Archive for November, 2017

postheadericon BFO is returning to Vegas

Schell Apple will be one of the top men in Bullfighters Only competing at the Las Vegas Championship, set for Dec. 7-10 and 13-16 at the Tropicana Casino and Resort. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Schell Apple will be one of the top men in Bullfighters Only competing at the Las Vegas Championship, set for Dec. 7-10 and 13-16 at the Tropicana Casino and Resort. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Bullfighters Only to award more than $100,000 during Las Vegas Championship

LAS VEGAS – Continuing its effort to revolutionize the sport of freestyle bullfighting, Bullfighters Only will award a $50,000 bonus to the 2017 BFO world champion upon the completion of the 2017 BFO Las Vegas Championship – scheduled for Dec. 7-10 and 13-16 at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Las Vegas.

“Bullfighters Only is defined by our commitment to freestyle bullfighting and showcasing the sport’s very best athletes,” said Aaron Ferguson, founder and CEO of Bullfighters Only.

The eight-day Las Vegas Championship alone pays out more $50,000, with $25,000 of that going to the event champion. Such a big win could propel several of the BFO’s top bullfighters to a world championship.

The results of the event will be utilized to seed competitors for the 2018 competition season.

“Our Vegas event is not only a great time to take advantage of big prize money, it’s also an important opportunity for guys to get a jump on the $50,000 bonus we will pay out to the 2018 BFO world champion,” Ferguson said.

This year, BFO’s venue will sit next to one of the Strip’s busiest intersections – Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. Fans can expect the same explosive show they’ve come to love with more artistic flair and surprises than ever before.

“BFO Las Vegas is truly our crown jewel event,” Ferguson said. “The competition will be heated and we’re going to see some upsets along the way.”

Thursday, Dec. 7: Roughy Cup – a stand-alone competition featuring the top nine athletes in the BFO. The event has become a staple for BFO fans and is scheduled for 2 p.m.

The remainder of the BFO Las Vegas Championship schedule is as follows, with all performances starting at 2 p.m:

Friday, Dec. 8-Sunday, Dec. 10: Qualifier Rounds – An open door for the sport’s rising talent, providing a chance to compete at the elite level. Nine of the 27 bullfighters competing will advance to the Preliminary Rounds.

Wednesday, Dec. 13-Thursday Dec. 14: Preliminary Rounds – Winners from each performance advance to Championship Saturday.

Friday, Dec. 15: Wild Card Round – Bullfighters will get one final chance to advance to Championship Saturday.

Saturday, Dec. 16: The 2017 BFO world champion will be crowned at the completion of a 9-man semifinals, followed by the 3-man Hooey Championship Round.

The winner of the BFO Las Vegas Championship will receive a check for $25,000 and a custom title belt by Jensen Silver and Ride Hard Leather. The 2017 BFO world champion will make history by earning a $50,000 bonus.

Come early and enjoy the Otterbox Tailgate Party, featuring music, food, drinks and games.  Stay after the show to hang out with BFO bullfighters and fans, plus listen to more great music at the Hooey After-Party at Robert Irvine’s Restaurant and Bar inside the Tropicana.

Tickets and information are available at

postheadericon Newlywed Larsen ready for NFR

Orin Larsen rides Pete Carr's Scarlet's Web for 90 points earlier this season to win the Lea County Fair and Rodeo. He hopes to continue that hot streak during his third NFR this December. (PEGGY GANDER PHOTO)

Orin Larsen rides Pete Carr’s Scarlet’s Web for 90 points earlier this season to win the Lea County Fair and Rodeo. He hopes to continue that hot streak during his third NFR this December. (PEGGY GANDER PHOTO)

INGLIS, Manitoba – Many things went Orin Larsen’s way in 2017.

He qualified for both the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Canadian Finals Rodeo and has established himself as one of the best bareback riders in the sport today. But the best part of his year came on Oct. 14, when he married his longtime girlfriend, Alexa Minch.

“With the help of her folks, she literally did everything to plan the wedding,” said Larsen, a three-time NFR qualifier from Inglis, now living in the Nebraska Panhandle community of Gering. “I did as much as I could on the road, but that wasn’t much. I’d say she did 99.9 percent of it.”

