Archive for November, 2014

postheadericon A time of thanks

Thanksgiving weekend means so much for many people, and it’s something different for each personality.

For me, it’s family. It’s card games, just like we had at Grandma and Grandad’s when I was younger. It’s laughing over turkey, then staring at dessert table while wondering what else could fit inside my tummy.

Ted Harbin TwisTED Rodeo

Ted Harbin
TwisTED Rodeo

It’s being thankful, as the day implies, for God’s blessings and for the love that is shared around the room. It’s looking at my beautiful wife and smiling at my children as they play. It’s wondering if my youngest will actually eat protein or if she can, in fact, survive on bread, potatoes, noodles, pie and cake.

It also is about missing those closest to you that live so far away. I was home yesterday, but I also was homesick. Our lives get busy, and our concern is more immediate than distant. Sporting events and school activities are the primary focus, because that is doing things with our children.

That 20-minute drive to my in-law’s is so much more relaxing than the eight-hour commute to see my family. Sleeping in my own bed instead of a motel that was built long before I was born is much more tempting.

Alas, I still miss hearing my sister’s laugh and playing football with her only grandson. I miss a cold beer with my cousins and cards with my aunts and uncles. I miss Aunt Helen’s broccoli-and-rice casserole and lining up around the bar in her kitchen to get all the goodies.

The good news, though, is my plate is always half full. In just a few days, I travel to Las Vegas to share a couple weeks with a big part of my life, my rodeo family. It’s time for the sport’s grand finale. It means a lot of work and a lot of writing, and it means I’m away from my daughters for a long time.

But this is my passion, and I get to share that with my rodeo family. I am beyond honored to tell rodeo tales and get the word out about our sport to people across the country.

I’m thankful for all that I have and the opportunities that are ahead. I truly lead a blessed life.

postheadericon Durfey is a true cowboy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written for Tyson Durfey and submitted to Rodeo Athletes, an online magazine. Check out the website’s coverage filled with photos. I am publishing it here to celebrate Tyson’s birthday. Happy Thanksgiving to all you true cowboys and cowgirls, whether it’s because you rope and ride or because you’ve always dreamed of being one.

 

Long before he won three Canadian championships and qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo seven times, Tyson Durfey dreamed of being and rodeo cowboy

“As a kid, I was surrounded by cowboys,” said Durfey, who burst onto the rodeo scene by becoming the first American-born contestant to win a Canadian Professional Rodeo Association title when he earned the championship in 2006. “My dad was a cowboy, my grandfather was a cowboy and my brothers were cowboys. All I wanted was to be a cowboy.”

Durfey looked up to all the cowboys in his life. There were many. His father, Roy, is recognized in rodeo circles as one of the elite trainers of tie-down roping horses and calf ropers. It’s a craft he continues to practice on his land just outside of Savannah, Mo., in the state’s northwestern corner.

It’s in those rolling hills that 4-year-old Tyson Durfey would ride his pony alongside his father and hear the stories of true cowboys. He learned that Jesse James had ridden through the same brush, and he learned all the fine details of being a cowboy: Riding horses is just one thing; cowboys needed to know what it meant to stand up for people who needed it and to live by a strong moral code.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

“One thing I still hold onto today is that when I give someone my word, that’s as good as anything I can give them and that I will stand by it,” he said. “For my dad, it was a way for him to babysit me. For me, it was a lifestyle. It was something I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life.”

He watched deer bound across corn fields and cattle feast on grain. He hunted rabbits and squirrels and held tightly those ideals that had been passed along to him through the generations and in his own imagination.

Part of that is being the son of Roy Durfey. Part of it is having two older brothers who also were cowboys and talented ropers. Wes is the oldest, 10 years older than Tyson. Travis is in the middle, five years removed from both siblings.

That was an amazing influence on Tyson, who has taken the competitive edge further than anyone in the family. He won Canadian titles in 2006, ’08 and 2011, and this December will compete at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time in eight years.

But his influences are deeper than that. Tyson Durfey recalls watching greats like Joe Beaver and Troy Pruitt inside his home, taking those same lessons he was receiving. He saw the biggest names in the game compete on his father’s horses.

“At a young age, we were at the American Royal in Kansas City, and I was sitting on a horse and saw Fred Whitfield there,” Durfey said. “I had always heard my dad talking about him. Then all of the sudden, Fred Whitfield was walking over to me, this little redheaded kid sitting on a huge horse.

“He stuck his hand up to mine to shake it. It was a massive hand. He looked at me with a really serious look on his face and asked me if I was going to be good. I just nodded my head and said, ‘Yes, sir.’ That was my first chance to meet Fred Whitfield, but it stuck with me all my life.”

Each meeting became a huge blessing and further fueled Durfey’s fire. That ignition switch has paid plenty of dividends over his 31 years. In 2001 and ’02, he earned the Missouri High School Rodeo Association tie-down roping championship. Shortly afterward, he set out on his career in ProRodeo.

Along the way, he has racked up more than a million dollars in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association earnings. That doesn’t include the cash he’s earned north of the border, nor money earned at countless jackpots, amateur rodeos and that cool $100,000 prize he earned earlier this year by winning RFD-TV’s The American.

As a redheaded youngster, he learned the lessons of great horses and what it takes to ride them correctly through each run. He got a front-row seat as Roy Durfey made his name as one of the greatest calf-roping horsemen in the game.

