Archive for November, 2015

postheadericon Scheer has a hunger for gold

ELSMERE, Neb. – There always has been a competitive fire that burns inside Cort Scheer.

The furnace has been overtaken by the flames for the saddle bronc rider from Elsmere. His hunger for gold is greater now than it has ever been, because he’s finished oh-so-close each of the past two seasons.

Scheer is the reigning two-time reserve world champion, the runner-up to the titlist. In 2013, it was Chad Ferley of Oelrichs, S.D. A season ago, Scheer finished just behind Spencer Wright of Milford, Utah.

“I’m not very good about accepting failure,” said Scheer, who returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the fifth time when it takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. “Second place is the first loser; that’s losing, and I don’t like it. If you want to be the best, you have to do it. Nobody wakes up and is the best. You have to work at it.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“Winning the title is my No. 1 goal. I don’t like being No. 2.”

Scheer attended Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Montana State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. Since then, he’s been one of the best bronc riders in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. In fact, the only year he didn’t qualify for the NFR was 2011 when he suffered a knee injury midway through the season; still, he finished 25th in the world standings.

He finished the 2015 regular season seventh in the standings, having earned nearly $89,000. This year’s NFR will feature the largest purse in the event’s 57-year history, where winners will earn more than $26,000 each round for 10 nights.

“I think this is an opportunity to win a championship,” Scheer said. “As soon as the NFR got over last year, that was still losing. You have to wait the whole year to have a chance at it. Now the chance is here to go back at them this year.”

Gold buckles are awarded to the contestants who finish the year with the most earnings in each event. That’s why doing well in Vegas is so critical.

“It’s going to come down to who makes the money there,” he said. “The NFR is love-you or hate-you. If you’re drawing good and riding good, that’s the perfect time. Spencer proved that last year.

“I’m feeling healthier this year than I ever have. I’m more focused.”

Much of that can be attributed to his girlfriend, Katelyn Webb. When he’s not on the rodeo trail, he and Webb are gym rats, and workouts are a big part of their routines.

“I’m really excited to have Katelyn in my life,” Scheer said. “No matter how much I think I work hard, she always works harder. She gets up early every day and works out. She’s got me in the best shape of my life.

“She’s awesome, and we share a lot of the same values. She’s a Christian, and that’s very important to me. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.”

She’s another addition to a supportive family. Scheer grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills with a powerful work ethic. He and his siblings – brother Clete and sister Kema – know the labor of love that comes from their family ranch. Father Kevin runs the operation, while mom Pam teaches school.

That support system is vital as he travels the rodeo circuit chasing his gold buckle dreams.

“My family is very supportive of what I do, and I get to talk to them on the phone quite a bit,” he said. “When you’re riding good, they don’t want you to come home. Our rodeo careers don’t last very long, so it’s pretty awesome that they support you so much so you don’t have to worry about anything but riding broncs.

“I’ve also got a lot of help from Justin Boots, Cinch Jeans, Outlaw Buckers and Bismarck Ranch, because I wouldn’t be able to do this without their support. They make it possible for me to compete at my best and not have to worry as much about some of the other things.”

Of course, there’s not much to worry about when a cowboy rides as well as Scheer. In 2015, he won at least a share of nine rodeo titles, including some of the biggest events in the sport. That’s helped him get to this spot. Now he’s hoping his mental approach is what makes the overall difference.

“I think what’s changed the most in the last year is maturity, and I put a lot on my traveling partners,” he said, noting that he commutes from one rodeo to another with fellow NFR qualifiers Chet Johnson, Tyler Corrington and Wade Sundell; though injuries knocked Johnson and Corrington out of this year’s finale, Sundell returns for the seventh straight year.

“After the last two years, I realized I either start strong or finish strong. I want to put it all together, and I think I can maturity-wise. My dad always told me was that you learn more from losing than you do winning. Throughout the year, I was winning consistently. Whenever I had my chance, I capitalized on it. Whenever you have your chance, you don’t want to let it go.”

That’s the theme for Scheer’s season. He and his traveling posse spent a great deal of time north of the border competing at Canadian rodeos, many of which were co-sanctioned by the PRCA and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. He returned to the Canadian Finals Rodeo, where he won the average championship in 2014.

“Winning the Canadian title is another goal,” Scheer said. “The top 15 guys up there can ride with anybody down here. There’s a lot of money at a lot of great rodeos, and there are a lot of great people. A lot of those guys don’t come down from Canada. The scenery is amazing.

“We get paid to see beautiful places, meet wonderful people and hang out with them.”

He made a run in mid-November at the CFR and earned nearly $26,000 in Edmonton, Alberta. He finished fifth in the Canadian standings. With that now in his saddlebags, Scheer has his eyes focused on Vegas and that elusive world title.

“As long as you can take advantage of opportunities, everything is open to you,” Scheer said. “It comes down to how you handle those situations.”

Spoken like a true champion.

postheadericon Larsen heals wounds with NFR

Orin Larsen of Inglis, Manitoba, competes earlier this year in Omaha, Neb. The two-time college champion has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career and joins his brother, saddle bronc rider Tyrel Larsen, as the first two cowboys from Manitoba to compete at the NFR. (PRCA PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

Orin Larsen of Inglis, Manitoba, competes earlier this year in Omaha, Neb. The two-time college champion has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career and joins his brother, saddle bronc rider Tyrel Larsen, as the first two cowboys from Manitoba to compete at the NFR. (PRCA PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

INGLIS, Manitoba – There was a pit in Orin Larsen’s stomach, an agitation he couldn’t release.

