Archive for November, 2012

postheadericon Alberta Child

This is the first of the 10 livestock bios I’ve prepared for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on behalf of Carr Pro Rodeo. I hope knowing a little more about these animals will help you enjoy the NFR a little more.

Alberta Child

8-year-old bay mare
Bareback Riding
SIRE:
Spotty Crop
DAM:
My Maria

2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo

Four-time world champion Bobby Mote was 79.5 points in the third go-round, just half a point out of the money.

2012

Two-time NFR qualifier Casey Colletti posted an 87-point ride to finish in a tie for second at the Texas Stampede in Allen, Texas.

Was named Reserve Bareback Horse of the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City.

Four-time NFR qualifier Cody DeMers was 81 points to finish third in the semifinals at the RNCFR in April.

2011

Jared Smith was 83 points, good enough for a tie for seventh place at the West of the Pecos (Texas) Rodeo.

J.R. Vezain scored 85 points on her to finish in a three-way tie for fifth place at the Eagle County (Colo.) Fair and Rodeo.

Eight-time NFR qualifier Wes Stevenson was bucked off the big mare at the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, a Silver Tour event in Lovington, N.M. She bucked off another cowboy and was unridden several times in 2011.

This is the horse’s second trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“I bought her as a 2-year-old futurity colt winner at a sale in North Dakota,” said Pete Carr, owner of Carr Pro Rodeo. “She came from David McDonald of Lac La Biche, Alberta, Canada. We let her grow up at the ranch, and then started easing her around last year to get her ready for this year.”

“She is young, but if she keeps bucking like she has I look for her to come back to Vegas a few more times before she is done.”

“I was one of the first ones to get on her when Pete first got that horse, and she was just a good, electric horse,” said Matt Bright, a three-time NFR qualifier from Azle, Texas. “She’s not that way now. She’s as rank as they can get.”

postheadericon Carr animals enjoying the ride to NFR

Carr Pro Rodeo's Real Deal, left, the 2005 Bareback of the Year, and MGM Deuces Night, the 2012 Bareback fo the Year, eat in the back pens on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus in their temporary home for the next two and a half weeks as they prepare for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. They are two of the greatest bucking horses in the sport, and they arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday after a 1,400-mile, three-day trip from the Carr ranch in Athens, Texas. (JOHN GWATNEY PHOTO)

Carr Pro Rodeo’s Real Deal, left, the 2005 Bareback of the Year, and MGM Deuces Night, the 2012 Bareback of the Year, eat in the back pens on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus in their temporary home for the next two and a half weeks as they prepare for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. They are two of the greatest bucking horses in the sport, and they arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday after a 1,400-mile, three-day trip from the Carr ranch in Athens, Texas. (JOHN GWATNEY PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – Anyone who loves what they do craves every opportunity to do it. When it’s time to go to work, the attitude shifts, and the passion is revealed.

Real Deal is that way. He takes a business-like approach to just about everything he does, and his business is rodeo. The 12-year-old brown gelding is one of the greatest bucking horses in the sport, and he likes showing off his abilities.

He’s in the Nevada desert, selected to be part of the action at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time in his storied career. It’s been seven years since he was named the Bareback of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, but he carries that honor proudly from the Carr Pro Rodeo ranch near Athens, Texas, to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

“His attitude is like, ‘Leave me alone; I’m the bucking horse of the year, and I’ll show you what I’m about,” said John Gwatney, a key member of the Carr Pro Rodeo team who hauled the livestock to the City of Lights this week.

Gwatney and his wife, Sandy, left the ranch at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, her driving the family van while he handled the rig loaded with some of the best rodeo horses in the world. The final destination was the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, a 1,400-mile trek across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

“It’s scary having those horses on the road,” said Pete Carr, owner of the Dallas-based livestock company. “You’ve got the 2005 bareback horse of the year, the 2012 bareback horse of the year, the 2007 reserve world champion bareback horse and this year’s second runner-up to horse of the year. There are a lot of things that can happen between here and there.”

In addition to Real Deal, Carr horses heading to the NFR include MGM Deuces Night, this year’s top bareback horse; Dirty Jacket, which was voted as the third best bareback horse this year; and River Boat Annie, the 2007 runner-up to the world champion bucking horse. In all, there are 11 Carr Pro Rodeo animals scheduled to buck at the NFR – eight bareback horses, two saddle broncs and a bull.

The road is, by far, the most dangerous part of rodeo. The animals are the major piece of the puzzle for a livestock producer, and the top animal athletes that are selected to compete at the NFR are valuable. What they do inside the arena is magnificent, and getting there is the biggest cause of concern. But Carr has faith in the Gwatneys and others who are a big part of the company, like Operations Manager Paul Peterson, who will drive the animals home from Las Vegas after the NFR concludes its 10-day run on Dec. 15.

“We have probably the most experienced hands of anybody going down the road,” Carr said. “With that, I’m totally confident that the horses will get there in good shape, and they’ll feel good and will be rested.

“It makes you sleep better at night when you have people like that taking care of your animals.”

It’s the kind of care they receive daily on the ranch in east Texas and on the road at events across the country – Fort Worth, Texas; Houston; San Antonio; San Angelo, Texas; Oklahoma City; Guymon, Okla.; Bridgeport, Texas; Claremore, Okla.; Big Spring, Texas; Pecos, Texas; Window Rock, Ariz.; Taos, N.M.; Eagle, Colo.; Lovington, N.M.; Silverton, Texas; Stephenville, Texas; Hempstead, Texas; Allen, Texas; Waco, Texas; and Las Vegas.