“I wanted to make my name competing, winning,” Tyson Durfey said. “I believe in the horsemanship, and I feel like I’m a work in progress. I continue to work on it every day. If you get to where you think you’re good, then you’re not going to work at getting better. That’s what keeps all of us involved in the sport. It’s a never-ending story that keeps getting rewritten.”

Like any good novel, Durfey’s story line has changed over the years. He was just 23 years old when he won that first Canadian buckle, just 24 when he played in Las Vegas for the first time. Though he called his 10-night run at the NFR a struggle that year, he learned a lot.

“If you would’ve told me in 2006 that I would’ve finished in the top 15 in the world, I would’ve been ecstatic, but instead, I felt like 2007 was a huge letdown,” he said. “I felt a lot of pressure that first year. I was so young and was so structured in the way I did things. I didn’t realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

“I just wanted to win and beat them, but at the end of the day, it boils down to being the best person you can be and doing the best you can do every time. I was more focused on trying to win than I was at trying to be the best I could be at the rodeo.”

Durfey’s second NFR went much better. He won a go-round and placed in five others. Most importantly, he finished second in the average. In 2009, he finished third in the 10-run aggregate while placing in seven rounds. He moved up nine spots to finish third in the final world standings. That is his best finish to date.

“The thing about Las Vegas is you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You can look at everything and expect someone to have a great finals, and it just doesn’t work out that way.”

Those are the ups and downs of being a professional cowboy. Durfey knows the rodeo roller coaster is filled with equal parts queasiness and thrills, whether the ride is in Las Vegas or near the Washington coast.

When he first started making a name for himself, Tyson Durfey traveled the rodeo trail in a stock trailer hauling a borrowed horse.

“Half that year, I slept in the back of my truck,” he said.

Much has changed along his roller-coaster ride. A little more than a year ago, he married Australian-born country singer Shea Fisher, and the couple took its honeymoon shortly after the 2013 NFR. He finds great comfort in having a great home life, despite the gypsy lifestyle that comes with being a rodeo cowboy.

“My life has changed astronomically since I first got started,” Durfey said. “I’m married now, I have my own house, my own place, my own indoor arena. I’ve been extremely blessed. I feel more grounded, more down to earth.”

That comfort has enabled Durfey to live the life he always has dreamed about. He’s a rodeo cowboy, just like his heroes. He has sponsors who not only support him but appreciate that he’s the perfect identity for their brands.

He’s built his reputation through hard work, God-given talent and integrity. It has allowed Tyson Durfey many blessings throughout an already distinguished career. It’s allowed him to chase his gold-buckle dreams, ride fast horses and compete on his sport’s biggest stages every year.

It sounds like an amazing country song, most likely performed by Shea Fisher, who has fallen in love with a redheaded rodeo cowboy that is just carrying on a family legacy.

postheadericon Smith focused, ready for the NFR

REXBURG, Idaho – When Wyatt Smith looks back at 2014, he points to a certain moment as the turning point and a key reason as to why he qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“San Antonio was a huge boost for me,” said Smith, who won the steer wrestling title in San Antonio this past February. “I got a lot of confidence from that, and I was able to stay very consistent through the year.”

It paid off. Smith pocketed $57,188 through the regular season, which ran through the end of September. He heads to Las Vegas next week as the 13th ranked bulldogger – only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete for the biggest pay in the game. Go-round winners will earn $19,000 each night for 10 nights.

Wyatt Smith

Wyatt Smith

“It still hasn’t really set in; all I’m doing is living out a dream,” said Smith, 26, of Rexburg, Idaho.

The dream started two decades ago as a youngster in a rodeo family. His father, Lynn, and mother, Valorie, provided the tools for Wyatt and his younger brother, Garrett.

“Rodeo is a lifestyle,” Wyatt Smith said. “My family is the big boost in every way that they can, from helping me take care of horses all the time to helping take care of everything when I’m gone. Everything we do is rodeo, rodeo, rodeo.

“My mom helps me a lot with goal-setting. It would help me keep my focus and drive and take care of practice and everything else. When school was out, I was saddling horses, and we were practicing. My dad had everything ready for us when we needed.”

That type of support means everything to Smith, who also won event titles in Evanston, Wyo., and Salt Lake City.

“There’s never a negative moment in our house,” he said. “We were just a little small family from Rexburg, Idaho. I’ve always had that positive influence and the push and drive.”

That influence and a true passion has been a guiding force for Smith, who won both the National High School Rodeo Association and the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association championships in the all-around and steer wrestling. A big part of that was the dedication he had to getting better.

“When I was younger, my idol was Ty Murray,” Smith said of the nine-time world champion. “He did lots of gymnastics, learning to use his body and control his body. He was one of the greatest and a legend. If he was doing it, I wanted to learn.

“It was just a way to stay in shape and keep the flexibility and control in my body.”

It seems to have worked well for Smith, who began competing in ProRodeo in 2008. He has finished among the top 55 cowboys in the world standings each of the previous three years, but his run in 2014 is his best so far.

Through all the greatness that came his way over the last 12 months, there was one major challenge. In mid-May, he lost his main partner, a 14-year-old gelding he called Short Bus.

“It was dang sure tough,” Smith said, his voice cracking. “When we travel around, it’s just just the traveling partners that become our family; our horses are, too. It’s how we make money and how we survive. Losing a good horse is tragic to a lot of things. I was just fortunate to have other horses to get on this year.”