“I drove into my yard and thought, ‘I’ll never let that happen again,’ ” said Larsen, a bareback rider from Inglis.

That was in September 2014, when he finished 19th in the world standings and missing out on a qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which features only the top 15 contestants in each event in the year-end championship.

“I was driving home to Goodwell (Okla.), and it really got to me,” said Larsen, who also was attending Oklahoma Panhandle State University at the time. “This year I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a repeat of last year.”

Orin Larsen

Orin Larsen

It’s not. Larsen finished the 2015 regular season ranked 10th in the world standings, earning one of those coveted spots in the finale’s field. In fact, he’ll be joined at ProRodeo’s grand finale by his older brother, Tyrel, who finished the regular season 15th in the world standings.

“It’s a great honor to be part of the top 15 in the world,” he said. “I’m very blessed to be part of it. It’s way more special to be there with your older brother. When you, as brothers, dream of this moment, it’s another form of special no one else will ever know.”

Orin Larsen attributes a great deal of success in a change in the rodeo schedule he made with his traveling partner, Seth Hardwick of Laramie, Wyo., who finished the regular season 12th on the money list. The tandem opted to going to fewer rodeos, while focusing their attention on the ones with bigger purses. That worked for them both.

“I ended up going to 60 rodeos this year, and, in my opinion, that played a huge part in our successes,” Larsen said. “There are a lot of guys that will nod their heads at 100 rodeos. There’s no way I could do it. This year, we dialed it down a little bit and went to the rodeos we wanted to go do. We were healthier, and we were hungrier. It’s a system that works.”

Being healthy is vital in rodeo, especially in bareback riding, where cowboys wedge their hands into a rigging that is strapped to a bucking horse. It is the most physically demanding event in rodeo.

“I think the thing that changed mostly for us this year is that we were rodeoing smarter, but mentally, I approached this year a little differently,” he said. “This year we were just going to have fun doing it, and we’re going to get paid doing it. Traveling with a positive partner like Seth dang sure helped a lot, too.”

On the road, traveling partners become siblings. They support each other and lean on one another when they need. But Larsen has a great deal of support, something that’s been part of his life since his childhood growing up in the valleys of Manitoba on the family’s ranch.

Father Kevin operates the outfit, and mother Wanda runs a barbershop in nearby Roblin, Manitoba. Orin Larsen is one of four children, and the oldest, sister Cassie, is a hairdresser like their mom. The boys – Tyrel (26), Orin (24) and Cane (22) – all took to rodeo. In fact, all the boys found their way to college rodeo and Panhandle State, which is recognized as one of the top collegiate programs in the country.

Orin first went to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, where he earned the College National Finals Rodeo bareback riding title in 2013. He then transferred to Panhandle State and won the crown again in 2014.

“I chose the College of Southern Idaho because Kelly Wardell – who lives 45 minutes north of Twin Falls – has taught me everything I know about bareback riding,” Larsen said. “That was the deciding factor. After I did my two years in Twin Falls, I felt like I had gained a degree, and it felt like was more out there for me.

“I ended up going to OPSU because of their track record and their resume in college and pro rodeo. I’m happy the way I did it.”

He’s known since he was little that rodeo was something he loved. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, and that competitive fire continued to develop.

“When Tyrel started riding calves and steers, he was being successful,” Orin Larsen said. “It was a brotherly thing where I wanted to beat him, and my younger brother wanted to beat both of us. Growing up on a family ranch like that, we grew up around horses and cows. We had the Western lifestyle. It wasn’t something that was foreign to us.

“We knew how to handle horses, and that helps with a rodeo career.”

It turns out, Larsen handles them quite well. This year, he won seven rodeo titles, including some big ones in Greeley, Colo.; Molalla, Ore.; and Salt Lake City. In fact, he pocketed nearly $22,000 at those three rodeos alone, and that was added into the nearly $82,000 he earned in 2015.

What drives Larsen to ride bareback horses, and what pushes him to be one of the best at it?

“I have no idea,” he said. “Even before I knew what bareback riding was, I remember watching the NFR on TV and thought, ‘Those guys are crazy.’ In my bedroom, I always pretended to be a bareback rider.”

He doesn’t have to pretend any more, and he has family and others who make a big difference in how he handles his business and his life.

“Without my family – between Mom, Dad and my grandparents – there is no way I could make the finals or be any way successful in my career or my life,” he said. “You hear guys that don’t have that kind of support, and it makes me feel bad. It’s such a great thing to have.

“They help forge you to be the person you are. They’ve helped me with everything imaginable. Without family, I’m nothing.”

That includes his girlfriend, Alexa Minch.

“My girlfriend and other people will tell me, ‘I’m jealous of you; you get to have a ball doing what you love,’ ” Larsen said. “I’m very blessed and very fortunate to have the career I’ve had. It’s been crazy the last couple of years how much fun I’m having with rodeo.”

That fun continues at the NFR, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. It features the largest purse in the game at $8.8 million, with top dollars being paid out each day for 10 December nights.

He is one of six Canadians who have qualified for the NFR and joins brother Tyrel as the first two cowboys from Manitoba ever to earn a trip to ProRodeo’s grand finale.

“It’s extremely special to go to the NFR with my brother,” Orin Larsen said. “When I get to Vegas, I’m just going to be oblivious to the world. I’m going to roll with the punches and enjoy it. I get to have fun with my brother.”