And each of the great bucking horses at the NFR loves what he or she does.

“They’re all bred to buck, and even though they all have different personalities, they’re ready to go,” Carr said. “By getting on the truck, they know they’re going to go buck. They’re pretty eager to get on the truck.”

John Gwatney knows this, of course. He’s been around rodeo all his life. He knows how special these animals are and how much they love to show off their athleticism.

He and his wife drove from Athens to Southland, Texas, on Tuesday, where they unloaded the horses overnight and allowed the animals time to eat and do all the things horses do. On Wednesday, they loaded the trailer before the sun came up, then drove to Holbrook, Ariz., where the horses got another good rest.

“As I pulled into the Holbrook County Fairgrounds in the van, all of them lifted their heads and ran to the pens,” Gwatney said Thursday. “I backed the trailer up, they got excited, and they started chasing each other around the pen, bucking and kicking and having the time of their lives.

“As quickly as I hit the gate, Real Deal and Dirty Jacket came running to the gate, and right behind them were MGM Deuces Night, Alberta Child and Cool Runnings. We had to slow them down. When we opened the gate, Real Deal and Dirty Jacket were the first two on the trailer.”

It could be they like the confines of their motorcade. More likely, though, the horses know it’s about time to show their stuff to the world.

“It was pretty cool just to watch them,” Gwatney said. “As far as going down the road, it was all about them wanting to be part of a rodeo. They wanted to get here. They want to buck right now.”

They’ll have to wait their turn. The first round begins Thursday, Dec. 6, and there are five categories to sort the animals in a way to keep the competition as even as possible. Each category – or pen – will buck twice during the rugged 10-round slugfest that features the top 15 contestants in each event.

“These animals thrive on this,” Carr said. “It’s just like people. When somebody feels good, they’re happy and they’re upbeat. They carry themselves differently.

“It’s the same with a horse. When a bucking horse knows he’s going to get to buck, he gets excited, and he’s ready to go.”

There’s no better place to buck than the NFR.

postheadericon McDaniel’s sights set high for Vegas

LAS VEGAS – It didn’t take Justin McDaniel long to announce his presence among bareback riding’s elite.

He qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in 2007, when he was just 21 years old. He earned a world champion’s gold buckle the next December, aided greatly by winning the NFR average championship. He added another average title at the 2010 NFR, the second-highest honor in ProRodeo.

Justin McDaniel

Justin McDaniel

So don’t mind McDaniel if his sights are set high for his fifth trip to the NFR; he expects to perform well there. The NFR is set for Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas; live broadcasts will air at 9 p.m. on GAC.

He qualified for ProRodeo’s championship four straight seasons, then missed the finals last December when injuries put him on the sidelines through much of the 2011 campaign. He had shoulder surgery that September and finished well down the money list.

His 2012 season was just as rocky. He returned from injury in March, but quickly returned to the sidelines.

“I came back too early,” he said. “I needed a little more time to heal.”

He returned with a vengeance in May. Over the course of the season, McDaniel earned titles at six rodeos. More importantly, he placed well at some big money rodeos at the right time of the year. He heads to Las Vegas 14th in the world standings, thanks in large part to a big push as the 2011 regular season came to a close.

“When I was forced away from it for so long this time, I remembered why I ride bucking horses – because I love it,” McDaniel told the PRCA earlier this year. “I came back in the middle of the season in 2010, and had one of my best years. I’m not satisfied with one championship. I’m looking for another gold buckle in the bareback riding.”

That’ll take some work, but the NFR is the right place at the right time. The purse is $6.5 million, and go-round winners will pocket $18,000 each of the 10 nights of the championship. In addition, the bareback rider with the best cumulative score when the NFR concludes will win the coveted average title, which will pay nearly $50,000. It all adds up to a huge opportunity in Las Vegas.

“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,” McDaniel said.

Just qualifying for the NFR is half the battle. Now McDaniel will be in an inclusive field of the best 15 bareback riders from the 2012 season, which includes three other world champions: four-time winner Bobby Mote, three-time champ Will Lowe and reigning titlist Kaycee Feild. It’s also an experienced crew, accumulating 64 NFR qualifications among them.

“To win a world championship takes the right mindset,” said McDaniel, who credits his partnership with Carr Pro Rodeo, Ariat, W-W Livestock Equipment and James Hodge Ford of Muskogee for allowing him to succeed on the rodeo trail through their sponsorships. “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 Bright ready to make a run at the NFR

LAS VEGAS – The turning point of Matt Bright’s 2012 season came in early August.

“I had decided that if I didn’t win a pretty significant amount of money, I’d have to go home and get a job,” said Bright of Azle, Texas.

Bright won the first round of bareback riding in Dodge City, Kan., that week and finished third in the two-ride aggregate. In all, he pocketed $3,824 in southwest Kansas, and his ride down the rodeo trail continued. It’s a good thing, too.

Matt Bright

Matt Bright

Now the Tennessee-born cowboy is returning to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third straight season, finishing the 2012 campaign 12th in the world standings. He finished with a flourish, including a share of the event championship in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in late August.

“By September, thinks were kind of rolling again,” Bright said.

That was important for the 29-year-old cowboy.