Short Bus suffered a brain aneurism while Smith was at the rodeo in Ramona, Calif. The horse died just before Smith was to compete.

“That made it awful tough for the night,” he said. “I held it together to bulldog and haze a few steers, then I handed the horses off and headed to the truck. I was done for the night.”

That painful moment could have derailed everything Smith had worked for, but he viewed it more as a challenge to overcome. He knew there still was business ahead of him, so he tended to it, all while traveling with a team of steer wrestlers called “The Recking Crew”: Smith, Tom Lewis, Sean Santucci and Christin Radabaugh.

“What I like most about rodeo is the lifestyle,” he said. “We get to travel around the country and see different places. We get to go anywhere we want and get to do what we love. You set yourself up to be around great people all the time.”

Now he has the opportunity to ply his trade on rodeo’s grandest stage, the NFR.

“There are a lot of guys who could be at the finals right now that just didn’t have the luck,” Smith said. “There are so many bulldoggers out there that bulldog outstanding. It’s such a privilege to be one of the top 15 in the world and get to go to the finals.

“I’d love to win a round buckle. I want to go at it like I do at every rodeo I go to, and that’s to win as much money as I can.”

When the dust settles on the final night of the 2014 season, the contestants who have earned the most money in each event will earn the gold buckle awarded to the world champion.

“That would be outstanding and would be a lifelong achievement,” he said. “It is dang sure a possibility and is within reach if everything goes right. You’re always reaching for that, but in the back of your mind, you’re going to take each pen of steers one at a time.

“I don’t have to beat all the greats. I have to throw my steers down and let them play out the rest.”

postheadericon ‘Good Ol’ Gals Tell All’ about cowboys

LAS VEGAS – Terri Powers thinks there are more pertinent story lines about the Western lifestyle than most books written on the subject portray.

“When I decided to write books for the rodeo crowd, I saw that most cowboy books out there are either historical, old-timey stuff or Western romance novels,” said Powers, an author from Albuquerque, N.M. “Instead, I want to do entertaining books that are more relevant to today’s cowboy.”

She’s done it so far. Powers wrote Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield, which was released in 2013. It’s been quite a success, especially among rodeo fans that have followed the career of Whitfield, an eight-time world champion calf roper and pro rodeo’s most decorated African-American cowboy.

This December, Powers releases “Cowboy Tails, Good Ol’ Gals Tell All,” a collection of short stories from women who have loved cowboys “to varying degrees of success.” She will be in Las Vegas from Dec. 5-14 for signings and appearances during the upcoming National Finals Rodeo.

“The book is based on my decision at 8 years old to never marry a cowboy,” Powers said. “I remember being quite certain, even as a little kid, that I didn’t want to end up with a cowboy.”

It’s something she never thought about again until writing Whitfield’s story.

“It was then that I realized there are some really awesome women out there who would not have anything but a cowboy,” she said. “I wondered what they knew that I didn’t, and Cowboy Tails was born. Regardless of the specifics, I figured the women’s stories would be a good time, and they are.”

Rodeo life is nothing new to Powers, whose father designed and built rodeo equipment during the 1960s. Her older brother was a tie-down roper, and her son is a team roper. Having seen the heartbreak rodeo can bring, she was never interested in it herself.

“I have always loved horses and still do,” she said.

Though she wanted to remain tied to cowboys and the rodeo way of life, Powers wanted her second book to be as far removed from her first as she could get.

“Gold Buckles was about somebody; Cowboy Tails is about everybody,” Powers said. “I started with my friends, women that I knew had been with cowboys. Very early, I knew I was on to something, so I next took it to the cyber crowd and talked to woman all over the country. I listened to them tell of the perks and perils of life with a cowboy, then, at the end, I analyzed my decision based on their stories.”

And, oh, what stories.

“There are 43 chapters,” Powers said. “The majority of them are one woman telling one story in one chapter, however, there are three or four women with stories throughout the book, which is structured to follow the course of a woman’s life: The first ones, the last ones and all the ones in between.”

Powers interviewed every woman, most of whom remain anonymous.

“The only common thread among the woman was that they had loved a cowboy, so their stories are all over the map,” she said. “I heard stories about stereotypical ornery, rotten rodeo cowboys, as well as stories of men who made me proud to me an American. They were very funny, but also very heart-warming.”

There are stories from women through the generations.

“One of my favorite stories is from a woman whose father was a cowboy, but her mother was a city girl from San Diego who fell for all of his outlandish stories,” Powers said. “He once told her that cockleburs were porcupine embryos, and if you put them into the oven, they would hatch. She believed him.”

Bull riders really took a hit in this book, and Powers said there were some wild stories about them. While she wasn’t too surprised about the bull riders, Powers said she was surprised to hear about another side of often chauvinist cowboys.

“Many women talked about how their cowboys pushed them to do more than they ever thought they could,” she said. “I found that paradox interesting. These supposed chauvinists often had more faith in their women’s abilities than the women themselves had, and pushed them far beyond their comfort zone.”

Updated information on Las Vegas signings and appearances will be made on the book’s website, www.CowboyTails.com. Some of the storytellers will be with her periodically during the NFR.

So why is this the best time to release the book?

