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postheadericon My Thanksgiving message to you

Over the last four months, I’ve been blessed to work numerous events spread out from Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma.

Ted Harbin TwisTED Rodeo

Ted Harbin
TwisTED Rodeo

I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories of dozens of people. I’ve worked some of the noted events in the game, from ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee Dodge City Roundup Rodeo to rodeo of the year nominee Lea County (N.M.) Fair and Rodeo to the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. It is a true honor that I get to report the first world championship of the season.

I’ve also written about great animal athletes, from barrel racing mounts to a reserve world champion bucking horse, and it reminds me that there are so many variables that go into our game of rodeo.

This week, you’ve seen some of the labor I’ve been working on for several weeks with the advance pieces for several contestants as they prepare for the world championship, the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Over the coming days, I plan to spend quality time with my girls before I leave for my two-week stretch in Las Vegas.

Until next week, the posts on TwisTED Rodeo will be sporadic, but I hope you keep checking back. Take a look back at some of the many stories that have been published – more than 1,800 since this site was launched three years ago. Take your time and enjoy looking back, then get ready for all the excitement that’s about to happen in Las Vegas.

This is a great time of year. It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m so thankful for the love of my family and for their support in allowing me to live my dreams. Now is the time I spend the time to show them that.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

postheadericon Durfey focused for the NFR

COLBERT, Wash. – Tyson Durfey arrived in Las Vegas one December ago with a bitter taste in his mouth.

Durfey failed to qualify for the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, finishing the regular season as the No. 18 tie-down roper in the world standings; only the top 15 earn the right to compete in ProRodeo’s grand championship; his only purpose to be in the City of Lights was to fulfill various requirements that come with being one the sport’s elite cowboys.

“After last season and not making the NFR, I really rededicated myself and got focused,” said Durfey, who grew up in Savannah, Mo., and has spent time in both Colbert and Weatherford, Texas, the last couple of years. “I hit the gym a lot more. I started buying more horses. I worked at it harder. I did what it took, and I really paid off.”

Yes, it did. Durfey posted the best regular season of his 11-year career, earning $97,985. He heads to the Dec. 5-14 NFR as the No. 2 tie-down roper on the money list. He returns to the sport’s marquee event for the sixth time in his career.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

“I think the biggest thing is that after last year that I had been taking the NFR and rodeo for granted,” he said. “I realized I need to be setting my goals a little different; instead of just being satisfied with making the NFR, I need to set my goals to be a world champion. After I did that, I watched what (two-time reigning world champion) Tuf Cooper was doing. He was working out non-stop. He had a personal trainer. I decided I needed to do that, too.

“That working out gave me a lot more confidence, and it was just a snowball effect after that. I came home, and I dedicated myself. I practiced harder. I rode more horses.”

He built his body and his mind, and he turned it toward his ultimate goal, to claim this year’s gold buckle.

“I’m 30 years old,” he said, referring to his Nov. 27 birthday. “I feel like I’m getting better. At a point where people think you’re going backwards, I feel like I’m going forwards.”

It’s one of many ways the Missouri-born cowboy has changed. Since last year’s NFR, he proposed to his girlfriend, recording artist Shea Fisher. During a trip to New York City for New Year’s Eve, he got down on one knee in Central Park and popped the question. The couple married Oct. 6 in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas.

“I met her in Houston in 2010,” Durfey said. “Right when I laid eyes on her, I was taken. I think I spoke five words to her that night. She sent me a Facebook message the next day saying it was nice to meet me, then she sent me a friend request. I asked her to dinner the day. She would talk and answer all my questions, but she would never agree to dinner or give me her phone number.

“That went on for eight or nine months before I got her number. We talked on the phone for three or four months before we actually ever hung out.”

The Australian-born Fisher has had four No. 1 singles and two platinum albums in her home country. She is busy in Nashville, working with Sony Records to release her first album in the United States. She understands the gypsy lifestyle Durfey lives, because she lives it, too.

“There are a lot of guys whose wives want them to be home and not on the road so much,” Durfey said. “Mine isn’t that way at all. My wife wants me to be gone, because that’s how I make my living. She definitely wants me to be the best I can be.”

