Rodeo’s elite will prepare for NFR, teach youngsters while raising needed funds
MESQUITE, Texas – Some of the greatest cowboys in professional rodeo will be showcasing their talent from Friday, Nov. 23-Sunday, Nov. 25 at Resistol Rodeo Arena.
They’ll also be sharing their experiences, technique and winning athleticism to rodeo’s next generation during the ninth annual Thanksgiving Rodeo School.
“We have a lot of guys that go to the NFR after that, and they’ll come to this and practice there,” said bareback rider Wes Stevenson, an eight-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier originally from Kaufman, Texas. “This takes place just a couple weeks before the NFR, so it’s a good time to get on good bucking horses and get tuned up for the finals.”
Yes, it is. Only the top 15 cowboys in each event qualify for the NFR, where they’ll ride for the largest purse of the season over 10 nights in Las Vegas. They’ll also get on the best bucking horses in the business during each go-round.
“We’re usually at our best when we’re going all summer long, because you’re getting on bucking horses every day,” Stevenson said. “With this event, we get to go there for three days and live, talk, eat and sleep bucking horses. It helps you get in that frame of mind.”
The fascinating aspect of this rodeo school is that it serves a three-prong benefit. Not only do the elite bronc busters and bull riders get to prepare themselves for ProRodeo’s grand finale, they educate young cowboys about the sport and raise money for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.
“It’s a pretty unique school,” said Stevenson, who noted that stock contractor Stace Smith donates the stock and the arena. “We charge kids money, but we pay for their motel room and their food, and we have a nice indoor arena. It’s about as classy and nice of a venue as you can have to put on a rodeo school.
“Plus it could go back to them because they’re investing in the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund; if they ever get hurt in their rodeo careers and need that fund, then they’ve already given to it by being part of this camp.”
The fund reaches out to injured cowboys to make sure their finances are covered while they are unable to compete and earn money. It’s been a huge benefit to a lot of contestants. The fund was established to help those who compete in the sport full time, since rodeo is their primary form of income.
“Their slogan is ‘It’s a hand up, not a hand out,’ ” Stevenson said. “That describes it as best as any I’ve seen.”
In addition the young bareback riders, saddle bronc riders, bull riders, bullfighters, barrelmen and potential pickup men can learn from the men who have been recognized as the very best in the sport. From world champions like Will Lowe, J.W. Harris, Taos Muncy, Justin McDaniel, Mark Gomes and Jeff Collins to other great stars in the game, there will be tremendous learning opportunities for men who want to make their mark in rodeo.
In addition, NFR pickup men Jason Bottoms and Shawn Calhoun will be on hand to teach their trade, as will bullfighters Travis Adams and Clay Collins and 2010 NFR barrelman Robbie Hodges.
“One significant difference in our school is we are telling our students how to do things, then we’re coming behind them and showing them what to do,” Stevenson said. “They get to watch how we ride, the chute procedure, how we put on the rigging and put our hands in the rigging, how we get off on the pickup man and handling business.
“That helps the students a lot. They get to be told, then they get to see it.”
And the teaching aspect helps the contestants, too; not only do they get to focus on the mental side of the game, but they get to share their experiences with the students.
“I love being around the kids before the NFR,” Stevenson said. “They don’t have the structural basis to go out and compete, but they have the hunger and try. That makes up for a lot, and that’s tough to beat.”
Wes Stevenson, Will Lowe, Bob Logue, Justin McDaniel, Steven Peebles, Steven Dent, Tom McFarland, Tilden Hooper, Matt Bright, Jared Smith, Caine Riddle, Chad Klein, Mark Gomes and Jeff Collins.
Saddle bronc riding
Taos Muncy, Bradley Harter, Isaac Diaz, Heith DeMoss, Cody DeMoss, Ty Atchison, Wade Sundell, Sam Spreadborough, Jacobs Crawley, Sterling Crawley and Cort Scheer.
J.W. Harris, Chandler Bownds and Tate Stratton
Clay Collins and Travis Adams
Jason Bottoms and Shawn Calhoun
Instructors are subject to change