Archive for November, 2017

postheadericon Lucia adds to Vegas resume

In addition to his Live with Lucia show, Anthony Lucia will have a packed schedule in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo. He kicks it off Tuesday as the emcee for the NFR Welcome Reception and Back Number Ceremony. (COURTESY PHOTO ANTHONY LUCIA)

In addition to his Live with Lucia show, Anthony Lucia will have a packed schedule in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo. He kicks it off Tuesday as the emcee for the NFR Welcome Reception and Back Number Ceremony. (COURTESY PHOTO ANTHONY LUCIA)

WEATHERFORD, Texas – Anthony Lucia has been a Las Vegas fixture every December since 2009 as host of Live with Lucia, presented by CINCH Jeans and Shirts, on the RideTV Stage during the Stetson Country Christmas at the Sands Expo.

This year, though, the Weatherford man will add another key component to his Sin City work as host of the National Finals Rodeo Welcome Reception and Back Number Ceremony, which takes place Tuesday, Dec. 5, at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa.

“This is a huge milestone in my announcing career,” said Lucia, who was raised in rodeo and is a trick roper, team roper and, of course, announcer; in fact, he performed trick roping at the NFR four years in a row, from 2010-13. “To even be considered among the great announcers in our business is a great blessing.

“It’s exciting to get a job on such a fun night for contestants, sponsors and everyone that’s been behind them all year long.”

He is the son of Tommy Lucia, who was a contestant, rodeo clown and specialty act. For three straight years (2003-2005), the elder Lucia was the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Specialty Act of the Year; he worked the NFR as both barrelman and specialty act, and in 2015, just a few months before his death, was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Anthony Lucia is just carrying on a family tradition, doing so on his terms. By introducing the 120 NFR qualifiers, he has the opportunity to tell a little about each contestant.

Anthony Lucia

Anthony Lucia

“When I got my scripts, I spent two weeks and wrote one or two lines for each contestant to make it special for them,” he said. “Because I know it’s a rodeo-family crowd, these people have watched these guys all year. They’re there to celebrate Las Vegas, the South Point and the best rodeo contestants in the world.

“I’ve taken a lot of pride in this. I’ve been part of the journey with some of these cowboys. Because I have competed, I know how hard it is to be at the top, and I can only imagine the joy and fulfillment in their hearts.”

It’s one of many things the Texan will be associated with during that special cowboy time in the Nevada desert. Live with Lucia will begin at 1 p.m. daily beginning Thursday, July 7, and will feature a talk show-style format with many of the brightest names in ProRodeo and music. Each show will air on RideTV.

“It’s almost a pre-NFR show when it airs each afternoon,” Lucia said. “It will be aired right before the NFR starts, so people can watch Live with Lucia, then click over and watch the rodeo.

“Since 2009, it’s grown exponentially, and the popularity of it continues to grow. It’s funny, but I have contestants asking me all year, ‘If I make the NFR, can I be on your show?’ Because I’ve grown up in this business, I’ve been fortunate to have relationships and friendships with a lot of cowboys and cowgirls. I am forever indebted to my cowboy friends who have supported me.”

Within the hour-long show, Lucia’s hopes to showcase more about the contestants, highlighting them and their personalities.

“I still think it’s a necessary action that if you want to grow this sport, you have to humanize our rodeo heroes,” he said.

He’s done a brilliant job of that, both during his shows and as a rodeo announcer. He’ll include both aspects of that each evening as the host of the nightly NFR feed, beginning at 6 p.m. inside the Mizouya Lounge at Mandalay Bay for Cowboyville.

“It’s a great NFR feed, and I’m happy with how we do it,” Lucia said. “I have one of the greatest rodeo DJs that plays music during the rides and runs. We mix it like the audience is at the Thomas & Mack Center so they can get that feel with it. We play different games and have prizes and gifts for the audience.”

He was the first host of a night feed in 2010 at another resort, then moved to the Mandalay Bay a year later. By integrating music into the live feed, Lucia has been able to add a distinct flavor to what rodeo fans experience.

“I really enjoy doing it and having the opportunities I have when I’m in Las Vegas,” he said.

He should, because he’s earned every one.

postheadericon Bingham ready to chase the gold

Tim Bingham won more than $106,000 this season and heads to his third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as the No. 6 bull rider in the world standings. (GREG WESTFALL PHOTO)

Tim Bingham won more than $106,000 this season and heads to his third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as the No. 6 bull rider in the world standings. (GREG WESTFALL PHOTO)

HONEYVILLE, Utah – When Tim Bingham first started riding bucking animals, he knew he wanted to wear the gold buckle given to world champions.

He was about 9 years old at the time, and he’s been dreaming about it ever since. Bingham will have another chance this December when he competes for the third time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.

“When you win the gold buckle, that’s the best you could do in the lifestyle I chose to live,” said Bingham, 26, of Honeyville. “To get the very top dog award that I could possibly ever achieve would be amazing. It’s something I’m going to continue to try to do.”

He’ll have his chance to reach for his dream over 10 nights in the Nevada desert. Bingham finished the 2017 regular season with a little more than $106,000 and sits seventh in the world standings as he prepares for the NFR.

That’s because it’s the world’s biggest rodeo with a purse of $8 million, with go-round winners pocketing $26,000 a night. A year ago, Bingham placed in just two-rounds, but both were runners-up. He earned more than $50,000. What makes the money more important is that dollars equal points, and the contestants in each event who finish with the most money earned will earn that coveted gold buckle.

Tim Bingham

Tim Bingham

“Vegas is the coolest time of year for us,” he said. “You need to enjoy being there and being one of the top guys. In bull riding, more than any other event in rodeo, things change for the good and the bad there on a daily basis.

“Consistency is what figures out your world champion. That’s what ultimately decides how much money you can make in a year.”

That’s actually been the driving force in his return to Las Vegas. That’s important in any event, but it’s vital in bull riding. Failure happens more often than success for most cowboys, even those that’ll play for the biggest pay in the game. The bulls weigh anywhere from 1,400 to 1,800 pounds; Bingham is 5-foot-6, 140 pounds.

So, the animals are at a distinct advantage. Throw in that the bulls are quite athletic, so it takes an equally athletic cowboy to stay atop for a qualifying eight seconds.

“I think the key to this year was that I had the confidence, even when I got to the rodeos, that I was going to stay on,” said Bingham, who credits part of his success to his sponsors, Nocona Boots and Redd Roofing. “I rode a little more consistent. I was also winning money all through the year, instead of having hot streaks and cold streaks.

“I was more even keel, whereas a lot of times before I would have really big ups and really big downs.”