To that, Durfey has done a lot of little things to help him achieve the success he seeks. From hiring a driver to help him manage all the hours on the road between rodeos to making sure he utilized his horses in situations that worked best for them, he found a way to make it work.

“After dedicated myself to roping, I went to dedicating myself to sponsors as well,” he said, noting that he would be unable to perform at a top level without Next IT Corp., Zoetis Animal Health, Ingram Quarter Horses, Cinch, Corral Boots, Logan Coach Horse Trailers, Roger Williams Dodge, Swift Transportation, HR Workplace Services, Priefert and Silver Lining Herbs.

“That has allowed me the opportunity to have a full-time driver, and that helps so much. Instead of driving all night to rope at 8 o’clock in the morning, he can drive and I can sleep. I’m better prepared to rope at a top level. I started using Bailey where he was best, then I bought a horse, Rusty, and used him where he was the best. I was willing to do whatever it took to get better.”

For weeks, he has been in the gym by 6:30 every morning and doesn’t return home until well after sundown. He ropes for three hours a day, carries a heavy workload around his place and works on speed and agility training. He hopes it all pays dividends for those glorious 10 December nights, then he’ll sit back and relax and enjoy a delayed honeymoon to Bora Bora with his lovely bride.

Of course, he’d like to do it while wearing a world champion’s gold buckle.

“Over the years, I’ve considered myself a business man, and I’ve done a lot of things outside of rodeo,” Durfey said. “After last year, I realize I’ll go to the NFR 30 years old, so I need to focus on roping while I still have the ability and the health to do it. If I was dedicating 70 percent of my time to roping before, now I’m dedicating 90 percent.

“I know it’s going to take all that dedication if I want to win the world. I’m ready to do it.”

Yes, he is.

postheadericon Hazen finds his niche in bulldogging

ASHLAND, Kan. – As Jule Hazen sat in the stands at a college rodeo during his third year in school, he saw something that changed his life.

The 32-year-old, who grew up on a farm and ranch in southwest Kansas, paid particular attention to steer wrestling. Though he had never competed in the event, it piqued his interest.

“I played football and basketball in school, and my dad played football and has an aggressive nature,” said Hazen, an elite steer wrestler in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association heading to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time in his nine-year career. “When I played sports, he was always wanting me to be more aggressive. I was watching the bulldogging at the college rodeo, and I thought, ‘There’s an event I could relate to.’ That was my awe moment, and that’s what I needed to do.”

Jule Hazen

Jule Hazen

He’s done pretty well in an event that features cowboys riding fast horses, then leaping off them onto running steers, which cowboys attempt to grapple to the ground. The faster the better, and Hazen has been pretty fast all season; in 2013, he has earned $69,266 and is No. 5 in the world standings heading into ProRodeo’s grand championship, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

Hazen made previous trips to the Nevada desert in 2007 and 2010, and he would’ve played on the sport’s biggest stage more had he not suffered some mishaps along the way: a broken ankle, a torn pectoral muscle, a damaged shoulder and an injured horse. Reflecting on all he’s been through, he’s very excited to be heading back to the NFR.

“I’ve always wanted to rodeo,” said Hazen, who graduated from Protection (Kan.) High School and owns a degree in applied science from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College. “My dream was to rodeo. I wanted to be a cowboy, and I was looking for my in.

“Bulldogging is one event that fit both sides of my family: Grandpa’s side for my horsemanship, and my dad’s side for being aggressive. On my dad’s side, they’re pretty good size people, too.”

Size is something Hazen inherited. He stands 6-foot-3 and is 245 pounds. Throw that into the mix with solid technique, and people who know the game realize just why the Kansas cowboy has been so successful.

Steer wrestling typically is one of the tightest races in rodeo, a sport where dollars equal championship points; the contestants in each event with the most money earned through the season will be crowned world champions. Casey Martin leads the standings with $108,938, and his lead is just $58,000 ahead of the 15th-ranked cowboy, Dakota Eldridge. With go-round winners earning paychecks worth $18,630 each of the 10 nights of the NFR, the race for the 2013 gold buckle is up in the air and will be decided in Las Vegas.