“I’m going to call this a blue-collar year for me,” he said. “Last year, it seemed like I got healthy, then I got on a roll through the summer. Winning was coming easy for me, and I was having fun. This year was a lot different story for me. I felt like I had to work for it a lot more. I had a pretty solid winter, but the summer through July and the first part of August was slow.”

That’s where the worry and stress came in to play, but Bright leaned on his experiences to guide him through the tough times.

“I can tell that I’ve matured as a bareback rider,” he said. “In 2010, that was really my first year going; that was my breakout year. I’d only been rodeoing for a living since 2008 because I waited until I got out of college before I hit it hard.

“Having two more years after that under my belt seasoned me a little bit. I’m a little older guy, but I feel like I’m coming into my age.”

That feeling will come in handy at the NFR, set for Dec. 6-15 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. It’s a rugged 10 straight days of competition featuring the top 15 bareback riders in the world and the best bucking horses in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. It’s a true test of each finalist’s mettle, but it should be.

It is ProRodeo’s grand championship.

“This is a dream come true,” Bright said. “Every time I keep adding an NFR back number to the wall, it’s a good deal.

“Anytime you do anything, most people want to be the best they can be at whatever they’re doing. If I was playing football, I’d want to be playing in the Super Bowl. If I was playing baseball, I’d want to be playing in the World Series. If I want to be a professional bareback rider, then I want to be riding at the National Finals.”

Each night, cowboys will battle for about $60,000 in prize money, about $18,000 of which will be paid to the winner in each of the 10 go-rounds. There’s a lot of money to be won in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, Bright hasn’t fared very well in the Nevada desert: He’s placed in just two go-rounds in two years.

It’s time for a change.

“I’m not afraid to say I had a bad finals last year, and it affected me for a little bit,” he said. “For the first month of the year, it was almost like going to work every day instead of riding bareback horses and having fun. I think part of that was coming off that bad NFR.

“But you’re going to have your ups and downs, and you’ve got to ride through them. I’m not going to forget how to ride bareback horses.”

Now he wants to show that for the nationally televised broadcast, on GAC network nightly during the NFR.

“This year, I realize there’s just so much money up for grabs that there’s no reason to get uptight about one round,” Bright said. “If a round doesn’t go so well for you, get over it, because there are a lot of other opportunities to go after the money out there.

That’s the right attitude to have in the go-for-broke style that is Las Vegas. There are so many dynamics involved in the sport that the primary focus must remain on individual performances. In the case of the NFR, that means considering each round as if it’s a different rodeo.

Bright considers a big part of his revised reflection on his profession on traveling with Josi Young, a 2008 NFR qualifier from Kimberly, Idaho.

“We were both on the bubble for the NFR when we started traveling together,” Bright said. “I think we complimented one another. We can ask each other’s advice, and we can shoot pretty straight with each other. I think that helps.”

Yes, it does. Bright now returns to the bright lights of Las Vegas for the third straight December.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “I went to my first rodeo when I was 2 weeks old, and I’ve been around rodeo all my life. I grew up watching the greats, seeing them at the NFR.

“That’s always what I wanted to do was rodeo for a living and go to the National Finals Rodeo. To have that dream realized, not once but three times, is a huge honor.”

postheadericon Keylon ready to showcase NFR talent

LAS VEGAS – Jared Keylon has been one of the best bareback riders in rodeo for a number of years.

He finally will get to prove it to the world this December when he competes for the first time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It’s the sport’s grand finale, and only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to play for the biggest pay of the season.

“It’s something I set out to do about 10 years ago, so making the NFR is a big relief,” said Keylon, 28, of Uniontown, Kan. “I’m sure I haven’t gotten the full effect of it sinking in just yet, but the sound of being an NFR qualifier makes me feel good.

Jared Keylon

Jared Keylon

“That’s what I wanted to do when I left home at 19 years old, and it’s the dream I’ve had since I planned to be a cowboy.”

It’s the dream of most who ride bucking horses for a living. Keylon has been close before … painfully close. He finished the 2009 regular season 16th, one spot out of qualifying for Las Vegas. He finished 25th in the world standings a season ago.

So how did he get over the hump in 2012? Keylon won, and he did it a lot. He won titles at 16 rodeos. Still, he held on to that elusive, yet coveted, 15th spot when the season ended in September and punched his ticket for the NFR.

“It started in Denver,” he said of the January rodeo. “It pretty much just snowballed. It got a little slow later in the winter and spring, then in May, it started picking back up. June was outstanding.”

But there were down times, too.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” said Keylon, who was born in Dover, Ark., and raised in northwest Arkansas. “There were many ups and downs throughout the year. The good outweighed the bad, but there were some nose-dives in there where I couldn’t win a dime.”

That’s the nature of the sport: Feast and famine. After getting so close to the NFR four seasons ago, he suffered a broken leg in 2010. The next season featured a little more rehabilitation. Still, he remained in the top 35 in the world standings both seasons – a true testament to his talent.

“In 2009 when I almost made it, it was more trial and error,” he said. “In 2010, I thought it was going to be a good year, then I broke my leg. In 2011, I was just coming off the broken leg, then I had a blood clot deal. Still, I had a good finish to 2011. When 2012 started, I was ready.

“I just started putting my trust and faith in the Lord.”

Faith is important to Keylon, his wife, Ashley, and their son, Gunner. He traveled for years with dear friend Bo Casper, who decided to limit his rodeo schedule this season. So Keylon joined a pack that featured Heath Ford, Winn Ratliff and Kyle Brenneke.