That proved beneficial. He earned at least a share of the title at 10 rodeos, including in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Tremonton, Utah, which is just 10 miles from his house. It marked the second straight year he claimed the championships there.

“The ride in Tremonton was probably my favorite ride of the year,” he said of the late August rodeo, where he scored 91.5 to take the title. “That was awesome, because I was 92 points there last year. To win both those rodeos in back-to-back years was awesome, because it was almost identical to what I did the year before.

“Plus, the big scores in Tremonton were huge for me. Mentally, if you break 90 (points), that’s a boost to your confidence. It’s an achievement that all bull riders shoot for every time, but it’s rare. It’s hard to be 90.”

Shooting for the best is something he’s always done. He was an all-around athlete growing up in West Haven, Utah, competing in soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball and track. But he took to rodeo, which is a little strange considering his upbringing. While his dad, Sherm, has always been around horses, he wasn’t into rodeo. Neither was his mom, Gaile.

But Tim and younger brother Tyler were. They had friends that competed in rodeo, so they started tagging along. The next thing they knew, their father was buying steers and heifers for the boys to ride. Before long, the family had a string of 20 mini bucking bulls, and things took off for both the Bingham boys.

While Tim is a three-time NFR qualifier, Tyler, 24, finished the 2017 campaign 18th in the world standings – just three spots away from joining his older brother among the top 15 and qualifying for the NFR.

“Neither my mom or dad was into it, but when Tyler and I were learning about it, Mom and Dad were there learning with us,” Bingham said. “We started with no clue at all, and Mom and Dad made it all possible. They went full bore. They tried to provide us with every chance we could get.”

It worked, and now they get to enjoy seeing their son on the biggest stage in the game. They join the boys’ big sister, Tiffanie, in being some of their biggest supporters.

Family is big to Bingham. He travels the rodeo trail with Tyler, and he understands how important their support is in his career. He knows they’ll be there through every ride in Las Vegas.

“I think the key to winning in Vegas is putting in the work before you get there, being committed and staying focused through this little bit of time off so that you know what your goal is,” he said. “Once you get there, you have to put in the effort to be successful.

“You’ve also got to have a little bit of luck.”

There are no guarantees in rodeo, and Bingham knows that as well as anyone. But come December, he’ll have 10 nights to make everything work.

“I’d rather buck off 10 in Vegas than not make Vegas,” he said with a laugh. “With 10 nights, they keep giving you chances. As long as you stay positive, it’ll work out for you.”

Though he suffered a bone contusion in one of his legs late in the season, he has been working out and preparing every day for the opportunities that lie before him. This is an opportunity to cash in. More importantly, it’s his shot at that coveted world championship.

“I’m going into this finals more in shape than I did the first two years I made it,” Bingham said. “The NFR brings a level of excitement that you don’t see anywhere else. Your heart is pumping and the excitement is there. The NFR vs. other rodeos is tremendous difference, but in a good way.”

Bingham plans to take the same approach to each bull at the NFR as he has all season. He realizes the stakes are higher, but this is his job.

And he’s good at it.

postheadericon Clements realizing NFR dream

Mason Clements will ride at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career when it begins next week in Las Vegas.

Mason Clements will ride at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career when it begins next week in Las Vegas.

SANTAQUIN, Utah – Mason Clements wasn’t always a bareback rider, but he was always a cowboy.

As a boy, family friends introduced him to rodeo, and he fell for it. He wrestled steers and rode bulls. At age 20, he turned his attention to bucking horses and hasn’t looked back. It’s paid off well with his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand championship that takes place Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Clements, 25, of Santaquin. “It shows that I’ve been working hard for something I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s another stepping stone of many to one of the greatest goals I can achieve, and that’s the world title. You have to make the NFR first, so I can check that off my list.”

He’s returning home, of sorts. He was born in Las Vegas, and his mother, Tracy Pledger, lives there. He moved around a bit, mostly in Utah, and graduated from Alta High School in Sandy, Utah. But to say he’s excited to be part of the biggest event in the sport is likely an understatement.

“I can’t even pull the words together; it’s very surreal and indescribable,” he said with a smile. “I’m very ready. I’ve known this has been going to happen, but it’s just been a matter of when and dealing with the adversity to get there.

“I wasn’t going to let an early-season injury or mistakes sideline me for another year.”

Mason Clements

Mason Clements

That happened in 2016. He suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and was sidelined from the game for a few months when he was fifth in the world standings at the time. He finished the 2016 season 18th in the world standings, and only the top 15 contestants in each event advance to Sin City in December.

This year, he suffered another injury in a bareback riding wreck in May. Despite three broken ribs, numerous separated ribs and a broken left fibula, he found his way back into the arena in short order. He played through the pain and made it work, earning $86,114 and finishing the regular season 15th in the world standings.

“When I got hurt, I was still sitting good in the standings,” said Clements, who has the support of his sponsors: Wrangler and Hooey.

. “Three weeks later when Reno (Nev.) rolled around, and I thought, ‘I can’t sit here any longer; I’m going to miss my opportunity.’ ”

“I knew I had to put my hand in my rigging and do my job.”

He’s glad he did. In rodeo, dollars equal points, so the world standings are based on the money list. Clements finished less than $3,000 ahead of the No. 16 man, Montanan Justin Miller. And he did so while riding in pain, gritting his teeth through every bumpy ride and every spur stroke. He had pain through virtually every ride until late August – that’s two months and dozens of bucking horses.

“There were a lot of times when I just wanted to lay in a big tub of ice,” he said.

It shows the commitment he has to the game he loves. Though his family isn’t involved in the game, Clements took to it early with the help of friends.

“I pretty much invited myself everywhere we went,” he said. “I just wanted to be there and wasn’t sure how to do it. As a family, we would occasionally go over to our friends’ house for Sunday barbecue, and you couldn’t keep me off their horse.”

After his stint in bull riding to begin his ProRodeo career in 2010, Clements found an interest in bareback riding at a rodeo in Prescott, Ariz. He had never paid attention to it before, but there was something he saw that made an instant impact.

After the rodeo, he called a friend to see about riding a bucking horse, and the offer was good for the next day’s event in Randolph, Utah. Clements drove 12 hours, stopping only for a quick shower and to borrow equipment, and mounted two horses the next day.

“I bucked off both the horses that I got on, but I remember hitting the ground and thinking, ‘I can do this,’ ” he said. “That kicked it off for me, the love of the fight to stay on an animal five times the size of me. I immediately had a love and passion for it. I didn’t even make the whistle, but I craved it already.”