Orin Larsen

Orin Larsen

That’s part of living with a ProRodeo cowboy who is on the rodeo trail and away from home for weeks at a time, sometime months. But that’s how he makes a living, and he’s pretty good at it. He just concluded a solid CFR, where he pocketed $30,000 in just five days.

He enters the NFR 10th in the world standings, having earned $99,240 through the regular season. He earned at least a share of the title at 14 rodeos, including four that were lucrative Wrangler Champions Challenge events. It all added up to a nice finish for the Manitoba cowboy.

“I was fortunate enough to make the CFR and the NFR this year, but it wasn’t an easy task by any means,” said Larsen, who won two college national championship, one competing at the College of Southern Idaho and one at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “I got hurt in July, so I spent half of that month at home.”

He separated ribs while competing at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede. He tried to ride again a few days later but realized his body needed a break.

“I had to drive through Cheyenne (Wyo.) while (the rodeo) was going on because I was hurt,” he said of one of the most popular events in the game, the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. “That was a pretty big pill to swallow.”

It may have become a powerful motivator. He returned to action in early August and quickly went back to work. He moved from 18th to 15th within two weeks of returning and up to 13th by mid-August.

He was matched with good horses, which is a vital part of rodeo. In bareback riding, half the score is on how well the horse bucks, and the other half is on how well the cowboy spurs in motion with the bucking beast. It takes timing, agility and great athleticism to play the game as well as he does.

“At the end of the season, I just drew good enough everywhere and, luckily, stayed healed,” said Larsen, who credits his sponsors, Rieta Creek Scoreboards and Rodeo Tax, with helping him on the rodeo trail. “The Canadian Finals was just plain awesome. It was the toughest year to win anything there because everyone rode outstanding.

“To get on the best horses in the world there three weeks before they go to Vegas is a big plus. It helps us get ready for 10 days in Las Vegas.”

Yes, it does. Vegas home to the world’s richest rodeo, which features an $8 million purse where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds. As he enters the NFR – set for Dec. 7-16 – he is a little more than $100,000 behind the leader, Tim O’Connell. But that ground can be made up in four nights if things go Larsen’s way.

But it’s a big challenge, and he knows it. He’s excited to return to the Nevada desert for another December run.

“It means to me that no matter what kind of year you’ve had or what you started with, you can defeat the impossible as long as you have a good support system,” he said. “To defeat the odds in my own mind was truly special to me.”

He learned to handle challenges growing up in western Manitoba. His father, Kevin, runs the family’s ranch, while his mother, Wanda, runs a barbershop in nearby Roblin, Manitoba. His sister, Cassie, is a hairdresser like her mother, and Orin is the middle of three sons, all of whom took to rodeo. In fact, Tyrel and Kane Larsen also attended Panhandle State.

Family has always been a big part of who Larsen is, and adding to it in October was a special to both him and Alexa.

“She kept me looking at the positive things that were going on, the silver lining,” he said. “When I got hurt, I didn’t have much wiggle room to take off. That really stressed me out about making the finals and having a chance.

“She looked at me and said, ‘What’s the worst thing that’ll happen? Missing out on the finals? It isn’t the end of the world.’ By shedding light on that, I realized it was going to be OK. She kept be up beat about the year and made me look at the bright side of things.”

Every ounce of assistance helps, and Larsen took it the way he needed to. Now he gets to play on ProRodeo’s grandest stage in an era where the money up for grabs is unprecedented. He’ll be one of nine Canadians that will try their hands in the game they love inside the Thomas & Mack Center for 10 December nights.

“It’s truly special to represent your country, but it’s more special to have a big team coming down from Canada,” Larsen said. “I hope the tradition keeps going. I hope more Canadians come down south to pursue their dreams of going to the NFR and ultimately winning the gold buckle.”

That’s definitely Orin Larsen’s dream, and he gets another chance to chase it in two weeks.

postheadericon Irwin happy with return to NFR

Kyle Irwin smiles on the South Point stage during the go-round buckle ceremony after the third round of the 2014 National Finals Rodeo. Irwin hopes to return to the round-buckle ceremony at this year's NFR.

Kyle Irwin smiles on the South Point stage during the go-round buckle ceremony after the third round of the 2014 National Finals Rodeo. Irwin hopes to return to the round-buckle ceremony at this year’s NFR.