“There’s so much parody in bulldogging,” Hazen said. “There are a lot of changes. Les Shepperson ended up winning the average at the NFR last year and finished third in the world, and I don’t know if he cracked the top 30 this year. That kind of stuff happens all the time in bulldogging.”

The main factor in Hazen’s success comes in the form of family. His wife, Heidi, teaches school in Ashland, and they have a 19-month-old daughter, Joslyn. His parents, Steve and Kelly, offer their support at every turn to help in his career. He learned his horsemanship skills from his grandfather, Richard Degnan, who died earlier this year while Hazen was rodeoing in his home state the first of August.

“He’s been everything as far as rodeo with me,” Hazen said of his grandfather. “My folks are wonderful, but my grandfather had three girls, and they are great girls; but I was the first grandson, and I was the only one who showed an interest in rodeo.

“He taught me how to ride horses and gave me all my horsemanship, which sometimes doesn’t show up. But he meant everything to me. It’s going to be hard.”

That week, he qualified for the championship go-round at the Dodge City (Kan.) Roundup Rodeo, the closest ProRodeo to his home. The day after, he helped bury his grandfather while comforting his grandma, Carolyn.

“I knew he wasn’t good for a while, and I wanted to get qualified for the finals before he passed away,” he said. “At Dodge, I didn’t think there was any chance I could make the short round, then I ended up somehow sneaking in, so maybe it was meant to be after all that had happened. I went to the short round in 11th, and I ended up placing fourth. It ended up way better than it should’ve been.”

Maybe it was divine intervention; maybe it was just solid steer wrestling. Hazen leaned on a lot of things to help him through the years, not the least of which was good friend and traveling partner Chad Van Campen, who has served as the hazer, helping keep the steer in line for Hazen to perform at his best – in fact, Van Campen and Hazen will be wearing matching shirts during the 10-day championship. Then there is Bam Bam, a 12-year-old black gelding that has been the perfect mount for the big Kansan.

But when he needs them most, family has been his pillar of strength.

“The reality is I wouldn’t be able to go without my family,” Hazen said. “My wife supports me in everything I do, and my folks support me. When I’m gone, they take care of my chores.

“I always had three phone calls when I got done competing that I made, especially when I did good: my wife, my grandpa and my folks. They’re just as much in this as I am.”

They’ll lead a big contingent of Hazen’s fans who will root for him every night for 10 go-rounds while he chases that elusive world championship in the City of Lights.

postheadericon Johnson has a strong plan for NFR

SHERIDAN, Wyo. – Chet Johnson likes Canada, especially during the summer months.

It provides a great respite from the heat cowboys can encounter while competing in rodeo in the lower 48 states. Sure, it gets a little damp, but it’s relatively cool and offers quite a bit to someone like Johnson, a saddle bronc rider who grew up in northwestern Wyoming.

Now the Sheridan bronc buster will take his talent and his drive to Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14. This marks Johnson’s fourth qualification to ProRodeo’s grand championship event, which features only the top 15 contestants in each event.

“As I go in, I’m a long ways behind the leaders,” he said, noting that he’s earned $60,569 so far this season and is 12th on the bronc riding money list, about $68,000 behind the leader, two-time world champion Cody Wright. “I want to start off with a bang, and I definitely want to get a round win; that’s always a goal out there to get a go-round buckle.”

Chet Johnson

Chet Johnson

In rodeo, dollars equal championship points; the contestants with the most money won in each event at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions. The finale features a purse of $6.25 million, with go-round winners earning $18,630 each night. They also win a prestigious buckle, the wearable trophy that is an honored hallmark of the sport.

“I’d love to ride all 10 head and win that average title, too,” said Johnson, who graduated from Lusk (Wyo.) High School and Sheridan College. “That’s a big goal.”

The NFR average championship is the second most prestigious honor in rodeo, behind only the world championship. It signifies a fantastic run through the rugged 10-day affair that is the grand finale and will reward cowboys with the best cumulative score with a check worth nearly $48,000.

“If I don’t have a shot at the gold buckle, then I’d sure like to get the other one,” Johnson said. “I can’t worry about just staying on and being safe, because if I safety-up, I can’t stay on. I have to be aggressive. I think it goes hand-in-hand; if you stay aggressive all 10 rounds, you have a better chance at riding them, and you have a better chance to win money.”