That sounds like a great time.

postheadericon Irwin taking momentum to NFR

ROBERTSDALE, Ala. – There’s nothing like an amazing 10 days in Las Vegas in December for a rodeo cowboy.

Kyle Irwin experienced that a year ago, and he’s continued to use that rush through the 2015 ProRodeo season. Now the steer wrestler from Robertsdale returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year when it takes place Dec. 3-12 in Sin City.

“I think momentum was the key this year,” said Irwin, 25, who competed on rodeo scholarships at Western Oklahoma College in Altus and Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. “Last year’s finals was momentum, and it just carried over. I’d only been to Denver once before this year and did terrible, but I went back this year, finished third and won $7,000 to start the year.

Kyle Irwin

Kyle Irwin

“I won $87,000 at the finals last year, and it just kept going.”

He hopes the drive continues through this year’s NFR, which features the largest purse in the history of ProRodeo’s marquee event. He will battle for his share of the $8.8 million purse, which will pay round winners more than $26,200 each of the 10 nights.

“It means a lot to go back,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of guys say that once you make the finals once, you figure out how to do it. But I’ve also seen guys who have struggled making it back.

“I did put forth the effort, and it paid off.”

He did. In fact, he pocketed more than $76,500 – nearly $17,000 more than he did during the regular season a year ago – and heads to the NFR sitting fifth in the world standings.

“There are people who say you can’t make a living rodeoing, but actually you can,” Irwin said. “If I go out there and if I do the exact same thing this year that I did last year, I will win an additional $61,000; that’s how much the money has changed this year.

“Plus if I don’t mess up those times like I did last year, there are even more opportunities out there. I just need to go out there and take care of my business.”

That’s easier said than done. There is great pressure to compete at a top level, and the NFR is rodeo’s Super Bowl and World Series. The difference is that rodeo contestants have no guaranteed income; they only earn when they finish better than most in the game. Dollars equal championship points, and the contestants in each event with the most money earned at the end of 2015 will be crowned world champions.

Irwin finished runner-up to world champion Luke Branquinho a season ago, propelled by an excellent run during the sport’s 10-day finale. He’d love to move up just one spot.

“It’s especially tough this year because of how the money stayed within the same 25 guys all season,” he said. “It never really separated. Until the last rodeo, I still had the opportunity to move to No. 1.

“It’s a great group of guys that keep you on your game. That shows the level of competition. With the money like it is in this year’s finals, it’s going to be an interesting 10 days.”

That’s what any true championship should be, but it’s not all that Irwin has focused his eyes on this year. No, the cowboy found a cowgirl, and she became a priority. On Nov. 7, he and Randa married. The two have known each other for many years but had been together for more than a year and a half.

“We wanted to kind of do it quiet and go about our business,” he said. “We decided just to do it that way.”

Quiet works well in his private life, but he hopes to make a loud statement inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. He’ll have a great chance by riding Sketch, a talented horse owned by Tyler Pearson. Sketch has been the guiding force behind both of Irwin’s NFR qualifications.

The horse also guided Tyler Waguespack to his first finale; the Gonzales, La., cowboy finished the regular season seventh, while Pearson just missed out on the NFR by finishing 18th.

“We’ve also got Rowdy Parrott and Orinn Fontenot in our rig, and Pearson’s got both Wags and I riding Sketch with Tyler hazing for us,” Irwin said, pointing to Pearson’s key role as an assistant there to keep the steer lined out in the arena. “It was a good team effort this year.

“I’ve always traveled with good guys, the ones that make you better and make you get better. To have those guys in your rig makes all the difference in the world.”

So does Sketch.

“That horse makes a huge difference for me,” he said. “He’s changed my career.”

It all comes together in a nice package. Irwin also realized this season that it takes a great deal of self-confidence to be successful at a high level, especially in steer wrestling.

“I think I learned more about my ability, the God-given talent I’ve been blessed with,” he said. “I’m always real hard on myself and always have been, but I feel good about my ability to win maybe when the odds are stacked against me. Never quit believing in yourself and go back to the roots in the basics that you’ve learned. That will prevail.”

It’s worked so far.

postheadericon Proctor ready to relive Vegas success

Coleman Proctor prepares to rope his final steer in Guymon, Okla., this past May. Proctor and partner Jake Long return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this December to battle for that elusive world title.

Coleman Proctor prepares to rope his final steer in Guymon, Okla., this past May. Proctor and partner Jake Long return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this December to battle for that elusive world title.

PRYOR, Okla. – Coleman Proctor will never forget the first time he made his way into Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas.

In his 30 years on this earth, the Oklahoma cowboy has spent countless hours watching the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on TV and through many recordings. He dreamed of competing inside those golden fences in the Nevada desert. He had never seen them in person until a year ago, just days before competing at the Wrangler NFR for the first time.

“The first time I saw the Thomas & Mack was when we were coming in the tunnel to break in the steers,” said Proctor, of Pryor. “There’s actually nothing like that feeling. Then you get to be part of it, part of the grand entry and the smoke and the pyro. When you see it on TV, all you catch is the beginning. You don’t really experience it. That first night, I got to really experience it. I took it all in.”

Coleman Proctor

Coleman Proctor

Proctor returns to Las Vegas for the Wrangler NFR, ProRodeo’s grand championship that takes place Dec. 3-12. After finishing the 2014 campaign fourth in the final world standings, he returns to be among the elite rodeo contestants in the world by finishing among the top 15 for the second straight year where he will be roping with lifelong partner Jake Long of Coffeyville, Kan.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t want to go until I made them,” Proctor said. “When Jake made them and I didn’t, I wanted to go out there to support him; I had to work in the offseason to help pay for everything for the next season or I would have been there.”