ROBERTSDALE, Ala. – Kyle Irwin has an infectious smile the shines brightly under the cowboy hat he wears.

He loves to laugh and share that smile with just about anyone. He’s had plenty of opportunities in 2017, both at home and on the rodeo trail. He’s hoping it all pays off over 10 December nights in Las Vegas, where he will compete at the National Finals Rodeo for the third time.

“I love to smile, and I love to have fun,” said Irwin of Robertsdale, now living in Westville, Fla., with his wife, Randa, and their 10-month-old son, Tripp. “When you smile, something comes over you. I enjoy that, and it makes me enjoy the whole day.”

Kyle Irwin

Kyle Irwin

He has plenty of reasons to smile. He and Randa just celebrated their two-year anniversary. They kicked off the new year with Tripp, who was born Jan. 17. In business, he was toward the top of his game, earning just shy of $80,000 and finishing the regular season 11th in the world standings. That’s not too bad from the Alabama-raised steer wrestler who attended both Western Oklahoma State College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships.

“I really believe consistency was the key for me this year,” said Irwin, 27. “Even though my year was sporadic, it was pretty consistent. I didn’t win a whole lot early but stayed in the hunt. Over the Fourth (of July), I won $24,000 and was the highest steer wrestling earner. I jumped from 36th to 11th in the standings.”

That was a pivotal time. Cowboy Christmas is based on a number of lucrative rodeos around the July 4 holiday. Irwin won in both Cody, Wyo., and St. Paul, Ore.; those two rodeos earned the Alabama cowboy more than $16,000. He also placed well in Prescott, Ariz.; Livingston, Mont.; and Ponoka, Alberta.

“It was one of those weeks where I could do no wrong,” he said. “I believe it gave me the momentum to finish out.”

Besides momentum, Irwin had a couple other things going for him with traveling partner Tyler Pearson of Louisville, Miss., and Scooter, the bulldogging horse they co-own. Pearson is also heading to the NFR, going in No. 3 in the world standings; it’s his second qualification. This will be Scooter’s first trip to Las Vegas with the tandem, but they expect big things.

How vital was the 12-year-old sorrel gelding? Pearson picked up at least a share of the victory at eight rodeos, and Irwin had 12 titles. Scooter was the driving force behind the duo’s $190,000 in combined earnings. For that, the steer wrestlers voted him as the 2017 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year.

“I actually think it was both horses,” Irwin said, referring also to Pearson’s hazing horse, Metallica. “He can literally fly. The hazing horse has to run just as hard, if not harder, than the bulldogging horse. That horse is very athletic, and he makes my job easier, funner.

“It doesn’t matter what that steer does, we have the horses that can catch him.”

That type of confidence goes a long way; Pearson and Irwin now have the opportunity to showcase their horsepower at ProRodeo’s grand finale, set for Dec. 7-16. It’s important for their business as bulldoggers, because they will be battling for their share of the $8 million purse – go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds.

Irwin knows all the possibilities that await him in the Nevada desert. In his first NFR adventure, he earned $88,000 over 10 nights and finished as the 2014 reserve world champion. A year later, he placed in just three rounds and pocketed $34,000. He’s excited to see what 2017 offers.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned since my first NFR was patience,” he said. “I think it comes with age and maturing some. Things are going to happen that are sometimes out of my control. When things are in my control, I need to grab them and take advantage of them.”

He’s found great benefit in his team of sponsors – CINCH, RCI Oilfield Services, Zesterra, Seminole Feed, Resistol, Foy Reynolds Cattle Co., Best Ever Saddle Pads and Coats Saddlery – that help him get up and down the road. They all are a major part of the team returning to Las Vegas.

“In 2014, I was excited and like a little kid in a candy store,” Irwin said. “I enjoyed every minute and won a bunch of money. In 2015, I had the same thoughts, but I relaxed a little more and thought I was just going to win. I told myself after 2015 that if I get the opportunity again, I was going to treat it like ’14. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

“I want to go in there and win money so I can help my family, buy some land and set myself up for the future. I want to go a bit hungry and take advantage of every opportunity I get. For the opportunities I don’t have, I want to be smart and just knock the steers down.”