“I wanted to get the biggest start I could,” she said. “I think it will make an awesome Christmas gift. This book is angled toward women, but in the end, I think it appeals to everybody.”

She also will begin investigating her next book while in Las Vegas.

“The women have had their turn, but I think my next book will allow the cowboys to have their say,” Powers said. “I’ll be talking to as many cowboys as I can during this year’s NFR and have Cowboy Tails II ready to release at next year’s NFR.”

When the National Finals Rodeo heads to Las Vegas every December, 119 contestants will battle for the top prize money in the game. They bring with them hundreds of thousands of fans to the Nevada desert looking for stories of cowboys, cowgirls and the Western lifestyle.

Terri Powers has found a perfect niche with rodeo fans and plans to stay there for years to come.

postheadericon Frost living a dream with NFR bid

RANDLETT, Utah – As a child, Joe Frost did what most kids do: He let his imagination take him anywhere it wanted to go.

Even then, his imagination carried Frost along the rodeo trail. It’s what he knew. It’s how he lived.

“We didn’t play football or baseball,” he said. “When we played, we pretended we were at the NFR. We based everything off rodeoing, winning go-rounds. We didn’t know anything else and didn’t want to do anything else.”

Childhood is about wonder and fascination. It’s about playing in the dirt and dreaming big dreams.

Joe Frost is living his dreams in rodeo. The 2014 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association bull riding champion will now carry his amazing season over to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s marquee event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas.

Joe Frost

Joe Frost

“It’s something that’s been a goal and a plan for as long as I can remember,” said Frost, 22, of Randlett. “It’s everybody’s dream to ride at the national finals and to win a world title. You can’t win a world title without making it to the national finals.

“When you’re in youth rodeos and high school rodeos and college rodeos, you’re riding with that goal in mind. The films that everybody watches are from the NFR. That is the ultimate goal and the ultimate place to ride at.”

Frost earned his way to the game’s grand championship by winning $69,558 through the rigors of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association regular season. He is 11th in the world standings heading into Las Vegas, where he will battle for his share of the $6.375 million purse. Go-round winners will collect $19,000 each round for 10 nights.

But there’s so much more to Frost, who also competes in tie-down roping and steer wrestling when his schedule allows. In fact, the Utah cowboy earned the 2014 Linderman Award for excelling in both roughstock and timed events.

“I enter about 12 to 15 rodeos roping calves and steer wrestling and go to about 80 to 90 in bull riding,” he said. “I’m not consistently roping calves and steer wrestling, and it’s making it hard to be as competitive as I should be.

“In steer wrestling and calf roping, there are so many variables with your horse, drawing the animals you can win on and everything that goes with it. You can virtually not get on a practice bull all year long and still be sharp in bull riding just by competing.”

In addition to competing in ProRodeo, Frost is in the middle of his senior season at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in the small community of Goodwell, Okla. In 2013, he was one of the key members of the Panhandle State team that won the men’s college title. This past June, he rode all four bulls at the College National Finals Rodeo to claim the bull riding title.

He is the only contestant in this year’s NFR field of 119 contestants who has a chance to win the college title and the world title in the same year. The last time that was done was in 2007, when Panhandle State rodeo team alumnus Taos Muncy did so in saddle bronc riding, becoming just the third cowboy in PRCA history to have won both crowns in the same calendar year.

“When I first came to look at school, they have an office, and it’s Taos Muncy’s,” said Frost, who has sponsorship arrangements with Rodeo Mart and Wrangler. “(Coach) Craig Latham told me, ‘If you win the college title and the world title in the same year, we’ll build you an office.’ ”

That certainly was appealing to a young man looking toward his future, but there were several other reasons why he chose to move from the Utah mountains to the Plains of the Oklahoma Panhandle. He was offered an opportunity to grow as a cowboy and as a young man; both are vital for the Frost family: dad, Shane; mom, Lisa; brothers Josh, 19, and Jate, 13; and sister, Jacelyn, 10.

“College rodeo as allowed me to get an education,” he said. “Craig and Robert (Etbauer) have been really good with me to go to ProRodeos. It’s a huge priority for me to win the region team title. As much as I’d love to win the college bull riding title again, it would be more important for me to help win the team title again.”

While the team approach is amazing for college, Frost has individual goals for his inaugural visit to the NFR. He knows it’s going to take a lot of talent and a little luck for it all to come together, but that’s the way the bull riding bull bounces.

“My goal is to win the average and leave as the world champion,” Frost said. “My main goal is to ride 10 bulls one at a time. If I can keep my focus on my bull riding, then I need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented. I’m going to keep it simple and keep it about riding bulls, then everything else will take care of itself.”

That’s a brilliant outlook for such a young cowboy, but he was raised that way. Shane Frost rode bulls, then raised a family on their Utah ranch. He and Lisa’s four children have been involved in riding horses and ranching all their lives. Shane built an arena just feet from the front door of the house, and the kids have had every opportunity to ride, rope and wrestle.

“Our family life was based off ranching, and every night we were out there practicing,” Joe Frost said. “My family is really close. It’s important when we can be together.

“As far as my bull riding career, I’ve never been to a bull riding school. Being around my dad, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, he can relate it back to bull riding and rodeo. You need to have a good attitude.”