So he waited until his first qualification. Each go-round in 2014 offered lessons in Wrangler NFR competition. Now he hopes those classes pay off.

“This year I’ll have a little better grasp of what happens out there and a better feel for the start and how the rodeo goes,” he said. “Nothing prepares you for that arena and that rodeo than going for the first night. It’s one of those lessons you learn after you get there. When I got there, it was a pretty short learning curve, from the time you nod your head to how fast you have to be.”

He also leans a lot in his partner. Long returns to the Wrangler NFR for the fifth time in his career; this is his second straight with Proctor. He also has at the finale with Brady Tryan and Travis Tryan. Nonetheless, Long and Proctor have been the best of friends since they were babies.

“It’s really cool that I’ve been to my first two NFRs with Jake,” Proctor said. “Early on, Jake and I loved the game so much. We started out this journey together, and now we’re actually doing this, competing at a high level and having success and doing something we’ve dreamed about. That’s special. It’s probably the coolest thing for me.”

A year ago, the tandem placed in six of 10 Wrangler NFR go-rounds, winning on the fifth night. They pocketed about $74,000 in Las Vegas. Now they’d love to exceed it, but this is the year to make that happen. The purse for the finals has increased to $8.8 million, and go-round winners will earn more than $26,200 a night.

“We’re about $60,000 behind the leaders,” he said of Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, the two-time reigning world champion team ropers. “It’s going to be a bit of work. We’d hoped to be within a go-round (payout) of them when we got to the NFR; now we’re two go-rounds from it.

“It’ll make for more drama when we get there.”

That’s perfectly fine for Proctor and Long.

“We first started roping together when we were 2 or 3 years old,” Proctor said. “Since I was 12 or 13, we were all a team. It was just a dream, and for it to turn out to what it became has been phenomenal.”

That means changes over the years. The NFR will be their last competition together for a while, as each will compete with different partners for 2016. Even with split, they remain close.

“We’re going to rope with different partners, but there’s no animosity between him and me,” Proctor said. “We are friends first. Roping partners come and go, but those friends you consider family … those are a huge part of who you are. Our roots run so deem, no matter who we’re roping with, that we will always be friends.

“The way my life has changed, the way I’ve grown and developed as a person, Jake is a big reason for all of that.”

That’s because they’ve shared a dream since toddlers. Now they’re chasing it.

“We have wanted to win the gold buckle as kids,” he said, referring to the trophy given to the world champions. “We have absolutely nothing to lose in this partnership. We have our ears laid back. We’re going to leave it all on the table, give it all we can and do what we can to catch Clay and Jade.”

That likely also will be the same game plan for the other teams in the mix. The reason gold buckles are so coveted is because of the work it takes to retrieve one. Proctor has learned that over the years, not only because of his own ability but also that of those who support his career.

“Three things changed my career over the last couple of years: Shane Boston, Speed Williams and this horse,” he said of some valuable partners, including his horse, Carmine, and some great sponsors in Boston’s Southern Welding LLC; Williams’ SpeedRoping.com; Riverbend Arena in Inola, Okla.; Lone Star Ropers; Justin Boots; Wrangler; Coats Saddlery; CSI Saddle Pads; Brazos Valley Equine Hospital; and Larry the Cable Guy.

“Shane has been there since Day 1 and is my biggest sponsor and biggest supporter.”

Boston is not the only big part of what Proctor has accomplished. Two seasons ago, Proctor roped as a heeler behind Williams, an eight-time world champion. Williams also sold Carmine to Proctor in March 2014. The 15-year-old sorrel gelding has been the perfect fit for Proctor.

“That’s my go-to guy,” Proctor said. “Having that kind of extra horsepower has made a difference; he was a game-changer. I knew I need to have him to go to the next level.

“Carmine is just a heck of an athlete. He can fly, and he makes your job easy. If you do your job, he allows you to win. I’ve never had a horse that was this close from the back of the (roping) box to be able to run them down. He just allows you to be more consistent and run one further and still be fast.”

Part of that is natural athletic ability, but it also goes to how the animal moves with ease. Part of that is training.

“He runs extremely hard, and he’s smooth about it,” Proctor said. “He allows you to be running wide open and, once you rope, he allows you to put the steer on the end of the rope and be ready for the heeler to finish fast. He finishes strong.

“He’s one of my favorite horses that I’ve ever swung my leg over.”

It all has contributed to a stellar season, but so have those closest to him, including his fiancé, Stephanie Arnold; the couple will marry next May.

“We’ve been together for about eight years,” he said. “She’s been amazing for me, and her family is so awesome. They’ve taken me in as one of their own. They’ve been there with me through thick and thin.”

Things have been pretty thick for Proctor. He approaches rodeo in a different way than most, and that’s a good thing.

“My reason behind doing this is maybe I can make a positive impact on somebody’s life,” he said. “We are all here to make a difference in somebody’s life, and rodeo is my vehicle to do that.”

postheadericon Durfey still hungry for NFR gold

SAVANNAH, Mo. – When he’s not on the rodeo trail, Tyson Durfey spends a great deal of time at his place in Weatherford, Texas.