Family is his priority, as it should be. He and Randa were newlyweds the last time he rode in Sin City, and now they’ve added Tripp to the family.

“They matter more than anything,” he said. “As many times as I want to get upset when I make a mental error, I can just look at a picture of my wife and son on my phone and feel better about everything.

“Being a dad makes me want to try more, make me want to be a good dad and the dad my son can grow up and be proud of. I want to take advantage of every day to its fullest.”

It has worked all season long, so he has good reason to be excited when he lands in Las Vegas.

postheadericon NFR is a celebration for Braden

Hardy Braden has had the best season of his career. He hopes to improve it at his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (GREG WESTFALL PHOTO)

Hardy Braden has had the best season of his career. He hopes to improve it at his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (GREG WESTFALL PHOTO)

WELCH, Okla. – How good was 2017 to saddle bronc rider Hardy Braden?

He earned nearly as much money during the regular season as he had the previous six years combined. It is, by far, his greatest season in ProRodeo, and he will cap the campaign with his inaugural trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.

“It’s just now starting to sink in that I’m going to the NFR,” said Braden, who attended both Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. “When a person first starts rodeoing, it’s something you strive to come. There comes a time, especially when you’re younger, that you just think you’re going to go.

“It takes longer than people realize. As long as a guy keeps his head straight and stays positive, he can work toward it. It worked out this year, and I’m ecstatic.”

Hardy Braden

Hardy Braden

He should be. Braden earned $102,774 through the 2017 campaign and heads to the Nevada desert seventh in the world standings. The turning point actually came in February, when he found great success at the San Antonio (Texas) Stock Show and Rodeo.

While there, he earned more than $22,000. In a short span, he jumped to No. 5 in the world standings and remained among the top 10 all season long.

“That sure helped boost me up there in the standings, but fortunately I kept nickel-and-diming along to stay up there,” said Braden, whose father, Butch, is a former bronc rider-turned pickup man, and his mother, Tammy, is a timer who has worked the NFR in the past. “The reality of being able to make the NFR came sometime after Cheyenne (Wyoming at the end of July).

“I mentioned to my traveling partner, Will Smith, that I wanted to make enough money through the season that I can look back, subtract the money I won in San Antonio, and I still would’ve had enough to qualify for the NFR.”

He did that, proving to himself that he had done everything in his power to earn that spot inside the coveted top 15 – only the top cowboys and cowgirls in each event advance to the NFR, which offers the largest purse in the game. Go-round winners will pocket more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds.

“I may not have won that many rodeos, but I placed at nearly every rodeo I went to,” he said. “(Nine-time NFR qualifier) Danny Etbauer told us when I was in college that you don’t have to win every rodeo; those second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes are what’s going to get you down the road.

“I didn’t always have the horse to win the rodeo, but I ended up placing a lot. That paid off pretty well.”

As with every person who plays this game, the goal is to finish the year with the world championship. In rodeo, dollars equal points, so the contestants in each event who complete the NFR with the most money won are awarded the gold buckle.

Braden has had a great season, especially by his standards, but he still trails the leader, Jacobs Crawley, by more than $80,000. He understands that things are going to have to go his way in his first championship if he were to leave Las Vegas with gold.

“I do not take this for granted,” he said, noting that his career earnings prior to this year were just $106,000. “I realize this is probably not going to happen every year. You’re going to have those years. I’m not going to expect to have as such an awesome year as I did this year, but I’m going to approach it the same way I did this year.”

Braden grew up around the game. That’s what happens when one’s family is involved. He watched his dad ride broncs and was around rodeo all is life. His early lessons came from his father, who brought him along slowly.

Butch Braden qualified for the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo several times through the 1990s, so he knows quite a bit about riding broncs. He knew his son was interested, so Butch Braden kept his son interested without breaking his spirit.

“From the time I was 14, we had talked about bronc riding,” Hardy Braden said. “I never got on anything until my senior year in high school when I was 18. There was a time period we didn’t do anything but talk about it. But he told me about what a guy needs to do if a horse does this or that, what that feeling was like, getting an idea of what needed to happen.