That has gone a long ways in making Joe Frost who he is. That’s why he’s going to the NFR in 2014. That’s why he’s 22 years old and already a champion.

postheadericon Pierce returns to rodeo elite, NFR

EDMOND, Okla. – Carlee Pierce and her family needed a breather from the rigors of the rodeo trail.

The Oklahoma cowgirl took it.

That was in June 2013, when Pierce was the third-ranked cowgirl in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s barrel racing standings. Instead of chasing the world championship at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, she packed up her trailer and headed home.

Carlee Pierce

Carlee Pierce

“I took a break last year when I was on my way to a third consecutive NFR,” said Pierce, who was born in Alberta and raised in northwest Oklahoma. “I always said when my family was worn out with it, I’d stay home. After several months at home, everybody decided staying home and being ‘normal’ wasn’t exactly fun.

“This year I spent more time on the road with and without them with no expectations of making the NFR, so it turned into a successful year.”

Yes, it was. Pierce earned $90,431 through the regular season and heads to ProRodeo’s premier event next week No. 13 in the world standings – only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete at the NFR, set for Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Now she will take a shot at the biggest play in the game with a purse of $6.375 million; go-round winners will earn $19,000 per night for the 10-round affair.

But it meant more time away from her family: husband, Steve; son, Kale; and daughters, Makala and Jacy.

“The rodeo trail hasn’t changed,” Pierce said. “It’s still a lot of hours and a lot of driving. It doesn’t bother me as much when my family goes, but when they were at home, it seemed like I was gone for years.”

Still, she took advantage. She had key wins through the season and collected a lot of checks, but her biggest two victories came in Red Bluff, Calif., in April and Hermiston, Ore., in August. She won both rounds and the two-run average title at both, pocketing $5,442 in California and $8,247 in Oregon.

That money went a long ways to helping her reach the goal of returning to the NFR, where she has excelled. In her first appearance in 2011, Pierce raced to two round wins while placing in three others to win $50,769. A year later, she earned $79,802 and finished the 2012 campaign as the reserve world champion with $204,322.

“Sometimes I ask myself the question, ‘Why do I rodeo?’ ” said Pierce, who earlier this year moved her family from Stephenville, Texas, to Edmond, though the Pierces will keep their Texas ranch. “I guess it is a passion I have. I can’t go one day without thinking about it, and I feel like I am so far from accomplishing all my goals in rodeo.”

She will have another chance in the City of Lights, where she plans to ride a couple of young horses inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I am running both of my girls in Vegas,” she said. “Tiny is 5, and Lolo is 6. Both are pretty green in the rodeo world, but I have faith in them, and I know this is a good experience in preparation for the 2015 season. I am really excited about how talented they are.”

She will need all the talent the two sorrel mares can muster. The NFR field is loaded with NFR regulars like Kaley Bass, Lisa Lockhart and Christy Loflin, as well as world champions Mary Walker and Sherry Cervi, the latter of who owns four gold buckles.

“The NFR is always the best of the best,” Pierce said. “I know there are some amazing horses in that mix. It’s definitely going to be a great horserace.”

That’s the way it should be when the world title is on the line. Pierce is about $65,000 behind Bass, the world standings leader from Kissimmee, Fla., but she can make up that ground quickly in Las Vegas. With the payouts so high, the Oklahoma cowgirl can catch the leaders in just four rounds.

It will take a lot of talent and a little bit of luck, but Carlee Pierce is ready for it all.

postheadericon Scheer ready for a run at the title

ELSMERE, Neb. – Cort Scheer is one of the best saddle bronc riders in ProRodeo.

He’s been one of the best for several years, and next week he heads to his fourth qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas.

“Every year you go into the finals feeling confident, but this is probably the most confident I’ve ever been going into it,” said Scheer, 28, of Elsmere.

He has reason to feel that way. Scheer is the No. 3 bronc rider in the world standings, having earned $102,413 through the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association regular season. He trails standings leader and two-time world champion Taos Muncy by a little more than $24,000.

“It’s awesome that we’re in that position,” Scheer said, referring to the fact that both he and Muncy were part of the rodeo team at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “It all goes back to the practice pen when Taos and I and all those guys were getting on in a $10 jackpot.”

Each man who put his name in the hat ponied up $10, and the high-marked cowboy won the pot.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“Back in the day, all we wanted to do was win a $10 jackpot,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that we’re still going at each other. That’s the best opportunity in the world when you start off riding with the best. You aren’t just riding against anybody; you’re riding against the best in the world.

“Now instead of a $10 jackpot, you’re riding for $19,000 a round.”

The NFR is the perfect place to excel. It offers the largest purse in the game, $6.375 million, and features only the top 15 contestants in each event in the world standings. In rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestant in each event who finishes the 2014 campaign with the most money is crowned world champion. It’s well within Scheer’s grasp.

“Doing so well at the Canadian Finals (Rodeo) helps a ton with my confidence,” said Scheer, who won the average title earlier this month in Edmonton, Alberta. I’m pretty excited.

“This is the best year I’ve ever had. I usually have a pretty good winter, and I did.”

He was rather consistent this season. He earned eight event titles this year, from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pendleton, Ore. He also won the January rodeo in Denver.

“The win at Pendleton was probably the biggest one of the year and the most unique one,” he said. “I wasn’t even planning on going and didn’t think I had enough horse in the first round to make it back to the short round. I ended up going, and the horse was pretty good. In the short round, the only horse in the pen I didn’t know was the horse I had.”