It’s the ideal location for rodeo. His proximity is close to other rodeo competitors as well as many rodeos, and the weather tends to be warmer for longer periods of time.

But Savannah always will be home.

Durfey was born and raised there, and he developed his passion for rodeo in Andrew County, tucked inside northwest Missouri and just a stone’s throw from St. Joseph. Of course, that’s par for the course for the Durfey clan.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

Father Roy trains tie-down ropers and roping horses, and he shared those lessons with Tyson and his two brothers, Wes and Travis. All have competed in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, but Tyson has carried it further than anyone; he will compete at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the eighth time in his career.

“The season turned out really good,” Tyson Durfey said. “I was able to buy a new horse; Nikko has really made a difference. I was able to win a lot at some big rodeos and was able to win a lot at the end of the season when I needed to.”

He earned more than $72,000 roping calves during the 2015 regular season, finishing 14th in the world standings. That’s the good news, since only the top 15 contestants in each event advance to the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale that takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.

Durfey first qualified for the NFR in 2007 and has returned almost every year since; his only miss was in 2012, when he finished 18th.

“The one year I didn’t make the finals was devastating,” he said. “You don’t know what you miss out on until you miss it one time. It creates a lot more motivation and a lot more focus.”

In fact, that season changed a lot about the Missouri-born cowboy. He turned his attention toward the little things that mattered, and he’s carried that over into his daily habits. Besides having a great horse like Nikko, he found a great personal trainer in Jay Novacek, a former All-Pro tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.

“Being able to work out with Jay has really helped out a lot,” Durfey said. “Not only is he a strength and conditioning coach, he’s a sports psychologist, which is good for my business. It’s the perfect storm with the horse and working out with a three-time Super Bowl champion.”

Key wins were nice, but so is the right mindset. That’s played as big a role as anything into Durfey’s success. He’s finished among the top five in the world standings twice and has been on the brink of a world title.

“I think my biggest motivator is my desire to be a National Finals qualifier and my desire to have a chance to win the world,” he said. “I really have goals that I want to achieve, and those goals don’t change. It’s always to make the National Finals and be a world champion. Those goals keep me motivated every day.”

It’s not hard to keep pushing, especially with so much talent. But this season wasn’t without worries. Durfey used a late-season push to earn a spot among the top 15 and return to Sin City for his share of the largest purse in the game, with $8.8 million being paid over 10 December nights.

That comes into play in more ways than one. For professional rodeo athletes, there are no guaranteed salaries. The only way to earn money is to be better than most of the field. Dollars equal championship points, so the contestants in each event who finish the year with the most earnings will be crowned world champions.

That’s why that late-season scramble became so vital for Durfey.

“My mind has been really good all year,” he said. “I was able to handle a lot of pressure and not really let it affect my performance. When you’re backing in the last month of the season and you’re not in the top 15, it’s a battle. I was ready for the battle, and to have a good horse when you back in the corner makes a difference.

“I also believe in myself that I could do it. A strong faith never hurts. I was able to call on my Lord and Savior, and He was able to pull me through.”

A good number of people had faith in Durfey, including his wife of two years, Shea Fisher, an Australian-born country artist. She travels with him when she’s not in Nashville writing or recording.

“When you spend around 200 days a year on the road, you need a wife that is so supportive of what you do,” Durfey said. “My wife is probably my biggest supporter, my biggest fan. She pushes me. When I’m not winning, she believes in me and tells me I’m a champion.

“She’s been able to keep me balanced and focused the last several years.”

Though it’s been more refined over recent years, Durfey still holds tight to those lessons he learned on his family’s place near Savannah, where he’d ride and rope and enjoy the life of a young cowboy. He still relishes in those moments, reflects on them.

“I went back home in September, and I got to see the (Savannah High School) Savage mascot head painted on the concrete,” Durfey said. “It reminded me of my life growing up.

“It was a sense of pride seeing that, and it brought back some really cool memories.”

The good news is Tyson Durfey is still making cool memories.

postheadericon Couch, Burger heading to RNCFR

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the November issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is being used here with the approval of the magazine.

 

Kim Couch had a very basic plan when she arrived at the RAM Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo for the Oct. 15-17 championship.

“We came into the circuit knowing we just needed three clean runs,” said Couch of Rattan, Okla. “We were just wanting to keep barrels up all three nights and just make some safe runs, and that’s just what we did.”

Kim Couch

Kim Couch

It paid off for the cowgirl, who placed in two go-rounds, finished third in the average and pocketed $3,128 in Duncan, Okla., slamming shut the door for her first Prairie Circuit year-end championship. She finished the 2015 regional campaign with $16,718, more than $5,000 ahead of the runner-up, Emily Miller of Weatherford, Okla.

“Our first goal was to make the circuit finals,” said Couch, who placed at 13 of the 17 circuit rodeos in which she competed. “By the first of August, we were leading the circuit. At that point, the decision was made that we wanted to win the circuit finals to get into Florida and hopefully get into Calgary, so that’s our goal for next summer.”

She did the heavy lifting on Easy French Alibi, a 7-year-old palomino she calls Fancy, a Frenchmans Guy mare out of Easy Mag. Couch secured the circuit’s year-end qualification to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla., where she will be joined by the average champ, Mary Burger, the 2006 world champion.

“We enjoy the circuit rodeos along with going to the NFR and all that travel,” said Burger, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier. “I’ve got a nice horse. It’s just a matter of whether everything falls into place.”