“I think doing that a few years before ever getting on anything definitely cut the learning curve three-fourths for me. There’s a rule of thumb that says you need to get on 100 horses before you get the hang of things; I had only been on 30 horses before I made the college finals.”

Having those years of learning muscle memory has paid off. He qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in 2010 and 2011 and is a three-time Prairie Circuit champion. If he wasn’t getting advice from his dad, he was getting much needed support from his mom.

Tammy Braden has been her son’s executive assistant, of sorts. She keeps him up to date on the business end of the rodeo trail. That is a saving grace, especially for cowboys who are making a living at this.

“This will be the first time she’s going to the NFR and gets to be a fan,” Hardy Braden said. “My whole family’s ecstatic. It’s going to be a neat deal for everybody; it’s the biggest stage ProRodeo has to offer. I’m excited, and I know they are.”

There will be plenty of excitement to fill the air. ProRodeo’s grand championship has that Super Bowl feel to it, and it happens for 10 straight nights.

“I’m just going to look at it like I did all year; just do your best with what you have,” he said. “Like they say, ‘Eight seconds in the saddle is worth a lifetime in the stands.’ How many people, since the NFR’s inception, have actually competed at the NFR? I actually get to go do that and get on 10 of the best horses that were going down the road at that time.

“I love pressure. It makes me a little more nervous, but I probably handle it a little different than most.”

It’s a good trait to have in Las Vegas, and it will come in handy as he rides into the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time.

“This is the coolest thing I could possibly do,” he said.

Yes, it is.

postheadericon Struxness works hard for NFR bid

J.D. Struxness returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year. A year ago, he earned at least a share of the victory in three NFR go-rounds. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

J.D. Struxness returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year. A year ago, he earned at least a share of the victory in three NFR go-rounds. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

APPLETON, Minn. – J.D. Struxness isn’t afraid of hard work.

It’s coming in quite handy these days as he prepares to compete at his second Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas. He enters ProRodeo’s finale 13th in the steer wrestling standings with $76,442; it’s just inside the top 15 but still nearly $87,000 behind the leader, Ty Erickson.

The good news is that the NFR offers the biggest payday in the game, an $8 million purse. With go-rounds winners earning more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds, Struxness can make up all that ground over four nights in the City of Lights.

“We’re practicing every day and getting the horses in shape,” said Struxness, 23, of Appleton, Minn. “I go to the gym as much as I can to get myself in shape.”

He’s doing that in his second home of Alva, Okla., where he attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University on a rodeo scholarship after two years at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. That’s also where he works with his mentor, Stockton Graves, the Northwestern rodeo coach who qualified for the NFR seven times.

In fact, Struxness spent much of the season traveling the ProRodeo trail with Graves, who focused his summer on making sure his protégé returned to the Nevada desert in December.

“Having Stockton with me this year helped a lot,” Struxness said. “He’s made it so many times, so he knew where we needed to go and what we needed to do to make it work.

“It helps a lot to travel with someone who has been there and done that a bunch of times. They’ve been in all the different situations you can come upon, and they can give you the advice you need to get through it.”

He gone through quite a bit. The 2017 season was much different than the year before. A year ago, he won the college championship and capitalized on that momentum to pick up some key victories en route to his first NFR. This year, he earned just one victory, and that came in early June.

Even without big victories, he was able to earn his way to Las Vegas by placing all along the way. His biggest single payday came at Cheyenne, Wyo., the same rodeo he won a year ago. This year, though, he finished fourth overall but still pocketed $9,781.

“Going through years like this shows there’s more work to be done,” he said. “We’ve been in the weight rook and practicing to fix mistakes. My biggest flaw is my riding; I tend to get off too early. We’ve been working on that and my transitions a little bit to get that go off my horse every time I need.

“It’s all so I can get a good head catch every time.”

It takes solid horsemanship and tremendous athleticism to be that consistent, but Struxness has it. In high school, his athletic, 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame came in handy for the Lac qui Parle Valley High School football team, where he was a star linebacker/fullback. In wrestling, he was a two-time runner-up to the Minnesota state champion in the 220-pound weight class.

He started chute-dogging as a sixth-grader and began steer wrestling two years later.

“It was always fun to me,” Struxness said. “With the success I had in it, I just kept climbing up the ladder.”