“I’m a big fan of reading my Bible every day, and Heath and Winn are, too,” Keylon said. “Kyle reads his Bible, and all three of them have a positive outlook about it. Everybody’s always picking each other up.

“I have the constant camaraderie of having those three guys around and all of us realizing that there’s somebody else that’s bigger in this world than us. We also have someone who is reminding you about that every day.”

Still, it’s a little bittersweet after all those years traveling with Casper, who lives in nearby Fort Scott, Kan., where both cowboys attended college on rodeo scholarships.

“If there’s ever anybody I’d want to make it over me, it’d be him,” Keylon said. “That’s the only guy, other than (2000 world champion) Jeff Collins, that made me feel like I could ride Godzilla if I had to.”

The sentiment is mutual.

“It gives me chills thinking about it,” Casper said of Keylon’s NFR qualification. “After doing it for several years and trying hard and being right there, it means a lot seeing someone you’ve watched progress make it there. He’s one of the top bareback riders in the game. That’s awesome.

“He’s got a big heart, and the good Lord is 100 percent his main focus. He has devoted himself to the Lord, then his family, then to rodeo. I think he’s got his priorities in a row, and that makes rodeo fun.”

Keylon is having fun. The smile on his face is obvious, whether he rides for a win or whether he’s talking about Gunner, his son who will turn 2 years old while the family is in Las Vegas.

“Next to God, my family comes second, or at least I try to make it that way,” Keylon said. “To me, it’s very important.

“I have a very supportive wife. Actually, if it hadn’t been for her, I probably would’ve never gotten to this point. In 2007, she pushed me to go a little farther. My mom and dad have always been right behind. They’re very supporting, and I have a great mother-in-law. She’s always been supportive of me.”

When Jared Keylon began riding bareback horses, he did so with his brother, Bo, who is older by 13 months. They were inseparable no matter what they did.

“We went to school together, and we ended up in the same grade,” Jared Keylon said. “We both dropped out at the same time, and we got our GED together.”

That family presence is tight to this day. He looks at his late arrival on ProRodeo’s grandest stage as a blessing, because young Gunner will get to experience it all.

“For him to be old enough to know what Dad does is a big deal,” Keylon said. “I feel like he likes coming with Dad, and for him to be able to come and for me to be able to show him why Dad was gone, it’s really special. For him to get to watch me in that arena and know that I was in that position is awesome.

“I really enjoy the fact that I’ll have my little buddy with me.”

postheadericon Scheer curbs cravings with trip to NFR

LAS VEGAS – A knee injury in 2011 sidelined hopes of a world championship for Cort Scheer.

It didn’t diminish his dreams.

If anything, not being able to compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo created a fever that has served as motivation for Scheer, a 26-year-old saddle bronc rider from tiny Elsmere, Neb. Instead of riding the fiercest bucking horses in the business, he watched from the seats in the Thomas and Mack Center.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“I think it helped, because it makes you crave it more,” he said of viewing ProRodeo’s grandest spectacle instead of competing it in. “You’ve just got to sit there and watch, and I just kept telling myself that I’m not going to watch it anymore. If I’m going to be there, I dang sure want to be out there in it.”

He gets redemption at this year’s NFR, set for Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas, with nightly live broadcasts at 9 p.m. Central on GAC. Scheer has qualified for his second trip to the finals as one of the top 15 bronc riders in the world standings. He goes to the Nevada desert 10th on the money list, having earned $67,751.

“I dang sure feel a lot better this time than I did the first time,” said Scheer, who last competed on ProRodeo’s biggest stage in 2010. “The first time I didn’t know what to expect. This year I feel like I know what to expect, and I’m a lot more confident.”

It takes self-confidence to compete among ProRodeo’s elite, but that’s where Scheer rides most of the time. A season ago, he finished 25th in the world standings even though he was unable to compete the final four months of the campaign.

“This year I was really blessed,” said Scheer, who utilized rodeo scholarships to attend Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Montana State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “I drew outstanding, and I got to get on a lot of great horses. I’m just blessed all the way around.”

Now he’ll test his skills against the greatest horses in the business, those selected by the men who ride them throughout the year.

“If you take care of business, then anything can happen,” Scheer said.

That’s the plan, too. The NFR features a $6.5 million purse, and go-round winners will earn about $18,000 a night. This is a chance to make a lot of money in a short amount of time, another reason why it’s so important to qualify.

Scheer won six rodeo titles this season, including events in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Red Bluff, Calif.; Lufkin, Texas; Marshall, Texas; High River, Alberta; and Great Falls, Mont. Combine that will collecting a lot of other checks along the way, and Scheer had a very solid season. In fact, he had all but secured his NFR qualification by the first of August.

“Really the only thing different for me this year was that I’m more experienced,” he said. “The last time I went to the NFR, it was like I’d made it there and didn’t know why. This year was more like buckling down and going to winning it.

“I feel like I’ve been going a while and should be able to handle it.”

Two Decembers ago, Scheer placed in seven of 10 go-rounds, including the ninth-round win. In all, he won more than $70,000.

“He’s like the All-American kid,” said Jim Boy Hash, Garden City’s rodeo coach. “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.”

He’s proven to be an asset to the crew with which he travels the rodeo trail, which includes Tyler Corrington of Hastings, Minn., and Chet Johnson of Sheridan, Wyo. Both are veterans of the game and have qualified for the NFR. Though neither will be among the top 15 this December, they’ve remained among the elite – both qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo, which Corrington won earlier in November.