It’s now a full-fledged addiction, and he’s OK with it. He has the support of his family – besides his mom, he has his father, Doug, brothers Tyler and Colin and sister Sarah. From providing him a place to stay when he needed or rooting for him from the stands, he has recognized their importance in his life.

They may not have always understood his love for the game, but they were always supportive. Meanwhile, his passion drove him to the College of Southern Idaho, where he competed on a rodeo scholarship. He won the intercollegiate Rocky Mountain Region title in 2014, just a year after taking up the sport. Of course, he had two great coaches in Kelly Wardell and Cody DeMers, both of whom rode bareback horses at the Wrangler NFR.

“I was able to get on eight horses a week in practice, then two college rodeos and ProRodeo if there were any close enough to make. I practiced a lot in college, it’s really payed off now that I look back at it.” said Clements, who credits much of his success to his discipline in practice as well as great mentors and coaches. “In the spring (of 2014), I would practice Mondays and Wednesdays. We’d be at a college rodeo on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, then after that, Cody and I would go to any ProRodeo we could get to. We would then drive all night Sunday back to Twin Falls, Idaho, for class Monday morning and practice that evening.

“He taught me how to get up and down the road. He really got my foot in the door on the whole business of rodeo.”

Considering it’s been just a little more than five years since he first got on a bareback horse, he’s doing awfully well. He’s had help from other top bareback riders, including a couple of Utahans: Caleb Bennett, a six-time Wrangler NFR qualifier from Tremonton; the late Lewis Feild, who won three straight all-around and two bareback riding world titles; and Kaycee Feild, a four-time world champion bareback rider from Payson.

He’s taken all the lessons they have dished out, and he’s found the positives in every step he’s taken. Now he’s looking forward to returning to Las Vegas for the richest rodeo in the world, with a purse of $8 million, where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 each night for 10 rounds.

“I’m looking forward to 10 days of the baddest bucking horses on the plant, to get my NFR jacket, the ring and the money that’s available,” he said. “I like riding bucking horses, and I like to do it to get money. I’ve sacrificed a lot over the last seven years of my life to be at this moment and have this opportunity, now it’s time to capitalize not only now but many more years to come.”

It’s Clements’ time to shine, and he has every reason to do it.

postheadericon O’Connell ready to defend title

Reigning world champion Tim O'Connell rides into Las Vegas as the No. 1 bareback rider, and he's got a good start to defending his gold buckle at this year's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Reigning world champion Tim O’Connell rides into Las Vegas as the No. 1 bareback rider, and he’s got a good start to defending his gold buckle at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

ZWINGLE, Iowa – As the reigning bareback riding world champion in ProRodeo, Tim O’Connell has a simple mission when he arrives in Las Vegas next week for his fourth qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“I don’t plan on leaving there without another gold buckle,” said O’Connell, 26, of Zwingle. “I plan to ride smart, ride aggressive and ride like me. The chips are going to fall where they fall. God has a plan for that, and I’m going to trust that plan.”

He is a man of strong faith, and he is proud of it. He’s also proud of the talents God has given him both in and out of the rodeo arena. Now he will return to the NFR in search of his second straight world title, and he has a pretty good shot at it.

You see, O’Connell earned $202,916 through the regular season and holds the No. 1 spot in the world standings heading to ProRodeo’s grand championship, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas. He wears a big target, but O’Connell is OK with it.

“I really like having a target on my back,” he said. “In my first two years, Kaycee Feild was the No. 1 guy going, and he dominated things. What I learned in those two years was the reason nobody could beat him was that he didn’t make mistakes and let anybody take his crown. He took that target so far out that nobody could hit it. He’s the guy that didn’t make mistakes, and that’s why he couldn’t be beat for four years straight.

Tim O'Connell

Tim O’Connell

“That’s where I really started changing my mindset. When I got it, I didn’t want to let go of it. Once I got it, I wanted to get that target as far away from everybody as possible.”

He’s done a good job of that so far. He owns a $65,000 lead over the No. 2 man, Minnesotan Tanner Aus. A year ago, O’Connell had more than a $40,000 lead after the regular season, then earned $195,000 in Las Vegas to outdistance the field by $140,000. He’ll need a repeat performance this year.

With a purse of $8 million and go-round winners earning more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds, no lead is safe. A year ago, he placed in eight go-rounds, including a share of the title in Round 2. He won the all-important average title by having the best 10-round cumulative score, and that $67,269 bonus was added into his earnings. He finished last year with $347,272.

“The first year I made the NFR (in 2014), I was in the No. 4 spot, and I had just barely cracked $100,000,” he said, noting that the top nine cowboys in the world standings at the end of the regular season all reached that mark in 2017. “It’s amazing what rodeo has done in terms of money.”

That’s important. Not only is it how cowboys win championships, but this is his business and how he feeds his family, which is growing by one. He and his wife, Sami, are expecting a little boy in early March. These are exciting times for the O’Connells, and they hope to do a little celebrating over the 10 days in Las Vegas.

Tim O’Connell was raised around rodeo. His father, Ray, has been a pickup man, then the driver who hauled his young sons to their own rodeos. His mother, Joann, has been the support system. Brother Will rode bulls – even qualifying for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo – and worked as a bullfighter before taking on the task of being a pickup man; he is actually one of the five finalists for the 2017 Pickup Man of the Year.

“My wife is a barrel racer who still runs,” O’Connell said. “She was the reserve national high school champion. She hasn’t run much lately because she’s pregnant with our first child. But I think there will be a time when my career is on the downhill side that she can run again and maybe see if she can get to the NFR.”

As a young high-schooler, he tried his hand at all three roughstock events, hoping to be the next Ty Murray, who won nine world championships and competed in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding.

But at 110 pounds, O’Connell didn’t quite have the body type to manage all the rough-and-tumble bucking events. In his first three rodeos, he was knocked out three times in either bareback riding or bronc riding. He decided to focus his attention on bull riding until he turned 18.

“I was in a slump with my bull riding, so I went to the Three Hills Buck Out,” he said. “The first one I got on was East Coast Otis, which turned into being an eliminator in bareback riding. She two-jumped me and threw me over her head. I got on one more and got him rode. I just fell in love with it. There was something about it that was very intriguing to me, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.”

That’s a good thing. O’Connell attended both Iowa Central Community College and Missouri Valley College on rodeo scholarships. He won the ProRodeo bareback riding rookie of the year title in 2013, then claimed the college championship in 2015.

Each year he has played the game in Vegas, he has finished among the top 10. Of course, being the reigning world titlist was a shot of momentum that kicked off the 2017 campaign.