Mary Burger

Mary Burger

It did in Duncan. Burger split second in the opening round with a 16.32, just two-hundreds of a second behind round-winner Shy-Anne Jarrett of Comanche, Okla. Burger also placed fourth in the final round, completing the three runs in a cumulative time of 49.18 seconds to claim the buckle. In all, she earned $4,245.

Now she’ll carry it with her toward Walt Disney World, quite a change from most of her trips to the then-Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho.

“It’s a real big deal now,” Burger said. “Everything seems to be getting bigger and more money. It’s an honor.”

It’s also an honor to ride Sadiesfamouslastwords, a 6-year-old gelding she calls Mo by Sadies Frosty Drift out of Porky and Bess, a Dash Ta Fame mare.

“He went through two derby years,” she said. “This will be his last derby year, then it’s big boy time. I like his disposition and his ability. He can cruise across the ground and shut the clock off. I think that’s very important these days; barrel racing is so tough that you have to have a real special horse to pull it off.

“He’s just 6, and he still makes his own little mistakes.”

Mo didn’t make too many during the circuit finale. He and Burger finished 12-hundredths of a second ahead of average runner-up Lauren Magdeburg of Roland, Okla. Tracy Nowlin of Nowata, Okla., finished fourth overall.

While Burger and Couch claimed the biggest prizes in the region, round victories were split over three cowgirls: Jarrett in the first round, Ari-Anna Flynn of Charleston, Ark., in the second and Miller in the third.

“It’s a great feeling, especially for me being on my backup horse,” Flynn said of Toby’s Poco Misterio, a gelding she calls Toby. “He hasn’t been on the barrels for about a year.”

Jarrett, who was raised just miles from Stephens County Arena, kick-started the finale with her win on Cuatro Snow, an 11-year-old bay/brown gelding she calls Cuatro. Even though she still lives close to the host arena, the tandem hadn’t been inside the playing field all that often together.

“I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, so I just went at it,” said Jarrett, the wife of 2005 PRCA all-around world champion cowboy Ryan Jarrett. “My goal was to try to win first every night.”

That didn’t happen, but that was the case for many of the top regional cowgirls. Still, nine qualifiers earned checks in Duncan, which says a lot about the competition.

“There are some very tough girls,” Jarrett said. “You could take any of these horses to any rodeo anywhere, and they have a chance to win.”

While there was a lot going on over three days of the finale, the 2015 campaign was a highlight reel for Couch. She competed at 21 WPRA rodeos and earned nearly $20,000. Knowing full well she has something special in Fancy, she’s going to see what happens in 2016.

“She comes in and makes a solid run every run,” Couch said. “We may not win the round, but she’s going to come in and place.

“She’s got a lot of heart. As a matter of fact, as she’s gotten older and more seasoned, she’s developed more heart. She’s got more grit to her than she had as a 5- and 6-year-old.”

That could make all the difference in the world.

postheadericon WPRA’s best ready for Vegas

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the November issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is being used here with the approval of the magazine.

Every young athlete needs a strong mentor to help lead them the way.

Callie duPerier has had a few of them in 2015, helping guide the 22-year-old cowgirl to her first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in a dynamic fashion. She has pocketed $166,632 this season and heads to Las Vegas for the Dec. 3-12 grand finale as the No. 1 barrel racer in the world standings.

“It’s been an awesome year,” said duPerier of Boerne, Texas. “I was just looking to get into the top 15. This season has been a dream come true. It still doesn’t seem real to me.”

Callie duPerier

Callie duPerier

Of course, it helps to have established veterans pushing her along the way: Traveling partner Sherry Cervi, a four-time world champion from Marana, Ariz., and Rare Dillion, a 16-year-old buckskin gelding who is making his fourth Wrangler NFR appearance with his third jockey.

Dillion previously ran inside the Thomas & Mack Center with Annesa Self in 2008 and Carlee Pierce in 2011-12. In fact, Dillion and Pierce set a then-Wrangler NFR arena record of 13.46 seconds in 2011; Taylor Jacob then established a new mark of 13.31 just two years later.

Having that kind of horse power mixed with excellence inside the arena is a huge confidence boost for duPerier.

“Dillion was just outstanding this year,” she said. “I ran him at the majority of the rodeos. He stayed sound all year and gave me his all. I’m really excited to go to the finals with him.

“He is just an outstanding horse, and just talking about him gives me chills. I could not have ever dreamed about having that kind of horse in my barn. When I first had him, I was still trying to get him figured out.”

Obviously, the tandem has learned quite a bit over the last year or so. As a rookie a season ago, she finished 25th in the world standings. This season, she rode the talented gelding all the way to the top heading into the richest rodeo in the world.

“This year we just got along better,” duPerier said. “Our timing and connection was awesome this year. He bunch of rodeos and placed second at Calgary. I always question his age, but that has not stopped him.

“To be the person on his back riding him is awesome.”

Dillion wasn’t the only driving force behind duPerier’s amazing season. She also leaned on Cervi, who returns to the Wrangler NFR for the 18th time in her storied career.

“I got to go to the big rodeos, and I did very well at all of them,” duPerier said. “I went really hard over the Fourth (of July), and I got to haul with Sherry. She knew how to enter, so being with her really helped. She really helped me with my other horse, Arson.”

Dash Ta Diamonds is an 8-year-old sorrel gelding by Dash Ta Fame out of The Millennium Star she acquired about a year ago. She estimated about 70 percent of her runs were on Dillion, with the rest being on Arson.