“Having guys like that helps a ton, because you’re riding with two guys that have been through that situation,” Scheer said. “Everybody’s out to help each other. You’re only as good as the people you ride against. They help you mentally.”

Of course, it helps when you’re one of the best athletically, which Scheer is. He has been for some time, whether it was wrestling, playing football or rodeoing. Raised on a ranch in the Nebraska sand hills, there’s not much Scheer hasn’t done, and his family is a big reason why.

The youngest of Kevin and Pam Scheer’s three children, he was allowed the opportunity to be involved, just like brother Clete and sister Kema.

“My family is my whole life,” said Cort Scheer, who credits his partnership with Carr Pro Rodeo, Cinch Jeans & Shirts and the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas for helping him live his rodeo dreams. “I’m so blessed. My parents have been behind me since I was a kid. They hauled me to everything, and they sacrificed everything for me. I put a lot of my success on my family.

“If I’m not riding good, I call home. Mom may not know a lot about bronc riding, but she always offers me help. It’s unreal how much my family helps me. They keep my mind in it.”

With his mind right, Scheer now focuses his eyes on the prize.

“I ride broncs because I love it and I’ve always dreamed about it,” he said. “God has blessed me with the talent to do it, and it’s my responsibility to do it and give Him the glory. All the talents and everything you’ve got are blessings from God, and He wants you to use them for Him. I give Him all the credit for wanting me to and for me having the ability to do it.”

postheadericon Colletti primed and ready for NFR

LAS VEGAS – As a child, Casey Colletti would watch his father, Chuck, ride bareback horses.

In all the years since, the younger Colletti has worked to perfect the skills it takes to ride horses well. The work has paid off; he will compete for the second straight year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as one of the top bareback riders in the world.

Casey Colletti

Casey Colletti

“I think there were two things that changed this year,” said Colletti, 26, of Pueblo, Colo. “I was rodeoing a little smarter; I only entered 94 rodeos this year, but if I didn’t draw very well, I just didn’t go. There was no need for me to take any chances when I didn’t have a chance to win money.

“The second reason was because I was more consistent from January to October this year. I felt like I was consistently riding the best I ever have.”

That’s what it takes to be one of the elite bronc busters in the game, and qualifying for the NFR is as big as it gets in rodeo; ProRodeo’s championship event takes place Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas and will be televised live on GAC beginning at 9 p.m. Central, 8 p.m. Mountain. Only the top 15 contestants in each event qualify for the NFR, and world champions will be crowned at the conclusion of the rugged 10 days of competition.

“I’ve dreamed my whole life about making it to the NFR, so it’s hard to explain just how it feels,” said Colletti, who competed on the rodeo team at Garden City (Kan.) Community College. “To make it once is awesome, but to make it twice is icing on the cake.”

He earned the right to play for the biggest pay in the sport with some timely wins – Colletti won 10 bareback riding titles in 2012. Even when he didn’t have the best score, the Colorado cowboy was placing high.

“This year I won money at rodeos I’d never won money at before,” he said. “I’d never won much of anything at Denver before, but I did pretty well there. Then I won money at (Texas rodeos) Fort Worth, San Angelo and Austin. I’d never won any money at any of those rodeos before. It sure helps when you place at those bigger rodeos.”

It all adds up to $66,633, placing him as the 11th best bareback rider in the game heading to the 10-round slugfest that is the NFR. Last December in his first qualification to the Las Vegas spectacular, Colletti placed in seven go-rounds, including the victory in the ninth go-round. In all, he left the Nevada desert with $82,644 and finished fifth in the final world standings.

How important is the NFR for rodeo cowboys? The finale features a $6.5 million purse with go-round winners earning about $18,000 each of the 10 nights.

“I’m not going to worry about it,” Colletti said. “I’m going to go out there and ride bucking horses. I do have goals that I’ve set for the finals. I try to always set myself a couple goals. They’re realistic, but I make one that I know I can reach and one that I’d be surprised if I could reach.”

That’s a solid game plan, but that’s nothing new. He’s been setting goals and high standards for himself from the time he mounted his first bareback horse. That’s why he’s among the elite in the sport.

“Just to be mentioned in the top 15 in the PRCA is a great honor,” said Colletti, who credits C&S Farm and Cattle, Carr Pro Rodeo, B Tuff Jeans, MGM Grand, Greeley Hat Works and Golden Tiger liniment for making it possible to rodeo for a living. “There are 200 other bareback riders trying to make it to the NFR, and I’ve been there.”

While he has a great support system, none is bigger than his family – dad Chuck, mom Shelly and older sister Kristi.

“I probably couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “My mom does so many things, and if I ever need anything done while I’m on the road, she does it. I can call my dad, and he’ll just give me words of encouragement when I need them. I felt a little bit of pressure this year. To make it to the NFR a second time, it was almost harder, and Dad just said I needed to quit worrying about it.

“Without my family helping me or calling me, it would just be so hard. My grandma and grandpa call, and that’s great. I also get text messages from aunts, uncles and cousins. When you’re out on the road, you get zoned out of the world a little bit. It’s good to have them all contact you.”

It’s also good to be riding well while preparing to ride the best bucking horses in the world. Colletti won the Mountain States Circuit, powered by winning the average championship at the circuit finals in late October. Then the second week of November, he rode an NFR bucking horse, Carr Pro Rodeo’s Alberta Child, for 87 points to finish second at the Texas Stampede in Allen, Texas.