“I think that played a lot into having a strong regular season,” O’Connell said. “When you show up with the attitude and mindset that you are a world champion, I think it elevated my game even more. The pressure is on me to be that good. The pressure drives me to wake up every day and be a better person than I was the day before.

“I think I’m a very consistent rider as far as my scores go. I think I can do a lot of things on an average horse to make an average horse better. If you get into a short round and have the 12 best horses there, I feel like I can really do something.”

Though it didn’t count for the world standings, O’Connell’s biggest victory came in February at The American, where he rode Frontier Rodeo’s Show Stomper for 90 points to win $100,000.

“That was the first time I was ever 90 in my career,” he said. “That really got me going for the year. My confidence went through the roof after that. I felt like I was taking advantage of every horse to the best of my ability, and things were steamrolling at that point.”

Since Dec. 1, 2016, O’Connell has earned more than $500,000. That’s pretty good money for riding eight seconds at a time. But there’s a lot of work behind the scenes, in the gym and on the road that all fits into each ride. Now he plans to show that off again in Las Vegas with 14 others who earned the right to compete there.

“This is probably one of the most talented group of bareback riders that has hit the Thomas & Mack,” O’Connell said. “I might have a $65,000 lead, but I’m going in there like we’re neck and neck. They will snatch your dreams if you let them.”

He won’t let them. He’s got his eyes on the prize, and it’s made of gold.

postheadericon Baby has Breuer’s mind right for NFR

Ty Breuer returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career. Now that he's a new dad, he hopes to wrangle in his fair share of Vegas cash. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

Ty Breuer returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career. Now that he’s a new dad, he hopes to wrangle in his fair share of Vegas cash. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

MANDAN, N.D. – The lead has changed to Ty Breuer’s story.

The top story on Breuer’s 2017 season was his third qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. That changed on Nov. 9, when Kayd Lee Breuer was born to Breuer and his wife, Kelli.

“It was sure life-changing,” Breuer said. “Right when she came out, it was definitely tears of joy for me.”

That’s exactly the way it’s supposed to feel for first-time parents. Though Kayd was about a month early, she was 6 pounds, 6 ounces. When Kelli Breuer went in for a regular appointment on Nov. 8, doctors opted to induce labor.

The Breuers got their princess home, but a bout with jaundice forced Kayd back to the hospital until everything was lined out.

Ty Breuer

Ty Breuer

“We weren’t really prepared for it all,” Ty said of the birth. “Kelli’s baby shower was two days after she had the baby. Kelli had the room mostly done, but we didn’t have the car seat in the car yet and didn’t have a bag packed.”

They’ve got it all figured out now and just in time as the family prepares for a venture to the City of Lights. That’s the home of ProRodeo’s grand championship, a 10-day festival featuring only the 15 best in each event from the regular-season standings. It features an $8 million purse, where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 a night.

Breuer has been there before, first in 2013, then again a year ago. So far this season, he has pocketed $89,106 and sits 14th in the world standings. But the NFR is the world’s richest rodeo, and he has a great chance to earn some big-time cash.

“I think this was one of my harder years of rodeoing,” said Breuer, 27, a seven-year pro from Mandan. “I think one of the keys to making it a third time was that I was drawing good. There was a while when I couldn’t draw anything, but I was still riding good.”

In bareback riding, half the score is based on the cowboy and how well he spurs from the front of the shoulders to the rigging in rhythm with the animal. The other half is based on the horse and how well it bucks. That’s why taking advantage of good horses is a necessity for Breuer, who had at least a share of the victory at 10 rodeos.

He traveled a good part of the season with his usual partners, his brother, Casey, and their good friend, Tanner Aus. At the end of the season, he leaned on the assistance of a veteran to help his cause toward returning to Vegas.

“Jumping in with Seven Dent at the end of the season helped me make the finals,” Breuer said of the Nebraska man, an eight-time NFR qualifier who finished the regular season 12th in the world standings. “He knows how to rodeo at the end of the year. Neither of us really rodeo until the end of June, so we have a lot more rodeos to go to at the end of the year.”

Both men are ranchers, and there are a lot of duties at home to which they tend. That means they spend only half a year focusing on their rodeo careers.

“Without any of those guys, rodeoing wouldn’t be any fun,” said Breuer, who credits his ability to make it up and down the rodeo trail to his sponsors: D Day Trucking, Fort Pierre, S.D.; Long X Trading Co., Pendleton, Ore; Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse in Pierre, S.D.; Rio Nutrition; Phoenix Performance Products; and B. Tuff Jeans. “That’s probably the best part, getting to know people and getting to hang out with your best friends every day.”

But the year wasn’t without its hang-ups. While competing in Circle, MT., in mid-August, Casey Breuer was smashed in the back of the chute by his horse and suffered three fractured vertebrae. Ty and Aus were within feet of the wreck when it happened.

“It was hard on both Tanner and me for a month and a half after that,” Ty said. “It was weird, because Casey was always there for us. He was just coming around and riding really good, but Casey said it best, ‘That’s just the way it is.’

“When we nod our head, we know something bad can happen.”

As rodeo goes, it was also an adjustment since Casey Breuer handled much of the business of the job. He made sure of schedules for all three cowboys in the rig. Once he was out of commission, the job fell on his brother and Aus.

“I remember just before we left and before he was getting flown away, he told us what to remember to enter,” Breuer said. “Tanner and I are both very happy that he’s walking around now.

“What happened to Casey could have happened to anybody. It’s not fair that it happened, but it made me start thinking that you don’t know when your last horse will be, so be sure you try your hardest on every one.”

The philosophy has been beneficial to Breuer. After the regular season came to a close, he took another step by winning the year-end and average titles at the RAM Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot, N.D., just a two-hour drive from his house.

“That was a big confidence booster,” he said. “I ended up drawing really good there, and I rode good. It was a nice way to end the season, too, because I’d been rodeoing so hard. I got to go to the circuit finals and ride good horses and be next to home.

“I feel good about my riding. Toward the end of the season, it felt like I was trying to win first every time I was nodding my head. It was almost like a different mindset. You knew you had to make it work.”

That’s the same mindset he’s taking to Las Vegas. He’s doing everything possible to make this NFR his best one yet.

“One thing that really changed this year is that I’ve got a trainer now,” Breuer said. “I’ve always thought about the gold buckle, but I was never pushing toward it. This guy (Tanner Schweitzer of Recreational Athletic Wellness Strong in Bismarck, N.D.) has been putting it in my head that I have the talent to where it could happen.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked at bareback riding as much as I have these last couple of months that I’ve been training for it. It makes you think about it a lot more.”