It turned out to be just fine. Scheer scored 91 points on Four Star Rodeo’s Rounder to win the short round and the average title.

“Just to win in that arena in the grass and to be able to take the victory lap around the track there, it was awesome,” he said.

Scheer has won a lot in a career that began seven seasons ago. In addition to attending Panhandle State on a rodeo scholarship, he also was on the rodeo teams at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Montana State University. He first qualified for the NFR in 2010, then missed the next season after suffering a knee injury – he still finished 2011 among the top 25 in the world. He has returned to Las Vegas every year since.

“If you don’t have momentum, you don’t have consistency or confidence,” said Scheer, who was raised on the Nebraska sandhills, the youngest of three children born to Kevin and Pam Scheer. “When you get that on your side, it dang sure helps you. When a guy is confident, you feel like you can’t do anything wrong.”

He hasn’t been on a bronc since the final round of the Canadian Finals on Nov. 9, but he’s has a bit of a swagger after his successful run.

“I think the timing of it is big because it’s just before the NFR,” he said. “It’s also the format of it, the horses and the caliber of the cowboys. Most of those horses will be at the finals.

“My whole mindset was moving on to the next one. No matter how I did, I put it behind me and moved on to the next one. Now it’s been on the NFR. My saddle feels great, and I feel great. Ninety percent of bronc riding is mental. I’m real confident in my saddle, real confident in myself. I’ve also been staying in good shape.”

The past few weeks have been vital for Scheer, who has spent virtually all of it at his Nebraska home. He helps his dad and brother, Clete, on the ranch every day. That type of manual labor is good for the mind and the body. Now he has his sights set firmly on the Nevada desert, where he hopes to take a step up from a solid 2013 NFR – he was one of only two men to ride all 10 broncs, finishing second in the average.

“I learned a lot from last year,” Scheer said. “I felt like I could ride better than I did in a lot of those rounds. You learn from those mistakes. You always want to be at the top of the food chain. It looked like I was riding for the average in the end.

“I’d rather be known for a guy who rides for the rounds and not for the average. I might as well be 85 instead of 75. Sure it’s a confidence booster you can ride them, but you just have to better yourself in the end.”

That’s a solid approach by the humble cowboy. It’s the reason he has been so victorious this year and why he’s one of the elite bronc riders in the game.

It’s why he’ll battle for the world title.

postheadericon Champion living up to his name

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Richmond Champion lives life a little bit on the edge.

Why else would any sane man strap himself to a 1,100-pound bucking horse in order to make a living?

“You’ve got every wild and free thing in the palm of your hand,” said Champion, 21, of The Woodlands. “It’s awesome. There’s nothing like it. I just crave it. It’s the best job in the world. You have to feel it to understand it.”

Champion is a professional rodeo cowboy, one of the very best bareback riders in the game in 2014. Next week, he will showcase it to the world during his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier championship event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. It’s the perfect place to put a defining exclamation point to an incredible season.

He is the seventh-ranked bareback rider in the world standings, where points equal dollars earned in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association through the rigors of the 12-month season. Champion has pocketed just shy of $90,000 in the PRCA, but his season has provided much more than that.

Richmond Champion

Richmond Champion

“My biggest win, obviously, was The American,” he said of the non-PRCA rodeo that took place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where he won the bareback riding title and $1.1 million. “That’s the biggest victory ever. The American changed my whole life and how I want to go about my career.

“Following that, I’d have to say winning Cheyenne (Wyo.) and being 91 points at the Daddy of ’Em All. Just the way that story unfolded … for different reasons, that was the biggest PRCA win of my career.”

The win in Arlington came in early March; the victory in Cheyenne came in late July. Mixed in between was a fine recipe of quality rides and key titles: Guymon, Okla.; Walla Walla, Wash.; and Gladewater, Texas, just to name a few.

“This season has been a dream come true,” said Champion, who as a collegian at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in June. “Making the NFR is a goal reached. It’s kind of surreal knowing I’m heading there. I’m really excited.

“It’s the freakin’ NFR. There’s no downplaying that. It’s going to be a stage I’ve never been on before. It’s going to be intense.”

Only the top 15 cowboys in each event earn the right to compete for the biggest pay in the game. The purse is more than $6 million for the 10-round finale. Each night, contestants will battle for the $19,000 payday for winning a go-round. The elite bareback riders will be testing their skills against the greatest bucking horses of 2014.

As an NFR rookie, Champion will also be in the field with legends: three-time reigning world champion Kaycee Feild, three-time titlist Will Lowe, four-time winner Bobby Mote and 2008 world champ Justin McDaniel – they own the last nine bareback riding gold buckles.

“I’m not going to worry about Kaycee Feild or anybody else,” Champion said. “Kaycee’s going to do what Kaycee’s going to do, and I have no doubt it’s going to be at a phenomenal level. I set my goals high, and I’m going in there confident.”

He should. He has qualified for the NFR in just his third season as a PRCA member – he finished 2012 in second place in the rookie-of-the-year race. That’s not too bad for a man who has only been riding bucking horses less than five years.

“I’ve always been involved in something competitive, whether it was skiing or riding,” he said. “I had an older brother, and you just naturally grow up in a competitive nature. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’re going to be competitive with each other.