“My confidence is probably the highest I’ve ever it,” Colletti said. “I’m ready. I’m going to go in there and take care of business. This is what I do for a living, and I’m ready to take advantage of it.”

postheadericon Pierce is ready to race for the title

LAS VEGAS – If 2011 was Carlee Pierce’s breakout year, then 2012 has set the standard for where she wants to be in professional rodeo.

Pierce is the No. 4-ranked cowgirl in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, having earned $122,416 through the rigors of the season. Now she’ll carry that success and those experiences with her as she competes at her second straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 6-15 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Carlee Pierce

Carlee Pierce

“It sounds awesome being a two-time NFR qualifier,” said Pierce of Stephenville, Texas. “I can’t wait until it’s 10 times.”

That’s a lot of forward-thinking for the Alberta-born cowgirl who was raised in northwest Oklahoma, but championships are created in gold buckle dreams.

“I’m much more prepared than I was last year, and I have a game plan,” she said. “Last year, I was going to treat it like any old rodeo, but you can’t. It’s the National Finals Rodeo. It’s special, and it needs to be treated as special.

“The big thing is I have to remember that I’ve worked really hard to get there. There’s a lot of money at stake, so I’m going to ride better than I have all year.”

Pierce will have a lot of help to make it happen, primarily in the form of Rare Dillion, a 13-year-old buckskin gelding. He was the driving force behind Pierce’s initial qualification a season ago, and he helped Annesa Self to the NFR in 2008.

“He just gets better with age,” Pierce said of Dillion. “He gives me that big confidence booster that everybody needs to feel just once in their lives. When I show up with him, I know we’re going to place good in the round.”

The proof is there. A year ago in Las Vegas, Pierce and Dillion set the NFR standard, winning the fifth go-round with an arena-record, 13.46-second run. They also won the fourth round and placed in two others.

“I was able to give him some rest this year, and I hope to be able to do the same next year,” she said. “I think he gets tired of being on the road. He’s a good winter and springtime horse, but I think when it gets to be summer, he wants to be home.

“He’s earned the respect to come home and rest when he tells us he’s tired.”

Dillion normally is a solid horse that Pierce and her husband, Steve, feel comfortable around their three children, Makala, Kale and Jacy. But he “speaks” to his owners by acting up and rebelling. When that happens, the Pierces make sure he gets on his home turf.

When Dillion returns to Texas, Pierce reaches into her stable of excellent horses, some of which are young prospects she hopes can handle the load: Flirt, a 10-year-old buckskin mare; BB, a 5-year-old blue roan mare; Hammer, a 5-year-old sorrel gelding; and Tyson, a 5-year-old chestnut gelding.

“I used Tyson a lot this year,” she said. “He placed in some of those Canadian rodeos. He placed in two or three of the American Rodeos before we came home. I used him more than most of the others.”

Those Canadian rodeos came in quite handy. Pierce won in Panoka and Innisfail, both in Alberta, the province where Pierce was born. The money she won at those rodeos not only padded her ProRodeo standings, but also helped her qualify for the Canadian Finals Rodeo, which took place a couple of weeks ago. Pierce won $31,000 in Edmonton, Alberta, and finished with more than $63,000 in Canadian Professional Rodeo Association earnings.

“To be in Canada at the finals, they made me feel like I was right at home,” Pierce said. “They mentioned that I lived in Stephenville, but they still saw me as Canadian. It was nice to have that support up there.”

It helps to have success, too. Pierce ran Hammer to an arena-record, 14.214-second run to win the third go-round.

“It’s nice to have an arena record on a horse besides Dillion,” said Pierce, who also set an arena record on Dillion at RodeoHouston this past March. “I have a lot of horses because I want to make a name for myself in this business. I don’t want to just go to the NFR. I want to brand myself. To do that, you have to stay on top of your game.”

She’s at the top of her game and near the top of the barrel racing world. It’s allowing her the opportunity to chase her rodeo dreams. With her husband, Steve, Pierce opened Branded P Western Store in October.

“Every penny that is in the store is my rodeo money that I invested back into that store,” said Pierce, who credits her sponsorships with Rock and Roll Cowgirl, Panhandle Slim, Boyd Gaming, Formula 707, Stephenville Trailers, Outlaw Equine, Pro Equine, Brazos Valley Equine, Cactus Saddlery and J.W. Brooks Hats for helping her get down the rodeo trail.

“One day, I’m going to be too old, and I want to have something to show for all my years in rodeo besides the buckles, saddles and memories. I love clothes, and this is a way for me to be involved in that. I also wanted a store that benefits my rodeo family. Anything I can give back to the sport I’m crazy in love with, I’m happy to do.”

She also is happy to be competing at the highest level of the sport.

“To actually be able to live your dreams by going to the NFR, it’s an experience that very few people will get,” Pierce said. “Making the NFR last year was valuable to me for how I appreciate people and their goals. It takes a lot of sacrifice.

“I’ve given up time with my family, and my family has given up things they want to do.”

Just behind her faith, Pierce lists her family as the priority in her life. That’s why it was special that Steve and the kids hit the road with her for much of the summer.

“I like having my family with me,” she said. “Even though you’re driving a lot and going to a lot of rodeos, you still have a lot of down time. Keeping the family tight is really important to me. We got to see sights together, and they have seen more country than most kids they go to school with. I think they know how lucky and blessed they are to do that.”