With his mind on his business and more than $26,000 up for grabs per night, he has plenty of reasons to think about that world championship. It’s like a fast-track to the gold buckle he craves.

postheadericon Pearson craves the world title

Tyler Pearson has parlayed a fantastic 2017 regular season into his second qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He sits third in the world standings heading into next week's championship.

Tyler Pearson has parlayed a fantastic 2017 regular season into his second qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He sits third in the world standings heading into next week’s championship.

LOUISVILLE, Miss. – As a competitor, Tyler Pearson has always hungered to be better.

Steer wrestling wasn’t always an easy venture for the 6-foot-2 cowboy, but he worked at it. He continues to work at it with a simple process: Practice, practice and more practice. That’s why the Louisville man is in the hunt for the 2017 world championship.

“I started bulldogging in high school,” said Pearson, who recently transplanted his family to the tiny town of Atoka, Okla. “My buddies were doing it. I was trying it and trying to be competitive. My competitiveness made it to where I didn’t want to be the worst one there. I found a little success.

“I started rodeoing with (former world champion) Herbert Theriot and started winning some. I got addicted to it.”

He continues to feed that addiction, and through the 2017 regular season, Pearson earned just shy of $110,000. He is third in the world standings and is heading to the National Finals Rodeo for the second time in his career. He last played on ProRodeo’s biggest stage in 2013.

Tyler Pearson

Tyler Pearson

So how good was he this year? His regular-season earnings surpassed all that he earned four years ago, including the $38,000 he earned in Las Vegas.

“I was pretty stoked this year,” he said. “I had some ups and downs, for sure, but I had a really good winter. My summer was a tick slow, but then I won $8,000 over the Fourth of July.”

His summer kept getting better. He had remained among the top 15 in the world standings much of the season, then he found a windfall in mid-July, thanks in large part to a new format at an old rodeo. The Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City offered a great pay scale, and Pearson cashed in.

He placed second in his preliminary round to pocket $2,400 and advance to the high-paying championship round. There he was the runner-up again, and a $25,000 payday came his way. He moved into the top five on the money list and never left.

What was the key to his success in 2017?

“The horse of the year,” he said of Scooter, a 12-year-old sorrel gelding he co-owns with fellow bulldogger Kyle Irwin, also a traveling partner. “He just lets you win, and he’s a winner, too. That horse just gives you a chance to win.

“On a slow steer, he can get you in the right place at the right time. If the steer is a runner, he can run hard enough to get your feet on the ground.”

That’s important in steer wrestling. The faster bulldoggers can get their hands on the steer and their feet on the ground after making the jump from their horse, the better the time. In a sport where the fastest times win most of the money, it’s critical. That’s why fellow cowboys voted for Scooter to be the Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year.

“He had probably 15 different guys on him,” Pearson said. “I think Luke (Branquinho) had won $35,000 on him before (Branquinho) got hurt.”

So just between five-time world champion Branquinho, Pearson and Irwin, Scooter helped the three earn a combined $225,000. Between Scooter and Pearson’s hazing horse, Metallica, they were a solid team throughout the regular season. In steer wrestling, a good hazer with a solid hazing horse is vital to help keep the steer running in a straight line.

“Metallica has been a real blessing,” Pearson said. “My other horse, Poco, is really good, but he’s starting to get some age at 17. It’s just going to show. It’s good when Metallica can run as fast as he can and can race Scooter. It makes both horses work well.”

That kind of teamwork is vital in rodeo, where there are no guarantees. In order to earn money, cowboys must finish better than most, plus they have all the expenses that come with the game that features tens of thousands of miles a year, sleeping on overnight drives from one rodeo to another and having only a chance to cash in.

Those 120 contestants that have qualified for the NFR have earned the right one dollar at a time, and now they will compete for the biggest prize money in the game, an $8 million purse where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 each night for 10 rounds. That’s why he’s excited to see Scooter and Metallica work inside the Thomas & Mack Center, home of the championship since 1985.

“I think they’re going to be great,” he said. “We ran Scooter at those fast starts this year, and Irwin and I did well. Those rodeos are on a level that’s close to the NFR on the start. That’s why they give us a chance. We just knew we had to get to Vegas.”

When Pearson competes, Irwin will be his hazer; when it’s Irwin’s turn, Pearson will ride Metallica. They’ve done it all year long, and it’s worked pretty well, but the two have been important parts of each other’s lives for several years. For the first time, though, they will compete in rodeo’s grand finale together.

“It’s everything, and it means so much to have good traveling partners,” said Pearson, a University of West Alabama graduate who credits much of his success to his sponsors: Metal Fab LLC, Classic Equine, CINCH, 12 Gauge Ranch, Platinum Performance, Cowboy Classic Saddlery, Purina Feed and RCI Oilfield Services.

“That keeps me going. If I hated being out there or hated the people I was around, I’d just come home. Iron sharpens iron, and we do that for each other. When everybody’s doing good, you feed off that. I think that’s what makes a group of guys go winning.”

Every teammate is important to competitors. For Pearson, that includes his family: wife Carissa, son Stetson, 4, and daughter Steelie, who will be 2 in December.

“They are the reason I do this,” he said. “Carissa is the support system. When I have bad days, she tells me that I can do this. When I need her, she’s the one out there popping the chute so I can practice. She’s just a positive person and a positive influence.

“Every time I’ve ever won anything been, she was with me.”

She’ll be in Las Vegas this December, and that’s a good thing for her husband.

postheadericon Biglow enjoys life as a cowboy

CLEMENTS, Calif. – Cowboy is all Clayton Biglow has wanted to be, what he aspires to be.

“Ever since I hit the ground, I wanted to be a cowboy,” said Biglow, 21, of Clements. “I never went a day without thinking about it.”

That’s a good thing, since he’s pretty good at it. Biglow is a bareback rider, and he’s one of the best. He is about to embark on his second straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.

He earned the right to compete with the best in ProRodeo by having a tremendous 2017 regular season; he pocketed $128,153 and sits third in the world standings. Most importantly, he’s living his dreams on the rodeo trail.

“I played football, basketball and baseball growing up, and I thought I was going to play baseball because I loved it so much,” he said. “But I was always upset with practice because I didn’t have time to rope or ride steers. I guess that’s a ‘Here’s Your Sign’ moment.”

Clayton Biglow

Clayton Biglow

It comes naturally to Biglow. His father, Russ, is a team roper who used to ride bareback horses, and his mom, Jessie, trains jumping horses; his older sister, Taylor, is a barrel racer and breakaway roper, and younger sister, Maddie, competes in jumping and virtually all girls rodeo events.