“It was awesome to have two horses that were able to go out there and compete,” she said. “It made it easier on me and Dillion to have Arson there and know he could perform well.”

Of course, a big part of duPerier’s support comes from her family, parents Trip and Cheryl; brother, T.J., and younger sister, Lydia.

“My dad was out there with me for a lot of them, but I still missed my mom, my brother and my sister,” Callie duPerier said. “Being away from family is very hard. Even when you’re winning or when you’re doing bad, I really wanted to be home. Like me, Dillion is a homebody, too.”

When he’s on the road, though, Dillion has been the staple behind all that has been duPerier’s success. Having a qualified veteran in the barn is an amazing thing, no matter where the rodeo trail takes her.

“At Houston this year, I was kind of nervous, then Dad told me that he had done well there before,” she said. “Dillion knew exactly what he was doing. It definitely calms me down. He remembered exactly where he was at Houston. At the NFR, I’ll be nervous, but I’ll be comfortable because I’ll be on Dillion.”

A race for the rookies

DuPerier won’t the only Wrangler NFR first-timer when she arrives in Vegas for the Dec. 2-13 championship. In fact, she’ll be joined by four others: third-ranked Sarah Rose McDonald of Brunswick, Ga.; Cassidy Kruse of Gillette, Wyo.; Carley Richardson of Pampa, Texas; Jackie Ganter of Abilene, Texas; and Vickie Carter of Richfield, Utah.

McDonald was the 2014 Rookie of the Year and just missed the finals a year ago, finishing 19th. Kruse (eighth in the standings) is just in her second season in the WPRA, while Richardson (10th) earned her first qualification to Vegas after finishing 23rd in 2014.

While they also will make their runs at the coveted Montana Silversmiths gold buckle, Ganter and Carter also will be in a tight battle for the WPRA Rookie of the Year. Ganter sits 12th with $69,414 in season earnings, and Carter is 13th, about $6,600 behind. With the biggest purse in the history of the Wrangler NFR awaiting them, anything and everything can happen inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

Carter is a veteran in the game and will be riding Blazin Ta Fame, a 10-year-old gelding by Blazin Jetolena out of Princess Dasher, a Dash Ta Fame mare. Carter, a horse trainer who has been in the business of selling good horses, has been riding this year for Rachel Hendrix, Blaze Man’s owner that died in January 2014 of carbon monoxide poisoning at age 18.

Since the Wrangler NFR was a plan for Hendrix, her parents, Clay and Annette Hendrix, asked Carter to try to make the finale on Blaze Man. Mission accomplished.

Ganter joins duPerier as the first two former WPRA junior barrel racing world champions to qualify for the finals. Ganter won the title last season, while duPerier earned the crown in 2010.

When she arrives in Las Vegas, Ganter will be just one year removed from her high school graduation.

Veterans remain in the chase

Lisa Lockhart is the reigning Wrangler NFR average champion now qualifying for the ninth straight times. The Oelrichs, S.D., cowgirl is closing in on $2 million in WPRA earnings after securing the No. 2 spot in the world standings with more than $151,000 in 2015.

Fallon Taylor

Fallon Taylor

She has yet to claim that elusive Montana Silversmiths gold buckle, but she’s been close. In fact, she finished less than $11,000 behind 2014 champ Fallon Taylor of Collinsville, Texas, who is one of three titlists in this year’s mix: Cervi and Mary Walker, the 2012 winner who is playing in Vegas for the fourth straight season.

“Lisa and Louie are a crowd favorite, amazing to watch and amazing to be around,” Taylor said. “I think Lisa deserves a world title. I know it would mean as much to her as it did me.”

Those four cowgirls might be the cream of the crop in the field, but there are plenty of others scattered among the top 15 who have staked claim more than once on their road to the Wrangler NFR:

  • Nancy Hunter of Neola, Utah, and Jana Bean of Fort Hancock, Texas, return for the second straight year
  • Taylor Jacob of Carmine, Texas, who set the record for fastest time during her 2013 qualification, posting a 13.37-second run to win the sixth round; she also won three other rounds.
  • Michele McLeod of Whitesboro, Texas, who returns for the third straight year
  • And Deb Guelly of Okotoks, Alberta, a six-time qualifier who last competed inside the Thomas & Mack in 2008.

In all, they account for 44 qualifications and about $2 million in earnings from ProRodeo’s finale.

Returning to the stage

The gold buckle that rests on Fallon Taylor’s waist reveals so much about her and her trusty horse, Flos Heiress, a sorrel mare she calls Babyflo that was sired by Dr Nick Bar out of Flowers and Money.

Inscribed is her name and Babyflo’s. It is a telling tale of her relationship with an amazing racehorse, now 9 years old.

“It’s just a feather in my hat for all the hard work,” Taylor said. “It’s a really cool thing to bring that cred to my mare and actually know that I did show her to the best of her ability for my family. Her pedigree is obviously very important to us.

“For my parents to have the Horse of the Year trophy and to be able look at that gold buckle is really an accomplishment for my whole family and not just me.”

Another notch on the belt came with her third straight qualification on Babyflo and her seventh overall; she also advanced to the Wrangler NFR from 1995-98. This year, she comes back as the No. 7 barrel racer in the field with $86,828 in regular-season earnings. She is about $80,000 behind the leader, duPerier, but she can make up ground quickly with go-rounds that will pay each go-round winner more than $26,000 for 10 nights.