It’s something she learned growing up in Freedom, Okla., the daughter of a barrel racer who still helps with the Pierces’ program. She remains close to her mother, Danita Walker, whom Pierce considers her mentor.

“She and my dad, Travis, have been two of my biggest supporters always,” she said. “They help with my kids so I can stay on the road, and they keep my horses feeling good and in shape so I can swap out horses at any time.

“My mom is an equine massage therapist, and she makes sure my horses are feeling the best at all times.”

That’ll be quite important on those 10 December nights in Las Vegas.

“I would love to win as many go-rounds as I can,” Pierce said. I want to place in every round and try to place in the average, because I think that can get me the gold buckle.”

postheadericon Armes wrestles his way to the NFR

LAS VEGAS – When the 2012 ProRodeo season began, Bray Armes promised himself he was going to try to make it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this season.

Armes is a man of his word.

The plan comes to fruition during the sport’s grand championship, set for Dec. 6-15 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The Gruver, Texas, cowboy finished the regular season 15th in the steer wrestling world standings, just earning the qualification to the NFR – only the top 15 contestants in each event get to play for the biggest pay in ProRodeo.

Bray Armes

Bray Armes

“It means the world to me,” said Armes, a four-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier while attending Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. “It’s been a goal for me for a very long time.”

The NFR is the dream of every young cowboy and cowgirl who has world championship aspirations. It’s the year-end championship boasting a purse of $6.5 million. Go-rounds pay winners $18,000 in each event for 10 straight nights.

“I just made up my mind that I was going to try to make the finals, so I went outside the circuit and rodeoed full time instead of just weekends like I did in 2004,” he said, referring to the season in which Armes won the Texas Circuit title and the average championship at the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo.

That feat is nothing to sneeze about. It’s proof that he has had the ability to be one of the best for a long time. But he took time away from the game, just returning to the rigors of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association this year. But he didn’t just return to ProRodeo – he matched his will to win with a proven winner, Dean Gorsuch, a two-time world champion from Gering, Neb.

“He deserves to be there because he bulldogs outstanding,” said Gorsuch, who has qualified seven times for the NFR. “That guy will make the finals as many times as he wants to.

“He’s a great guy to be around, fun to travel with. He’s got a great family, and we both want the same things. He’s a winner. He’s got a great attitude, and there ain’t a steer he can’t throw down.”

He even threw ones when he had to at the end of the season. Armes won four rodeo titles this season, two of which came in September just as the 2012 campaign was coming to a close: The New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo in Albuquerque and the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo. The latter was on the last weekend of the season and Armes’ final run of the season – steer wrestlers are allowed to enter 70 rodeos each year, and Kansas City was Armes’ 70th.

“I was pretty nervous, but it was pretty easy,” said Armes, whose father, David, wrestled steers when he was younger. “I either made a good run and made the finals or I didn’t.”

He did. Armes threw the steer down in 3.6 seconds to share the American Royal title with NFR veteran Todd Suhn. The $2,326 he earned propelled Armes into the NFR field by just $55 over Jason Miller, the 2007 world champion.

“I was plumb full of emotion when I found out I got into the NFR,” he said. “My wife and I sat in the front yard just hugging and in tears. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. It was something I’d dreamed about for a long time, and it was finally coming true.”

Yes, it is.

But he’s earned the right to dream big, and he has a big support system behind him, including his wife, Neelley, and their two children, son Drake and daughter Breely.

“To me, family’s first,” Armes said. “If it was a choice of doing something different for my family, then that’s what I’d choose. Probably the hardest part for me is being away from my family so much while I’m out rodeoing. I wish my family could be there with me every step of the way.

“My family’s behind me 150 percent in this deal. Without them, I don’t know if I’d be in this position right now. My wife has made lots of sacrifices so I can do this. I’m very proud to have her as my wife. I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful woman and two great kids that love watching their daddy rodeo.”

If that’s not a motivating factor, what is? But he gets that from many angles, whether it’s family or his traveling partner or the animal he uses in competition, primarily Gorsuch’s horse, Skip.

“He gets a lot of credit,” Armes said of the horse. “He gave me a chance to win every time. He scores great. I’m just very fortunate to be able to ride him.”

It all gives him the opportunity to chase his gold buckle dreams.

“Traveling with Dean Gorsuch was probably one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me,” Armes said. “He’s been there and done that, and he knows the ways to get it done. He helped me tremendously throughout the year. Having Dean there to help build me up was a pretty great experience.”

postheadericon MGM Grand ready to host cowboys

LAS VEGAS – The lore of the American Cowboy continues to reach into every aspect of today’s culture.

The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino recognizes it. More importantly, the MGM Grand notes how special it is that Last Vegas is the annual host to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. When cowboys come to town, the MGM Grand opens its arms for them. That’s why the resort is home to the greatest names in the sport and why it is such a major player in keeping the Wrangler NFR in the Nevada desert for years to come.

The culmination of the MGM Grand’s dedication to professional rodeo’s championship event is 10th Night, which will celebrate the crowning achievements of this year’s showcase. It’s an added benefit to the nightly happenings at the Gold Buckle Zone, and it’s a fitting tribute to cowboys from “The Home of The Champions.”

Trevor Brazile

Trevor Brazile

“MGM hosts the 10th Night, where cowboys come and receive their saddles and there’s a big concert from Lee Brice this year,” said Trevor Brazile, the 16-time all-around world champion from Decatur, Texas. “Tenth Night is going to be a spectacle at the MGM.”