That’s what happens for children who are ranch-raised. It doesn’t hurt that his father also understands Biglow’s trade.

“I wanted to try all the events,” he said. “My dad made me quit riding bulls because I was so little; I didn’t grow until the end of my sophomore year of high school. The first bareback horse I ever got on, I just fell in love with it. I got off, and I knew right that that it was the event I wanted to pursue.

“My dad was the biggest and still is the biggest influence in my career. Before I got on my first bareback horse, I already knew what to do. My dad was tremendously helpful.”

Dad wasn’t the only trainer. Having a mother who showed jumping horses came into play. Not only could he ride the jumpers, but he oftentimes rode them bareback, even setting up jumps. As the horse would clear the jump, Biglow would hold his heels above the animal’s shoulders. That’s the markout, the starting point for all bareback riders and an integral part of every ride.

It was just another level of training that has been so beneficial to the talented, young cowboy. It’s why he’s propelled himself to the top of the game in just his second year competing in ProRodeo. He finished his first campaign with $171,000 and was crowned the rookie of the year – $94,000 came at last year’s NFR.

“Making the NFR last year was just a goal,” Biglow said. “I’m not going to say it was a surprise, because this is how I wanted to do it. I wanted things to happen now. I didn’t expect anything less.

“There’s a huge difference between confidence and cockiness. It’s another thing to be humble, too, and that’s what I strive for most. Don’t get caught up in what you’ve done. You learn something from every single horse you get on.”

He picked up some big wins this season, from Puyallup, Wash., to Sikeston, Mo., and numerous points between. In all, he earned at least a share of the title at 12 rodeos. That was critical to his season in ProRodeo, where dollars equal points; the contestants in each event with the most money earned at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions.

“That’s the goal, and that’s been the goal since I started riding bareback horses,” he said. “If you don’t have your mind on the gold buckle, then you might as well not even ride.”

As he heads into ProRodeo’s grand championship, Biglow understands what it’s going to take to earn that coveted gold. He trails the leader, Tim O’Connell, by nearly $74,000, but he can make up ground in a hurry. The NFR is the world’s richest rodeo, featuring an $8 million purse. Go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 per round for 10 nights.

If things went just right, Biglow could catch up to O’Connell in three nights. But just as importantly, the trip to Vegas is all about the business of making money while riding bucking horses. It’s something he’s battled to do all season while traveling with his good friends Cash Wilson and Wyatt Denny, the 2015 rookie of the year.

It’s a tough business. Besides getting on nearly 100 bucking horses a year, the three men travel tens of thousands of miles in order to compete in the sport they love. It takes a toll on their bodies. But he has an ace in the hole in Dr. Brett Lemire at Universal Chiropractic Spine & Sport in Elk Grove, Calif.

“I go to Dr. Brett every time I’m home,” said Biglow, who credits sponsors Barstow, Resistol and Wrangler with helping him get down the rodeo trail, along with his grandmother, Carol Atkinson, who pays for his diesel. “I get massages, and he pretty much puts me back together. I started going to him last year when I got hurt, and I know it’s done a huge part with my riding. I feel great when I get on; I didn’t realize how important that is.”

In fact, Lemire is also planning to be in Vegas for part of Biglow’s team at the NFR. Besides that aspect of his wellness, the northern California cowboy also works diligently on building his body.

“I always go to the gym, and I rope and ride a lot when I’m home,” he said. “I like to ride my horses bareback quite a bit. I’ve got a couple of head horses that I’m trying to get in shape, so I ride them bareback. It’s good for your balance, and it keeps your groins in shape.”

He’ll need every advantage he can get in the City of Lights. The bareback riders will test their skills against the 100 best horses in the game in 2017. It’s a rugged test that happens over 10 straight nights.

From his first foray into ProRodeo four seasons ago to this year’s run for the gold buckle, things are lining up for Biglow.

“I think my riding has come around a lot since 2014,” he said. “What I like now is that I know what’s going on when I’m riding. I can feel the horses better, and I can pick up my timing better. I’ve got a lot more control.”

Now he hopes to control his own fortunes, and Las Vegas is the best place to make that happen.

postheadericon Aus is prepared for his 3rd NFR

Tanner Aus has had the best regular season of his career, finishing with more than $136,000. He heads to his third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo No. 2 in the bareback riding world standings. (GREG WESTFALL PHOTO)

Tanner Aus has had the best regular season of his career, finishing with more than $136,000. He heads to his third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo No. 2 in the bareback riding world standings. (GREG WESTFALL PHOTO)

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – Even though he’s just 27 years old, Tanner Aus is a veteran bareback rider who is making a mark in the game he loves.

The proof came through the 2017 regular season, where the Granite Falls man earned $136,657. It’s an incredible amount of money and put Aus No. 2 in the world standings heading into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.

But he still has some work to do. Despite having the best regular season of his seven-year career, Aus trails good friend and world standings leader Tim O’Connell by more than $65,000.

Tanner Aus

Tanner Aus

“Just watching him ride, Tim is on fire,” said Aus, who will ride in Vegas for the third straight year. “That’s fuel for every one of us, and he knows it. He thrives on that. It’s great to have that atmosphere where one guy pushes the next.

“This year has been amazing, and I hope it’s a testament to the direction the sport is going. Rodeos are starting to add more money. They can see the hard work that we put in and the sacrifices we make. It’s a great step for the sport to see that many guys break $100,000 in the regular season.”

Nine bareback riders topped that mark, and 50 of the 120 NFR qualifiers earned more than $100,000 leading into ProRodeo’s grand finale, the sport’s richest rodeo with a purse of $10 million. Go-round winners will pocket more than $26,000 per night for 10 rounds.

Aus knows that very well. At last year’s championship, he won three go-rounds and placed in three others. He left Las Vegas with more than $100,000 in 10 days’ work. If things go well, he can make up ground on O’Connell in three nights. He’s achieved his first goal, which is returning to the NFR.

“I had a great winter, and I felt like I rode strong,” said Aus, who credits much of his success to his sponsors: Granite Falls Dairy Queen, Jug Waterers, Windham Weaponry, Phoenix Performance Products, Twin Cities Featherlite and Wrangler. “I also drew well; it was a lot of fun.

“Everything came together. I got a good start to the season, and I was sitting in the top five most of the year. After winning Austin (Texas in March), I jumped to the No. 1 spot for a while; that was pretty fun for me.”