Unlike most professional athletes, there are no guarantees for cowboys. They pay their own toward travel expenses and, at every rodeo in which they compete, they must provide an entry fee. Johnson and his traveling posse crisscrossed North America to try to make a living in the sport they love, and all three cowboys fared pretty well.

Cort Scheer, Tyler Corrington and Johnson all qualified for the NFR. In mid-November, they also competed at the Canadian Finals Rodeo, proof that they succeeded north and south of the border. In fact, of Johnson’s four victories in 2013, three were in Canada and were co-sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association: Innisfail, Alberta, Marwayne, Alberta, and Armstrong, B.C.

“They’ve always been rodeos I’ve wanted to win,” he said. “Innisfail is a big one, and they give a bronze away. It’s one that until this year, I’d only come close to winning. Armstrong was another really big one. It’s usually a tough rodeo, and it comes at a time when you need money to finish out the year. I’d won (Marwayne) before, so it’s always to do good in one spot over and over.”

Johnson has done pretty well over the course of his career, which began a dozen years ago. He follows in the footsteps of his father, Gary, who competed and worked in rodeo for a number of years. In addition, Johnson leans heavily on the support from his mom, Susan, and his sister, Tracy.

“Family is really important to me,” he said. “I’m very close to my parents and my sister, and they’re a major reason I’ve gone so far because they supported me so much when I was younger.”

Gary and Susan Johnson have a ranch near Douglas, Wyo., and Tracy and her family live in Kaycee, Wyo., where she has two children and works as a graphic designer.

“My dad did just about everything in rodeo,” said Johnson, 33. “By the time I came around, he was just picking up. That was my first exposure to rodeo.

“I was in high school when I started riding. I went to rodeo Bible camps starting when I was a freshman, and I began rodeoing pretty hard when I was in high school.”

He turned pro in 2001 and has been going hard almost every year since. He missed half the 2010 season when, after coming off his bronc, had his head stepped on by the horse. He sustained three skull fractures, bleeding and swelling on the brain and a fractured right eardrum. Johnson returned to competition in January 2011, according to the PRCA media department.

Now he returns to the NFR for the first time since 2008, and he’s excited about making his return to the Thomas & Mack Center. He finished 17th in the 2009 world standings, then suffered the injury in 2010. In 2011, he ended the regular season 21st in the PRCA but won the Canadian bronc riding title. Last year, he finished 23rd.

“Rodeo is a very unique deal,” Johnson said. “It’s not just a job; it’s a lifestyle. You’ve got the different aspects of it. Riding broncs is something I love; it’s a challenge, and you’re always trying to prove yourself and get better all the time. The winning is always good. You also have a rodeo family out there; they’re your closest friends. The people you rodeo with turn into your brothers.”

Like his parents and sister, rodeo family is vitally important to Johnson, who has partnered with Wyoming Tourism and Rodeo Austin (Texas) in a sponsorship agreement.

“In Wyoming, our motto is Forever West, and I believe in that and love that my home state is supporting me in my career,” he said. “It’s one of those states that just has a lot to offer tourists.

“This is my ninth year with Rodeo Austin. They’ve been behind me the longest and have been pretty loyal through my injuries. I’ve had to sit out three times while they’ve sponsored me, and they’ve been right there. It’s a great organization with a great cause, and I’m pretty honored to be part of that organization.”

He’s also honored to be a part of ProRodeo’s elite in the sport’s biggest event.

“I feel a lot better this year than I have every other year,” Johnson said. “I come off what I feel was a good Canadian Finals, and I feel I rode what I could as well as I could. This is the healthiest I’ve ever been going to the NFR. I’m going to the gym every day, staying focused. I think a big key is that you have to have good rides to start the NFR. That’s what I plan to do.”

postheadericon Willis ready for world-title hunt

WHEATLAND, Wyo. – Tyler Willis has had a busy fall, and it’s not been in a rodeo arena.