It’s a good thing, but none of it could be done without his family. His father, Dan, and mother, Missy, are hard-working Minnesotans who have been there for J.D. and his siblings: sisters Kacey and Lauren and brother Colton.

“My family is a big deal to me,” he said. “They’ve been supportive in what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, whether it was football, wrestling or rodeo. Now that it’s rodeo, they’re all in. They’re on the edge of their chairs wanted to know how I do every week.

“Being able to have a family like that means the world to me. Instead of telling me I needed to come home and get a job, they tell me I should be out there living my dream.”

And just like he did a season ago, Struxness will ride Peso, a horse he purchased from Graves last fall.

“I feel like we got along really good at the finals last year,” said Struxness, who credits his sponsorship with Arena Trailer Sales as a key ingredient to his rodeo success. “To have him this year and to work through our highs and lows worked out. He’s a horse that works everywhere. You’re just more confident because you know what’s under you.

“Vegas is a big play on confidence. We have our repetitions together, and that’s important because everything goes so fast out there.”

The good news, though, is Struxness is fast, too. With his work ethic and another year under his belt, he stands in a good place to make a big impact in Sin City this year.

postheadericon Proctor heading to a fourth NFR

PRYOR, Okla. – Coleman Proctor has had a pretty good year, but he’s hoping it just keeps getting better.

“The best part of this year was definitely having this little princess,” Proctor said of Stella Rein Lèon Proctor, born Oct. 27. “Watching her being born, seeing the gift of life right in front of you … it was something I was really looking forward to.”

With that, he will have one more fan in the stands as the team roper from Pryor chases his gold-buckle dreams at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.

Coleman Proctor

Coleman Proctor

His fourth qualification is just the icing on the cake to a terrific 2017 season, one in which he earned $98,000 through the regular season and enters ProRodeo’s grand finale No. 5 in the world standings.

“She’s pretty well got me wrapped around her finger already,” he said.

Proctor, a header, had the best regular season of his career. Roping with Billie Jack Saebens of Nowata, Okla., Proctor has established himself as one of the best headers in ProRodeo. This is his fourth straight NFR qualification and his second with Saebens.

“Billie and I just had a great year,” Proctor said. “It got slow this winter, but I didn’t head very good this winter. I made some adjustments to my game at the arena here at the house. It made a big difference.

“I also made a mentality change, and it happened about the time I found out we were having Stella. The first person I told was (former partner) Jake Long, and he said, ‘Boy, you’re going to start doing some winning.’ ”

Long was right. Proctor and Saebens reeled in 11 victories, including three that were lucrative Wrangler Championship Challenge events. Those, combined with placing at key rodeos along the way, helped push both men into the top five in their respective standings.

“You want to be a top-five guy throughout the year,” he said. “I’m tired of going to the NFR at the bottom. That’s where the last two years have been. But I’ve done my job, and I’ve got the best heeler in the world.

“It’s something I’ve been working toward. Now I have a legit chance to win a world title. That made the year a lot less stressful.”

But the year didn’t come without its stress. On Sept. 14, Proctor’s father-in-law, Garey Arnold, died unexpectedly. Not only was he trying to comfort his wife, Stephanie, and her family, but Proctor also realized his own mourning at the time.

While Proctor was on the rodeo trail, Arnold took care of things around the house.

“When I was gone, I never had to worry,” Proctor said. “He did everything around here. We’ve got some projects going on every time I was home.

“I’m just going to miss having my running buddy.”

But he’ll have plenty of memories, all while making memories with his own daughter. She won’t remember anything from her first trip to Las Vegas, but Daddy is hoping she’ll have a good scrapbook. By roping consistently throughout the season, he has the first few pages already crafted.

Though he struggled some during the summer months, his solid start to the season helped the tandem stay in contention despite a mediocre middle. Although he trails leader Kaleb Driggers by nearly $36,000, Proctor can make that up over two nights in the Nevada desert, where go-round winners will pocket more than $26,000 per night for 10 rounds.

“My roping’s been good,” he said. “I feel better than I’ve ever felt. It’s just been easy, and that’s always fun when it’s easy because there’s so much confidence you have in your ability. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Billie and I as a team. I think our runs have developed, and it’s easier to see things coming.”