“I think everyone was so surprised that I didn’t embarrass myself like I did in 2013,” she said, “that it was a shock to win in the first place, especially on the same horse that was so inconsistent to come back and be so consistent that I was reserve average champion.

“My husband and I made a pact to Babyflo that she would only go to 50 rodeos (this year). We would qualify for the NFR or not qualify in 50, and she would have a big break. At 46 rodeos, we had crossed over in like $85,000, and I felt like that was a safe spot.”

She went to 34 more rodeos on a 4-year-old colt. Still having a solid season and returning to the biggest stage in the sport is an important step for the Texan.

“I felt like I was on a campaign run, like I was just meeting all these amazing people that I didn’t get to meet before,” Taylor said. “New fans and old fans … that was amazing to me.

“I knew my mare was consistent, so that was fun to capitalize and go to different rodeos that I hadn’t been before, and I did that specifically just to meet new fans.”

She’ll get to do that again during her the 10 December nights in Las Vegas, but she knows, as well as anyone in the field, that it will be a horserace.

postheadericon Brazile’s trophy case still growing

Trevor Brazile not only won his 22nd world championship this weekend, he put together a solid stranglehold on No. 23.

Trevor Brazile

Trevor Brazile

Brazile set a new standard at the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping, stopping the clock in a 10-run cumulative time of 111.3 seconds. He placed in seven go-rounds, winning the third and sixth rounds. He won the average title and pocketed $62,390 at the Clem, the most earnings in that championship’s history

He finished the steer roping season with $121,112 in earnings in that single event, also a ProRodeo record. It is his sixth steer roping gold buckle, and his earnings over the two-day championship in Kansas pushed his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association earnings to $281,242.

That means his lead is about twice as much as his second closest competitor in the 2015 all-around race, brother-in-law Tuf Cooper, who has $140,687.

Cooper is the four-time and reigning world champion tie-down roper. He also leads the standings heading toward this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.

As expected, though, Brazile will return to Sin City in two events, the only cowboy doing so. He is No. 4 in the heading standings and fifth in tie-down roping. He doubles his chances of winning during each of the 10 performances.

That’s why he’s always the favorite to add to his ever-growing record of all-around championships, the most prestigious gold buckle in the game.

postheadericon Bynum, Miller finish 1-2 in Alva

ALVA, Okla. – Sara Bynum and Amber Miller took very different paths to the top of the barrel racing leaderboard this past weekend at the Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo.

Bynum rode a young mare to the two-run aggregate title, moving up to a tie for second place in the Central Plains Region standings. Meanwhile, Miller leaned on a trusty veteran mare to finish second overall behind her Rangers teammate.

Sara Bynum

Sara Bynum

“It’s amazing, because the filly I’m riding is only 5 years old,” said Bynum of Beggs, Okla. “She was a longshot to begin with. To be among the top three to finish the first semester of rodeos is really awesome.”

Bynum has been in the winner’s circle before, winning the final event of last season in April. She has been a fixture in short go-rounds already this season, but it was a new feeling for Miller, a freshman from Laverne, Okla.

“It was a little nerve-wracking competing against all those kids that have rodeoed in the region all the time,” said Miller, who rode a 13-year-old mare to place second in the short round and finish just three-tenths of a second behind her teammate. “The fact that it’s the hometown rodeo was big, too. My parents were there, my friends were there, and it was great that I could do well.

Amber Miller

Amber Miller

“It made my confidence boost a little bit.”

They were just a pair of Rangers that did well in Alva over the weekend. Laremi Allred of Kanarraville, Utah, won goat-tying; J.D. Struxness of Appleton, Minn., won both rounds and the average in steer wrestling; Austin Graham of Jay, Okla., won both rounds and the aggregate in bareback riding; and tie-down roper Bryson Seachrist of Apache, Okla., won the short round and finished second overall.

Both the Northwestern men and women placed second in the team standings. In all, five men and six women scored valuable points, including tie-down roper Wylee Nelson, steer wrestler Tyrel Cline, goat-tier Shayna Miller and breakaway ropers Katy Miller and Taylor Munsell.

“We all want each other to do really good,” Bynum said. “I would rather see all the girls and guys on my team do well.”

Of course, part of that is each team member doing his or her part. Bynum was the most consistent barrel racer in the field, posting a 12.89-second run to finish second in the opening round. She then won the short round with a blistering 12.58.

“My senior year in high school, I didn’t have anything very good coming to the college deal, and my dad found this filly on Craigslist for $600,” she said of Loretta, a palomino paint. “It turned out to be the best barrel horse I’ve ever swung my leg over.

“She has a really like stride, which makes her pretty fast, and she’s really smooth. She doesn’t waste a lot of time when she’s turning.”

While Bynum has gained faith in her young horse, Amber Miller has found great success in Birdie, a 13-year-old sorrel mare that was bred and trained to be a cutting horse.

“We started her as a family in barrels,” Miller said. “We trained her on our own. My sister and I both have ridden her. She’s a great horse to have.

“We didn’t spend thousands of dollars on her. She’s special to us, because we started her and have had her for a long time. She’s one of a kind.”

The 100 points she earned this past weekend moved Miller into 10th place in the Central Plains standings. She’s joined by a host of Rangers that are among the leaders in their respective events. Of course, that’s a big reason why both the men and women sit second in the team standings after four events. The final six rodeos of the 2015-16 season will take place during the spring semester.

“I think one of the things that helps make us successful is that everybody supports each other,” Miller said. “We’re really a close-bonded team, and I think that helps us out a lot.”

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