It was fun most of the season, and that helped make winning easier. In addition to his Rodeo Austin title, he also claimed at least a share of the victory at 10 other rodeos. But in order to win more than $130,000, he performed well enough when he wasn’t the titlist to make it count.

“It was a lot of scrapping,” he said. “There were a few long stretches where it was a few small checks. I had a couple big wins, and winning Austin was great. I’d been the runner-up there twice, but this year I got the (trophy) branding iron, and I’ll cherish that forever.

“Staying healthy was key. I spent a lot of time in the gym whenever I could and tried to stay focuses. The support I got from my family and my wife was another essential part to my season.”

Family has always been a valuable tool for Aus. He and his wife, Lonissa, just celebrated their one-year anniversary in October. She has been instrumental in keeping him in shape and has been a bright spot when he needs one.

In fact, the two are adding to their clan. He and Lonissa are expecting a baby due in May. It’s another big piece of what defines Aus, and she will likely make a positive change to an already positive man.

His family has always been an influence. His father, John, is a former bareback rider that has given Aus guidance since he was a youngster. His mother, Rae Ann, and sisters Dani and Braelee have been a backbone to his success.

“My wife is the one who introduced me to fitness, nutrition and flexibility … the stuff that could take me to the next level,” said Aus, who competed in college rodeo at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. “My mom has always been a rock for me. When I’m riding, my dad’s voice is in the back of my head to be aggressive.

“It’s the little things they do to help me.”

He’ll take all the help he can get, whether it’s from his family or from his traveling partners, brothers Ty and Casey Breuer. The trio has been up and down the rodeo trail together for several years, and they have become like siblings that way.

Ty Breuer returns to Las Vegas for the third time in his career, but Casey Breuer was sidelined in mid-August after suffering three fractured vertebrae when a horse smashed him into the back of the chute just before a ride in Circle, Mont.

Nevertheless, both Breuers remained key factors in Aus’ successful campaign.

“Between Ty and Casey, they are two of the most positive people you could go with,” he said. “When Casey got hurt, it really broke my heart. That was a tough thing and still is tough, but I still keep pretty close contact with him.

“He’s a sparkplug when he’s in the room. I think he handles this situation better than most people would. That’s probably made it easier for Ty and me.”

Aus hasn’t stepped off the gas pedal yet. He capped his phenomenal season the second weekend in November at the RAM Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo in Louisville, Ky., where he placed in all three rounds – including the victory on the final night – and won the average championship. In all, he pocketed $6,736.

“Our circuit finals falls at the perfect time of year,” Aus said. “There were three more horses that you can go shine your spurs on and get you prepared for the NFR.”

He’s been preparing himself for a lifetime. He knows what it means to have opportunity and take advantage of it. When he isn’t riding bucking horses, he’s thinking about it. He knows he will need to be focused mentally and physically to take care of a rugged 10 December nights in the Nevada desert.

“Fundamentally you just think you need to do better on every horse,” he said. “I watch highlights on YouTube when I’m at the gym, and it puts me in that frame of mind so that when I exercise or ride the spur board, I’m in that mentality. This time of year, you just hone your focus and mental game to build that mental toughness. I think that’s the key to 10 good nights.”

postheadericon Champion still building his dreams

Richmond Champion returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career after earning more than $200,000 riding bucking horses this year. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

Richmond Champion returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career after earning more than $200,000 riding bucking horses this year. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Just above the fireplace in Richmond Champion’s house are two large cutouts that sit empty right now.

He has plans to fill them, but they’re pretty specific.

“The top two squares are big enough to fit a saddle in,” said Champion, a 24-year-old bareback rider from The Woodlands who is about to compete at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career. “I want an NFR average saddle and a world championship saddle up there. I will not fill those with anything else.

“I don’t have a doubt in my mind that I’m capable of it.”

There’s no reason he should doubt it, and he proved it well during the 2017 ProRodeo regular season, in which he earned $101,197. He enters the grand finale ninth in the world standings and is about to compete at the richest rodeo in the world; the NFR offers an $8 million purse, with go-round winners earning more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds from Dec. 7-16.

Champion earned the right to compete at the NFR in Las Vegas by being one of the more dominant cowboys in the game. He earned at least a share of the victory at 10 rodeos. What doesn’t show up in his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association earnings is the $115,000 he pocketed at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede.

“Calgary was unreal,” said Champion, a Tarleton State University graduate who has a house near his alma mater in Stephenville, Texas. “There was something in the air that week for me. I was just confident on everything I rode. I wasn’t thinking so much about the finished product but focused on having fun each day.”

Since the Stampede is not sanctioned by the PRCA, the money doesn’t count toward the world standings. Still, it was a catapult that helped Champion along the way. In addition to advancing to Sin City in December, he also competed at the Canadian Finals Rodeo a couple weeks ago in Edmonton, Alberta.

It was a great opportunity for him and other NFR qualifiers to hone their skills on elite bucking horses.

“Those are a lot of the same horses that will be at the NFR,” said Champion, who traveled much of the season with fellow qualifier Caleb Bennett, the No. 6 man in the standings from Tremonton, Utah. “Getting on that caliber of animal three weeks ahead of time is good.

“You can get on practice animals all day long, but we’re going to get on the best horses for 10 days in a row. You need to be ready for that.”

Champion is ready. He’s a veteran in the game, even though he won’t turn 25 until Dec. 16, the final night of the rodeo season.

“For my third NFR, I don’t have questions about what it’s going to be like,” he said. “I can sit here and close my eyes and go from start to finish, what it’s going to be like when I get to the Thomas & Mack every night.

“Last year I was actually more nervous than the first year. The first time I got there, I just wanted to absorb it all, experience it all. This year I’m going to try to treat it just like it’s the regular season. That’s the mindset I’ve got to have when I get there.”

The mental side of the game is important for any athlete. Each needs to know he has the talent to throw that touchdown pass or have the game-winning hit if the opportunity arises.

When it comes to riding bucking beasts, Champion understands what it means to spur in rhythm with the horse and giving himself every chance to score big points; the higher the score, the better the opportunity it is for him to cash the bigger paychecks.

Unlike other sports, there are no guarantees in rodeo. The only way for Champion to earn money is to perform better than most in the field. At the NFR, only the top six scores earn money each night. He’ll need every dollar if he hopes to overtake a talented field; he trails the world standings leader, Tim O’Connell, by a little more than $100,000.

“The money in rodeo this year is insane, and it’s awesome,” said Champion, who, if things go his way, could catch O’Connell by the fourth night of the 10-day championship. “For the top 10 bareback riders to all have accumulated over $1 million this season … that’s what we’ve wanted the sport to get to, and it’s only getting better.