Yes, it is. But the MGM Grand has planned and prepared for the NFR experience to be that way. The MGM Grand is the closest resort to the Thomas and Mack Center, which hosts the rodeo’s 10 nightly performances. It’s why Brazile and 17 other world champions – representing 80 gold buckles – make the MGM Grand their home. They’ll be joined by 20 other contestants who have qualified for the 2012 NFR.

The MGM Grand also is a host hotel for the NFR, marking its commitment to the championship event. That’s quite fitting.

“It’s just become the spot to be during the NFR,” Brazile said. “I think it’s the ‘The Home of Champions’ and everybody else at the NFR. The MGM has become the social event of the national finals.”

The NFR boasts of nightly crowds between 17,000-18,000 for each of the 10 go-rounds, but Las Vegas is home to tens of thousands of fans daily – they come to Vegas just to be part of the NFR experience. The NFR is simulcast live through various casinos, but none has quite the showcase of the MGM Grand, which will open doors to the Hollywood Theatre at 5:30 p.m. daily so rodeo fans can enjoy the live stadium feed for free while enjoying all the luxuries that come with the MGM Grand.

“They’ve had such a great collective effort in making it a great place during the NFR,” Brazile said. “It’s cowboy friendly. It is home to probably the best live remote NFR show there is in town at the Hollywood Theatre. That’s probably the second hardest ticket to get in town that week, other than getting into the Thomas & Mack.”

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

In addition, rodeo fans can enjoy the NRS Shopping Experience, which will feature a plethora of great Western clothes, accessories and other fabulous items – it is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily in the Marquee Ballroom at the MGM Grand. The ever-expanding NFR experience was developed by Tim Kelly, the MGM Grand’s vice president.

“Partnering with the PRCA is another example of MGM Grand’s commitment to the Western lifestyle and the sport of ProRodeo,” Kelly said. “We look forward to providing the loyal PRCA members and fans a year-round home in Las Vegas.”

The contestants recognize that.

“Not only does the MGM promote rodeo, but they promote so many other venues, from boxing to the music awards,” said Lindsay Sears, the reigning and two-time world champion barrel racer from Nanton, Alberta. “There’s so much going on at the hotel, and there’s always a variety of things to do. That’s what’s so cool about the MGM.

Lindsay Sears

Lindsay Sears

“I think the MGM makes the contestants available and are promoting them through pictures all over the hotel, and that the fans get the chance to meet us. For me, I get the chance to say hi and personally meet them. The MGM provides a personal connection. The MGM promotes us like we are stars. That’s what rodeo needs, and that’s what rodeo is lacking. I want to meet every little girl that I can possibly meet, and the MGM gives us the opportunity to let that happen.”

Daily events

NRS Shopping Experience 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Trevor Brazile World Championship Display MGM Grand Lobby
Million Dollar Cowboy Saloon featuring Gold Buckle Champions at Rouge opens 2 p.m.
Free Shuttle to NFR 5 p.m. Departs Gold Buckle Zone West Tower entrance
Free Wrangler NFR Stadium Live Feed Hollywood Theatre, 5:30 p.m.
Exclusive Genetics $1 million Bull Riding Contest Hollywood Theatre, 5:30 p.m.
Crown Royal Roper Gold Buckle Zone live music, dancing, performances 9 p.m.
NFR contestant arrivals Gold Buckle Zone 9 p.m.
Rodney Carrington in Hollywood Theatre, 10 p.m.
Cactus Saddlery nightly saddle drawing at Gold Buckle Zone, 11 p.m.

Special events

Friday, Dec. 7 – Miss Rodeo America Autograph Session 9:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. • Special appearance Lo Cash Cowboys 10 p.m. • Gypsy Soule Fashion show 11 p.m. all in Gold Buckle Zone
Saturday, Dec. 8 – Miss Rodeo America Fashion Show 12:30 p.m. Conference Center • Miss Rodeo America Autograph Session 9:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. • Lo Cash Cowboys 10 p.m. Gold Buckle Zone
Sunday, Dec. 9 – Elevation Sunday 11 a.m. Hollywood Theatre
Monday, Dec. 10 – Crown Royal Bull Riders Autograph Session 10 p.m. Gold Buckle Zone
Tuesday, Dec. 11 – MGM Grand Gold Buckle All-Star Autograph Session 2-4 p.m. Lobby with featuring our NFR Gold Buckle Champions including Trevor Brazile
Wednesday, Dec. 12 – Miss Rodeo America Coronation 9:30 a.m. Hollywood Theatre • Crown Royal Bull Riders Autograph Session 10 p.m. Gold Buckle Zone
Thursday, Dec. 13 – MGM Grand Gold Buckle All-Star Autograph Session 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Lobby featuring our NFR Gold Buckle Champions including Trevor Brazile
Friday, Dec. 14 – PRCA Tie Down Ropers Autograph Session Lobby noon-2 p.m. • Cowboy All Star Fan Salute After Party Gold Buckle Zone 9 p.m. • Gypsy Soule Fashion show 11 p.m. Gold Buckle Zone
Saturday, Dec. 15 – Trevor Brazile World Championship After Party Gold Buckle Zone 9 p.m. • Justin Cowboy Crises Check Presentation Gold Buckle Zone 10 p.m. • Free Lee Brice Concert 11p.m. Gold Buckle Zone • NRS Horse Trailer Giveaway 11 p.m. Gold Buckle Zone