Willis, a 23-year-old bull rider from rural eastern Wyoming, will ride his next bull at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ProRodeo’s grand finale set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. For the last several weeks, though, Willis has been busy with his own outfitting business, where he guides hunters on expeditions on his family’s ranch about halfway between Wheatland and Laramie.

“I grew up hunting, so I go with the hunters around our place,” Willis said. “We hunt antelope, mule deer and elk. It’s another passion, and I have a lot of fun taking people and guiding them. It’s probably more fun for me to take people on the hunt and watching them be successful than it is for me to shoot something. We have a really good set up for it.”

Tyler Willis

Tyler Willis

That’s great, and it’s one of the major benefits to living in rural Wyoming, which is the Cowboy State. That’s quite a fitting title for Willis, whose family runs a ranch along the rangeland in the eastern part of the state.

“Our legislature really likes the rodeo, and they’ve been really supportive,” Willis said. “It’s really neat that we’re the only state with a program that supports Wyoming cowboys. They’ve done a lot for the Western heritage, and I really appreciate all that they do.”

That’s all part of the Wyoming pride the cowboy takes to every project. It’s why he decided to take a few months off the rugged ProRodeo trail in order to serve a little Wyoming hospitality to those who are looking for a good time hunting.

“Most of what we do are four-day hunts, and they generally stay five nights,” Willis said of his outfitting company, which just experienced its first fall season. “They stay in our bunkhouse, and my mom cooks them all our meals. They’re pretty much stuck out there for four days.”

That’s not a bad thing. Tammy Willis offers all the comforts of home, and Don Willis is quite proud of his place.

“A lot of the ones I had this year … it was their first time for whatever species,” Tyler Willis said. “All were pretty experienced hunters, but not in Wyoming, and not in the climate change and the wind all the time.

“The first year went pretty good.”

He’s hoping his second year at the NFR goes just as well, if not better. You see, Willis had a pretty good first experience in Las Vegas. He placed in five of 10 go-round and placed third in the average. In all, he finished the 2011 season with $146,558, good enough for six in the final world standings – in rodeo, money equals points, so the contestant in each event with the most money won at the end of the season is crowned world champion.

“I want to go at it just the same way I went at it the first time,” he said. “The first time I went in blind and didn’t know what was going on. It went really good, but I need to go at it and not overthink anything.

“So far this early in my career, I think my finish in 2011 is the best I’ve experienced. That was pretty cool.”

Yes, it was. Not bad for a young man who grew up on a ranch in eastern Wyoming with is parents, older sister, Jennifer; younger sister, Kaila; and younger brother Nathan. Rodeo is in Tyler’s blood, so excited to chase that dream.

“My dad rode some bareback horses,” Willis said. “My Uncle Wes, on my mom’s side, rode bulls. My cousin rode bulls, and that’s how I got started.

“I was 9 when two calves that year, and the next year I started on a steer. I was probably 12 when I got on a big bull.”

The cowboy has gotten bigger, too. Now 5-feet-11 and 155 pounds, Willis knows what it takes to ride bulls at an elite level. He was the PRCA Resistol Bull Riding Rookie of the Year in 2009 and just missed returning to the NFR in 2012, finishing 19th in the world standings, just four spots shy of the top 15, which earn the right to play for the biggest pay in the sport in the Nevada desert. Willis attended Vernon (Texas) College on a rodeo scholarship and learned a lot about the business that is rodeo.

“Going to college should be a stepping stone to helping you compete somewhere,” he said. “It’s a lot better than going from amateur rodeo to the pros. You learn a little more consistency. It was a really good experience, because I was going up against a lot of the top guys every weekend.”

Willis has been doing that ever since. Whether it was at a small rodeo in Wyoming or on the biggest stage in the game, the Wyoming cowboy has succeeded.

“My family’s always supported me from when I first started with whatever I wanted to do,” Willis said. “They just try to give me the best advice they can when I’m in need of it. They support me with whatever I decide to do. That has played a role in my success.”

postheadericon Corrington has title on his mind

Tyler Corrington of Hastings, Minn., rides Harry Vold Rodeo's Painted Valley for 86 points to win a share of the title at the World's Oldest Rodeo in Prescott, Ariz. Corrington is the fourth-ranked bronc rider heading into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. (DALE MILLER PHOTO)

Tyler Corrington of Hastings, Minn., rides Harry Vold Rodeo’s Painted Valley for 86 points to win a share of the title at the World’s Oldest Rodeo in Prescott, Ariz. Corrington is the fourth-ranked bronc rider heading into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. (DALE MILLER PHOTO)

HASTINGS, Minn. – The 2013 ProRodeo season has been nothing shy of spectacular for saddle bronc rider Tyler Corrington. He’s hoping it just gets better.

