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the full season is crowned world champion. A season ago, Fennell won about $61,000 at the NFR alone, earning nearly $131,000 in 2009, good enough for ninth place in the final world standings.

“For me, I couldn’t have done this without all the support I have, like from my wife, Julie, and my friends and Eric Norris,” he said, referring to the Neosho State Farm Insurance agent who has sponsored Fennell this season. “When you got people like that watching your back, you can do a lot of good things.”

Fennell travels more than 100,000 miles a year on the rodeo trail, hauling from one rodeo to another with Steven Peebles, Jared Smith and Justin McDaniel. All four cowboys made the NFR in 2009, and all but Smith are part of this year’s finale – Smith finished No. 16 in the world standings, one spot out of playing for the biggest pay in ProRodeo.

“D.V. has been there the whole way with me,” said McDaniel, the 2008 world champion. “We lift each other up. When he wins, it feels like I’m winning. I wouldn’t travel with someone who is not a winner.

“D.V. has helped me so much in being dirty tough. He’s the one that took me to the next level.”

Fennell feels the same way about McDaniel, who is 13 years younger. But he is rejuvenated Smith and Peebles, too, both of whom are in their early 20s.

“Steel sharpens steel,” Fennell said. “You take four guys that rodeo all year long, and we make each other bring their best game. With that caliber of guys, even though it’s about being a winner, it’s something you feed off all year.”

And for Fennell, those years of dreaming about winning a world champion’s gold buckle are still alive. He knows he will have to conquer many challenges, from tangling with the top bucking beasts for 10 days to handling his business in and out of the arena. But they are the challenges he craves.

“Shoot, this is what I love to do,” he said. “I’ll just go at ’em and see what happens.”

postheadericon Missing legends

This year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo will be a little different for saddle bronc riding fans.

Between them, Billy Etbauer and Rod Hay have 41 qualifications to ProRodeo’s finale. Neither will nod his head inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, which begins in less than two weeks.

Etbauer, a five-time world champion, failed to qualify for the NFR, finishing the season 36th on the money list with $26,578. Since his first trip to the biggest rodeo in the country in 1989, this is the first year the 47-year-old isn’t competing. Some wondered if he was starting to hang ’em up, but he’s not. He just didn’t win the way he needed to.

Hay, who missed the 1991 and 2009 championships, announced Friday he will not be healthy enough to compete — a rather disheartening finding for the Canadian champion who is in ninth place in the world standings with $77,693. He won the $50,000 shootout round at RodeoHouston, earning more than $54,000 there.

But on June 20, Hay’s right femur was shattered at a rodeo in Innisfail, Alberta — a rodeo he won, by the way — and it just hasn’t healed the way he needed it to in order to compete for the world championship.

Hay’s spot at the NFR will be filled by first-timer Jesse Wright, the younger brother of world champion Cody Wright, who finished the regular season No. 16 in the standings.

“I needed to get more mobility in my leg and feel comfortable that I could be competitive,” Hay told the PRCA. “If I’m going to go there, I want to be a threat and believe I have a chance. People pay a lot of money to go to Las Vegas, and they want to see that guys are competing to win. I didn’t feel I would be at that level.”

postheadericon Getting ready for Vegas

I will be doing media/publicity for four NFR contestants and Carr Pro Rodeo — there may be more coming, but that’s what I’ve agreed to right now. That means I have nine pre-NFR stories that will be sent out to the media starting next week.

But I think readers deserve to see them first. If you think your local media outlet would be interested in using this information, feel free to pass it to them, along with this link so they know I’m giving them the authority to use the pieces.

So be on the lookout.

postheadericon Whyte lightning

Tammy White knows what it takes to win the Great Lakes Circuit’s barrel racing championship.

Heck, she’s done it five straight years, all with her traveling partner, Luckys Tiny Bit, a 14-year-old bay gelding. She clinched the year-end championship after winning the first of three rounds at the Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo in Louisville, Ky., last weekend. Then she added a third-round victory and the average championship.

That’s a pretty good way to conclude a terrific season, and Cisco continues to be a big reason why Whyte is successful. That’s the life of a barrel racer — she must depend upon a top-grade horse — but it’s the life each one loves.

Whyte and Cisco make a great team, and they’re championships are well earned.

postheadericon Ode to a Canadian champ

Tyson Durfey is a champion, eh.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

Twice in his young career, the Missouri-born tie-down roper rode away from the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta, with the Canadian championship, 2006 and 2008. In fact, he’s the first American to win a Canadian title, followed shortly thereafter by South Dakota barrel racer Lisa Lockhart.

Each of the last four years, Durfey has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, finishing the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season among the top 15 calf ropers in the business. All the while, Durfey has gone about the business of helping raise funds and awareness in the fight against breast cancer, and one way he does it is by carrying the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign to the next level by wearing a pink shirt during every rodeo performance in which he competes.

That’s something that defines a winner.

postheadericon Some Canadian trivia

Tie down roper Tuf Cooper clinched his first Canadian championship over the weekend, earning $27,667 at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta. He’s also heading back to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in two weeks No. 2 in the world standings, making his third straight trip. But he’s not the first American to win the Canadian title.

Who is the first American rodeo contestant to win a Canadian championship, and what year did it happen?

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