“We also moved around a lot. Once I got comfortable somewhere, it was time to move again and start over. I think that’s what attracted me to rodeo. You’re constantly moving. You’re constantly competing. Growing up that way, you have to adapt. I bring that with me when I’m rodeoing.”

The rodeo trail is long and winding. Cowboys travel tens of thousands of miles a year chasing their gold-buckle dreams. Oftentimes they’re away from home for weeks, even months, at a time. It’s not an easy life, but it’s one in which the competitors are following their passions.

For Champion, he finds ease in the support from home.

“My family has been there for me since I started this deal,” he said, pointing to his dad, Greg, and mom, Lori. “Mom had her questions at first; she didn’t want me to get hurt. They’ve just been so supportive of me since my rookie year. My brother, Doug, is the reason I started riding bareback horses. He turned out to be one of my biggest supporters. He got hurt and can’t ride anymore, but he’s been right there with me.

“My family has made a point to travel to come see me. They know being there is important to me. I can’t do it without them. They’ve all made changes since The American has happened. My dad has taken a lot of responsibility for me on the financial side.”

That has helped take the pressure off the young cowboy so he can focus on the task at hand. When he needs an ear, they all are just a phone call away. Doug can help with the riding side of the game, while Mom and Dad do what moms and dads do.

“They’re all successful, but they’ve found a way to support me,” Champion said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

When family isn’t available, he leaned on girlfriend Shelby Smith, who has been around the sport all her life.

“It’s a lot harder to have a relationship in rodeo, but she understands that,” Champion said. “It took this year for me to realize what it takes to have a relationship out there on the road. Your time gets limited. To have Shelby out there with me from time to time, it helps because she comes from a rodeo family. She knows how it works.

“She’s been competitive, so she can help me. She may not know the fundamentals of bareback riding, but as a competitor, she knows how to talk to me. She’s always been there for that.”

That support has been a key ingredient into the success the cowboy has seen in 2014. Of course, that also is the nature of rodeo, where there are friends at every stop along the rodeo trail.

“The best part of rodeo is the comradery,” he said. “There’s no other sport that is this tight-knit. We’re all ready to do anything for one another even though you’re trying to take each other’s money at the same time. It’s a really competitive sport, but you still try to help each other out.

“You can’t get there by yourself, and everybody knows that.”

Now that he’s there, the Texan won’t rest on his accomplishments or his bank account. He has a core group of friends, family and fellow bareback riders to keep him humble. He’s still young enough to crave all-night drives, but that’s mainly because he craves the most coveted prize in the game, the gold buckle.

He is a Champion after all.

postheadericon Rodeo passion leads Bennett to NFR

MORGAN, Utah – The reason Caleb Bennett loves rodeo is very simple.

“The rodeo atmosphere is me,” said Bennett, a bareback rider from Morgan. “It’s like whiskey to a drunk or poker to a gambler; it’s just something you’ve got to have.

“I love it. I love traveling. I love 10-hour drives with buddies, and I love getting on bucking horses when I get there.”

That passion has carried the 26-year-old cowboy to his third straight qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s year-end championship set for Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Only the top 15 contestants from the regular season in each event advance to the 10-round finale, which offers the greatest payout in the game, $6.375 million.

Caleb Bennett

Caleb Bennett

The combatants will all battle for the $19,000 payday during each go-round over 10 December nights in southern Nevada, and the contestants with the most money earned at its conclusion will be crowned world champions. Through the regular season, Bennett pocketed $85,225 and will arrive in Sin City next week No. 8 in the bareback riding world standings.

“Everyone starts the year with the goal of making it to the NFR,” said Bennett, who earned nearly $64,000 last December. “This is how we make our living, so it’s a huge goal.”

The Utah cowboy heads to the finals after his best regular season. He had nine Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association titles in 2014, including wins in Rapid City, S.D.; Clovis, Calif.; Pendleton, Ore.; and the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo.

“Winning the national championship was awesome,” he said of the April rodeo in which he won a boatload of cash and a voucher toward the purchase of a Ram pickup. “That’s always been a goal of mine to go to the Ram finals and win that, and this was only my second year of qualifying for that.

“It’s just another stepping stone and what I want to accomplish in my career.”

His year was solid from start to finish, and that helped him find a comfort zone to this year’s NFR. That’s quite a change from 2013, when he had to finish with a flourish in order to qualify in the 15th and last spot.

“I had a great season, and I tried to plan things differently this year,” Bennett said. “I tried to set up my winter runs by hitting the bigger, better rodeos and taking advantage of that. All summer long I entered like that. I tried to enter smarter instead of by quantity.

“I won more money this year than I had either year before when I qualified. That really made the month of September a lot easier on me. I could go to the bigger ones and relax a little bit and not have to worry about making it.”

That pressure-valve rele3ase paid off in Pendleton, one of the biggest and most historic events in ProRodeo. He rode Sankey Rodeo’s Thunder Monkey for 87 points to win the short go-round and share the average championship with fellow NFR qualifier Tim O’Connell.

“That’s a world-renowned rodeo that everybody wants to win,” said Bennett, who competed on the rodeo team at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, after a stellar career that saw him win the 2007 National High School Finals Rodeo bareback riding title in one of his four qualifications. “I’d never made the short round before, then I snuck in and happened to draw the best horse.”

Of course, nothing comes without assistance. He gets plenty of support from his family; his father, Bob Caldwell, rode bucking horses and continues to compete in team roping; his mother, Claudine, has always been around barrel racing. Bennett, two brothers and three sisters were all raised around the sport and all but one have competed.

