LAS VEGAS – Justin McDaniel is pretty good at riding bucking horses.
The proof is in his 2008 world champion’s gold buckle, one earned through the rigors of the regular season, then a dominating performance at that year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
He’s also pretty good at riding the toughest bucking horse in the business, and he proved that again Wednesday night during the NFR’s seventh round. McDaniel posted an 82-point ride on Beutler & Son Rodeo’s Wonderland to finish third in the round, with $10,895. He has earned $13,840 so far.
“It’s a horse I’ve been on before,” said McDaniel, a five-time NFR qualifier from Porum, Okla. “She’s a different horse than the last time I got on her. She’s really strong, but she was kind of one of the nicer ones to have in this pen. This is the eliminator pen, so there were a bunch of scary broncs in there.”
Yes, there were. Four of the best bareback riders in the world bucked off, and another suffered a no-score. The “eliminators” are described as strong and hard to ride, but McDaniel worked through the power to score a solid ride. What’s more is that he battled through some injuries to last the qualifying eight seconds – he’s having a disc issue with his lower back and a banged up shoulder.
“I’m going to grit it out and keep having fun,” he said as he lay in the Justin Sportsmedicine training room covered in ice. “I’m just going to try to win go-rounds.”
Both are nagging aches that come from being strapped to bucking horses for a living. It doesn’t help that Wonderland is among the toughest in the world.
“These are the toughest horses, the strong ones, but they’re the ones we win on all year long,” McDaniel said. “It’s still the NFR, and there’s still the best bucking horses in the world we have for the rest of the NFR.
“I’m really impressed with the horses we have this year.”
The ride marked just the second time in seven rounds that McDaniel has placed – he finished sixth last Friday, the last time the “eliminators” were bucked.
“I’m not going to worry about how much I’ve won so far,” he said, noting that first place in a go-round pays $18,257. “I’m just going to try to do the best I can and see what happens, but, yeah, that $18,000 a night sure helps.