“Can you really make a living at this? Yes. Rodeo, as a whole, is making huge steps. Guys are hungry, and guys are more competitive.”

That makes it fun for men like him. He craves the competition, just like he hungers for bucking horses. He’ll have plenty of both in Las Vegas.

“It’s going to take a lot of things for me to win the world title,” he said. “My goal and my plan that I think will work is to do what I do the best: Take advantage of every opportunity and don’t worry about anybody else and their standing. I want to be in a position that if anyone of those guys ahead of me makes a mistake, I can take advantage.

“It can all change really fast. I’m just going to go with that consistent game that is my bread and butter. When I get the opportunity to show out, do it and don’t hold back.”

He’ll do that through a tremendous talent aided by a powerful work ethic. He has the support of his family: his dad, Greg; his mom, Lori; and his brother, Doug, a former bareback rider. From being there in person when possible or offering an ear over the phone, it all comes with the team effort the Champions have.

Over his short but noteworthy career, Champion has had some of the biggest victories in all of rodeo. He was the original $1.1 million winner of The American in 2014, and a few months later parlayed his title in Cheyenne, Wyo., into his first NFR qualification.

The biggest prize is still out there for him, but he is excited about the opportunity he has this December.

“This is the best I’ve ever felt about my riding,” said Champion, who also is supported by his sponsors, Chevy Trucks, Nocona Boots, Yeti and Hooey. “The comfort that I’ve found and that nervous, fired-up energy that I’ve found a way to thrive on, I think I’ve found my groove that I can create more often. My riding isn’t so hit-and-miss. I have a more consistent mindset and feeling, and it’s shown in my riding this year.”

Now he wants to prove it with that coveted gold buckle.

postheadericon Jarrett takes simple approach to NFR

Ryan Jarrett has earned more than $96,000 competing in tie-down roping, and he's earned his 11th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification as the No. 8 man in the standings. (PRCA PRORODEO PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

Ryan Jarrett has earned more than $96,000 competing in tie-down roping, and he’s earned his 11th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification as the No. 8 man in the standings. (PRCA PRORODEO PHOTO BY GREG WESTFALL)

COMANCHE, Okla. – The pace of life around here is a bit slower than most places in the world.

It’s definitely much different than the bright lights and hustle of Las Vegas. That’s just the way Ryan Jarrett likes it. Still, his annual trek to the Nevada desert comes with the possibility of great rewards.

“It’s a madhouse,” he said of Vegas, home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s 10-night championship that features only the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season. “Sometimes I just like to drive away from there. I like the simpler things.”

Jarrett will return for his 11th qualification to the finale, set for Dec. 7-16 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. He first qualified in 2005, the same year he left the City of Lights with the most cherished prize in the game: the all-around gold buckle.

That year, he qualified in both steer wrestling and tie-down roping. His nine subsequent trips to Las Vegas have come strictly in tie-down roping. This year, he enters the NFR as the No. 8 man in the standings with $96,056.

“All summer long and the fourth quarter of the season were pretty good,” said Jarrett, who was raised near Summerville, Ga., in the northwestern part of the state. “I can’t complain a bit.”

What’s even more impressive is that he only competed during seven months of the year-round season. He had hand surgery on Dec. 15, 2016, just four days after concluding last year’s NFR. He returned to action prematurely in March, but then took the time off necessary to make sure his hand was in perfect working order.

He returned to action in mid-April, which gave him just five and a half months to make up some serious ground. He accomplished it by being consistently good over that time.

“In April, I went to some pretty good circuit rodeos,” he said of regional rodeos primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. “That pretty much got me lined out.”

After winning the championship at the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo in late June, Jarrett moved into the top 20 in the world standings for the first time. He just kept moving. By mid-August, he was inside the top 15 and didn’t fall out the rest of the season, which concluded Sept. 30.

Remember those circuit rodeos? Jarrett also excelled close to home. He won the year-end championship. It’s another key goal in a rodeo cowboy’s career, because it earns him a chance to compete at the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo next spring.

But his sights are set on Vegas right now. That’s the richest rodeo in the world, with go-round winners earning more than $26,000 each night. It’s not only a chance for him to cash in, but he is eager to earn a tie-down roping world championship – in rodeo, dollars equal points, so the contestants in each event with the most money earned after the NFR will be rewarded with the coveted gold buckles.

“I’m going to take my little horse out there,” he said of Snoopy, a 7-year-old sorrel gelding that guided him to an October victory at the All American Finals in Waco, Texas. “I had my doubts about him, but winning in Waco ensured I could win something on him. I’m looking forward to that.”

Snoopy was a helpful part of his season. A rule change allowed the tie-down ropers to compete at 100 rodeos this year – previously it was 75 – so Jarrett took advantage of it. He competed at as many as he could. He was able to go to some rodeos with his wife, Shy-Anne, who is a barrel racer.

“She went with me the latter part of the season, but I didn’t drive by any rodeos,” he said. “This year I went to 26 rodeos I’ve never been to in my life, and I’ve competed since 2004. I may not go to a bigger rodeo if I could work four other ones in that time.

“I rodeoed a little smarter. It probably cost me some money in the standings, but I made more rodeo.”

An example was focusing on rodeos closer to home instead of making the trek to the West Coast during the spring.

“I used to go to Redding (Calif.), and it’d take three days to work that rodeo. This year I stayed right here and went to four rodeos in two days. You put in that prize money, and it equals as much as you could win in Redding, and the profit margin is much bigger.”

He has to. Rodeo is his primary business, so it makes sense to watch the bottom line. But it’s also a sport, so it takes considerable athleticism to pull it all off. It’s not just him, either; he has to trust in his horse. He has big plans for Snoopy, but he’s ready for anything that comes his way in Las Vegas.

“I have a backup horse lined up out there,” Jarrett said. “It’s Marty Yates’ hors that I rode quite a bit this summer. Hopefully I can avoid paying mount money (to Yates) and ride my own.”

There’s that business mindset coming into play. Since the season concluded, he has kickstarted the 2018 campaign in a good way. He sits second in those standings with more than $14,000 earned since Oct. 1. He has competed sparingly but has plenty of other things to help keep his mind and body sharp.

“I’ve been riding the bicycle a little bit,” Jarrett said. “I’ve done a lot of jogging in the past, but it has made my knee pretty sore. Riding the bicycle helps keep me in shape, so I’m going to continue to be riding. I stay so busy when I’m home with my cattle and other things, there’s no down time for me.”

That’s just the way he likes it, even at the smaller pace of Comanche, Oklahoma.

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