That’s the measure of a team’s development hitting its stride. Proctor’s team includes much more than Saebens. It includes his wife, daughter, family, friends and sponsors – Southern Welding,, Riverbend Arena, Lonestar Ropes, Justin Boots, Wrangler, Coats Saddlery, CSI Saddlepads, Brazos Valley Equine Hospital, DF Quarterhorses, Purina, Hot Heels and Classic Truck Sales.

While they’ve all shared their support in many ways, he knows he has a team of equine stars that help put food on the table.

“Horsepower is so important, and I’m real confident in the ones I have,” Proctor said. “When your horses are good and your attitude’s good, it seems like the winning keeps coming around. It’s been fun all year.”

He’s counting on that fun to continue down the road to Las Vegas, where the arena is lined with gold, just like Coleman Proctor’s dreams.

postheadericon Smith wins Canadian title

Garrett Smith placed in two rounds at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, including a second-place finish in Round 2 on Pete Carr's Uncle Jerry, and earned more than $77,000. After winning the Canadian bull riding title last week, he heads to the 2017 NFR second in the world standings. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

Garrett Smith placed in two rounds at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, including a second-place finish in Round 2 on Pete Carr’s Uncle Jerry, and earned more than $77,000. After winning the Canadian bull riding title last week, he heads to the 2017 NFR second in the world standings. (RIC ANDERSEN PHOTO)

Idaho cowboy points his focus to NFR, world championship

REXBURG, Idaho – Garrett Smith has proven a little something to himself in 2017, and he’s doing it in a big way.

The 22-year-old from Rexburg has quickly made himself into one of the best bull riders in rodeo. Not only has he earned more than $204,000 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year, he earned another coveted championship last week in Edmonton, Alberta.

For the first time in his young career, Smith found a place for him at rodeos that were co-sanctioned by both the PRCA and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. He entered last week’s Canadian Finals Rodeo No. 1 in the bull riding standings, then placed in four go-rounds. With that, he became the first cowboy from the United States to be crowned the Canadian bull riding champion.

“This was the first year of going to Canada for a whole season of going hard,” said Smith, who earned $24,725 in Edmonton to clinch the title. “I went to just enough rodeos to get qualified for the Canadian Finals. I ended up getting on a lot of good bulls up there.

“I also had a lot of good mentors. It really helped boost my confidence.”

It should. Doing well at the CFR is a huge boost of momentum a little more than three weeks before the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale that features the biggest purse in the game. In Las Vegas, go-round winners earn more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds.

“Doing well up there helps quite a bit, because I was still getting on good bulls close to the NFR,” he said. “That way I don’t go into Vegas rusty. It helps keep you sharp.”

That’s the way he’s ridden all year. He finished his first NFR last December by winning the 10th go-round. He placed in one other and finished fifth in the average. In all, he left Sin City with more than $77,000 in earnings over just 10 nights.

Most importantly, it served as a catapult to Smith’s 2017 season. He recorded 13 victories in ProRodeo, and four of those were co-sanctioned in Canada. That’s why he was able to be part of North America’s top two championships.

“This year’s been awesome,” Smith said. “I’ve been healthy and had a little confidence going in after last year’s finals. It all worked out pretty awesome.

“To think I won over $200,000 is still hard to believe.”

What isn’t added into that is a key victory at RodeoHouston, where he earned more than $53,000. Because the Houston event is not sanctioned by the PRCA, the money doesn’t count for the world standings. Still, it went a long way to support his dreams of a world championship.

“Houston really boosted my confidence,” he said of the March rodeo. “After a win like Houston, it finally sets in that you are supposed to be there and know what you’re doing. It was fun.”

He also had fun at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede, where he finished second overall and added another $35,000 of non-sanctioned cash to his pocketbook. It was more than dollars, though; it was the confidence he gained in every ride. That’s the most important thing when it comes to trying to ride nearly two tons of bucking beast.

Despite all his earnings, he still trails the leader, three-time world champion Sage Kimzey, by just less than $33,000. But in Las Vegas, that ground can be made up in two nights. An important factor is maintaining consistency over the 10-night championship.

“The key for me was just not overthinking things,” Smith said. “It was just going out there and riding one bull at a time and having fun.”