“My family’s been a huge support for me,” Bennett said. “I swear my mom is my biggest fan. They’ve always been a great support group of mine to get from points A to B throughout the summer.”

That family also consists of his traveling posse, a foursome of bareback riders who go by the moniker “Flow Riders,” primarily because of their long hair. That group also includes NFR qualifier R.C. Landingham of Pendleton, who has finished 16th each of the past two seasons; Clint Laye of Cadogan, Alberta, among the top 25 in 2013-14; and J.R. Vezain of Cowley, Wyo., a three-time NFR qualifier sitting 10th in the world standings.

“The main reason we started growing our hair was to honor R.C.’s mom, Wendy Stiver, when she started losing her hair while battling cancer,” Bennett said. “She is such a strong woman, and it goes for anyone out there who battles cancer. She’s been an inspiration for all of us. We started growing our hair for her this year.”

Moments like that help the cowboy stay grounded. He realizes he has blessings and talent, and he plans to take advantage of both. He has an amazing support system, which also includes other cowboys.

“The first year I made the finals, Kaycee told me to just keep positive,” he said of Kaycee Feild, a seven-time NFR qualifier and the reigning three-time world champion bareback rider from Spanish Fork, Utah. “I’ve just taken that with me every year. If something didn’t go right, I just let it go and started to focus on the next one.

“That’s what I’m going to do this year. I feel healthier and stronger than I’ve ever felt. I have a good workout routine to hopefully better me. I’m going to just go in there with goals and a winning mindset, because I really want to win that rodeo.”

Doing so would mean finishing with the best 10-ride aggregate score. Feild has done that each of the past three seasons, which is a key reason he won those world championship gold buckles. It’s a great lesson for Bennett, who could add a $48,732 bonus if he were to win the NFR average.

“Anything can happen either way in Las Vegas,” Bennett said. “I’ve watch guys go in and struggle. Last year Kaycee struggled the first two rounds, then all of the sudden, he just stepped up and went hotter than a firecracker.

“To me, that is the biggest lesson. Even if you have a few bad rounds, you can still come back and do well. The last few years I started stronger than I finished, and this year my goal is to finish stronger than I start.”

With that goal in place, Bennett has his eyes set on the top prize in the game: The gold buckle.

postheadericon Durfey heading to his 7th NFR

LAS VEGAS – If seven is a lucky number, Tyson Durfey is counting his blessings.

Next week, Durfey will compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time. It’s just another major step in an already-amazing 11-year tie-down roping career, which includes three Canadian titles, a Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo championship and a $100,000 payday this past March for winning tie-down roping at RFD-TV’s The American.

Over his previous six trips to Las Vegas, the Missouri-born cowboy has had a mixed bag of results. He’s seen great success and struggled. Since his first qualification in 2007, Durfey has missed the finale just once; that was two seasons ago when he finished 18th in the world standings – only the top 15 cowboys at the end of the regular season make the trip to Las Vegas.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

“My dad was a cowboy, my grandfather was a cowboy and my brothers were cowboys,” said Durfey, the youngest son of Roy Durfey, a man well known as an elite trainer of tie-down ropers and calf-roping horses. “All I wanted was to be a cowboy.”

He’s been that way since he was a young man growing up on his father’s place near Savannah, Mo. That’s where he was taught the lessons of being a true rodeo hand. It’s what’s carried him through his 31 years, both as a talented roper and as a man.

“One thing I still hold onto today is that when I give someone my word, that’s as good as anything I can give them and that I will stand by it,” he said.

That’s a vital point to being a cowboy, but so is competing at a high level.

At 23, Durfey became the first American-born contestant to win a Canadian Professional Rodeo Association title. That came in 2006. He followed that with two other Canadian titles, one in 2008, the last in 2011. Earlier that season, he won the national title for the first time.

“It felt good to win the national championship and the Canadian national championship” in the same year, he said.

He also has made adjustments to his life and his livelihood, which has made a significant difference in how he approaches the work of being a professional rodeo cowboy.

“When I was younger, I’d let that pressure get to me more,” said Durfey, who has sponsorship agreements with Next IT Corp., Zoetis Animal Health, Pro Vision Equine Digital Surveillance, Cinch, Corral Boots, Logan Coach Horse Trailers, Willbros Group Inc., Swift Transportation, HR Workplace Services, Priefert and Silver Lining Herbs. “As I’ve gotten older, I guess I’ve gotten more focused and more confident. Every win gives you a little bit more confidence. If you can take every win, you can just build your confidence over time.

“I rely on what my capabilities are. I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I know what I’m capable of. If I’m able to stay focused, stay relaxed and rope, the winning takes care of itself.”

Each year on the rodeo trail means another level of experience he carries with him. These days, he also shares his life with his wife of one year, Australian-born country singer Shea Fisher. They live on a place near Weatherford, Texas, when she’s not singing and when he’s not on the rodeo trail.

During his first qualification to the NFR in 2007, he had a much different approach to the game than he does now. The adjustments have made a world of difference.

“I just wanted to win and beat them, but at the end of the day, it boils down to being the best person you can be and doing the best you can do every time,” Durfey said. “I was more focused on trying to win than I was at trying to be the best I could be at the rodeo.”

It’s working rather well.

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