Yes, the competition can be fun, but it is also business. He knows that as well as anything, and that’s why he understands what it means to have the support of his sponsors: Idaho Project Filter, Resistol, Rodeo Vegas, Rodeo Graphics, Truth Bucking Stock and Streamline Sports Chiropractic & Physical Therapy.

But the biggest part of his business is riding bulls. In order to do that well, he has to understand the importance of being focused on the task at hand eight seconds at a time. He knows he has to trust his muscle memory and ability to react without thinking, allowing his true athleticism come through in each move atop a bucking, kicking, spilling bull.

“Hopefully it’ll be more relaxing than last year, and I’ll know more about what’s going on,” said Smith, whose father, Lynn, has served as a pickup man, while mom, Valorie, has been a timer and has handled other promotional aspects of the sport. “I just want to settle in and stay on my bulls.”

That’s better said than done in the rough-and-tumble event. Bulls have a distinct advantage, with their size and speed being the primary reasons. Smith weighs in at 165 pounds, so he has to maneuver his body on top of the bull if he hopes to stay centered. In 2017, he rode 63 percent of the bulls he tried.

“It’s extremely important to draw good bulls, but you still have to do your part,” he said. “My confidence is a lot higher now. You always think you’re going to come out of high school, and it’s going to be easy. You get humbled pretty fast in this sport.”

That’s rodeo, and it’s something Smith knows well. He’s been around the game all his life, and he realizes that he must keep pushing forward if he’s going to realize his gold-buckle dreams.

“There are always ways you can improve, and there’s always stuff you’re going to learn,” Smith said. “I just want to keep learning as I go and figuring out how to improve.”

That’s the way champions think, and Garrett Smith has the hardware to prove it.

postheadericon Braden earns 2nd Claremore title

CLAREMORE, Okla. – From many of the best cowboys in the world to the top bucking animals, Claremore’s Extreme Roughstock presented by the Kubota Center of Oklahoma has quickly become a major event.

“It was a really cool idea,” said Hardy Braden of nearby Welch, Okla., who won the saddle bronc riding title and $3,500. “It was a lot of the top guys, ones that I’ve seen all year.”

Hardy Braden

Hardy Braden

Braden has seen plenty and done plenty in 2017. He earned nearly $103,000 riding bucking horses through the end of September and is heading to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career. The victory in Claremore was his second of the season – he also won the Will Rogers Stampede in May.

“I enjoyed this event a lot,” said Braden, who rode United Rodeo’s Rusty for 87.25 points to claim the crown. “Especially this time of year, I think it was really good. It was good to go to and get on good horses before you head to Vegas.”

Braden led a solid group of contenders in saddle bronc riding, including fellow NFR qualifier Audy Reed and Isaac Diaz, who has made the finals five times in his career. To top it off, Claremore cowboy Kade Alberty scored 87.5 points to share the victory with Andrew Alvidrez of Seminole, Texas, in bull riding.

“It was really good, especially considering this was the first year,” said Andy Stewart, the event’s announcer. “We had a very good crowd, and it was a nice setup. It was cool, because they were the bucking chutes from last year’s NFR.”

It was a star-studded event, whether it was bull riding great McKennon Wimberley riding for 85.75 points or NFR veteran Trevor Kastner unable to make the whistle.

“Five of the first nine bulls that were out are all going to the NFR this year,” Stewart said. “That’s the kind of bull power and horse power that we had in Claremore.”

Braden definitely found it to his liking. His mount, Rusty, has been part of the Texas Circuit Finals and was a nice fit.

“She was really nice,” he said of the horse. “Things felt really good, and I was excited to get on her. When I got there, I just wanted to feel good about my ride, and I accomplished that.

“I thought the horses were amazing overall. That was just part of what made it so much fun.”

Saddle bronc riding:
1. Hardy Braden, 87.25 points, $3,500; 2. Isaac Diaz, 85.75, $2,500; 3. Wyatt Casper, 84.5, $1,000; 4. (tie) Colt Gordon and Audy Reed, 83, $250 each

Bull riding: 1. (tie) Andrew Alvidrez and Kade Alberty, 87.5 points, $2,950 each; 3. McKennon Wimberley, 85.75, $950; 4. Lane Nobles, 83, $450.

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