Corrington will get his shot during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It’s the sport’s grand finale, where the purse is $6.25 million.

“This has been the best year of my career by far,” said Corrington, who returns to the NFR for the second time in his career – he also qualified in 2011, where he won a round and placed in four others. “I’m trying to be a little more focused going in this year and not be so overwhelmed by everything that goes on there.

“The last time I was there, I was just glad to be there. Going into this year’s finals, I’m focused on what I need to do.”

Tyler Corrington

Tyler Corrington

Corrington is fourth in the world standings, having earned $97,929 through the course of the regular season. How does that compare? He’s less than $1,000 away from surpassing his previous best from two seasons ago, and he’ll have 10 opportunities to do so in the City of Lights – the NFR will pay go-round winners $18,630 each night, so there is plenty of money up for grabs.

“I missed the NFR last year because I just wasn’t riding well,” he said. “I had a much different focus than I had. I when I got to the Canadian Finals last year, that helped my confidence a lot.”

It did, indeed. Corrington won the average championship at the 2012 Canadian Finals Rodeo, posting the best six-ride cumulative score. He finished the season with nearly $60,000 in Canadian earnings. That confidence rolled into the 2013 ProRodeo campaign, where the Minnesota cowboy earned eight titles.

One of his biggest came in February, when he rode the Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo horse Big Tex for 85 points to win the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. He won more than $16,000.

“San Antonio was a confidence-builder for me, and it was a good rodeo,” he said. “It paid really well, and I got a fuel card and a sweet buckle.”

So what’s the key?

“I’m a lot more confident, and I’m trying to stay in better shape,” said Corrington, who spends a good portion of his time away from the rodeo trail in Gruver, Texas, where he works on the Holt family’s ranch. “I’ve also had great traveling partners.”

That’s as important as anything. A rodeo cowboy spends the majority of his time in a vehicle getting from one rodeo to another. The people with whom he travels those miles become brothers, and the friends he sees at each stop along the way are a close family. In Corrington’s case, windshield time was spent with Cort Scheer and Chet Johnson, both of whom return to the NFR this December.

“I think it’s awesome that we all three made the finals,” Corrington said. “Having your traveling partners there with you is going to be amazing, because you’ve been through so much together all season long.

“We all try to stay real positive and have a lot of fun. We all have the same goals with the Canadian Finals and the NFR. We all really feed off each other, and that’s cool, too.”

Corrington will lean on those partners when it’s time to compete in Las Vegas. With the large purse comes great pressure. Standing behind the golden bucking chutes can be intimidating, especially with more than 17,000 fans packed into the stadium every night.

“Even for guys that have been there a lot, they’ll tell you the first night always feels like the first time you go,” he said. “The NFR is a nerve-wracking deal, but I think having been there before will be a big help because I think I can handle it a lot better.

“My goal is to try to win first in every round.”

That type of effort can pay off quickly in the Nevada desert. It’s just the next step for the ranch-raised Minnesota cowboy. His father, Doug, was a three-time Great Lakes Circuit champion saddle bronc rider who also worked as a pickup man in rodeo. His brother, Dillon, is also involved in the sport as a pickup man and roper. His mother, Stacey, is the main supporter.

In fact, his Minnesota friends and family will conduct a watch party during the NFR. The party is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Dan’s Bar in New Trier, Minn., where those interested can watch the NFR’s third go-round.

“I always had all the help and supported I needed, and they gave me all the opportunities,” said Corrington, who also credited his girlfriend, Morgan McSweyn, with providing to his success. “She’s been awesome. She teaches at a community college, so she had the summer off. She came out a lot over the summer and got to come with me to Calgary (Alberta) and Cheyenne (Wyo.). The rodeo in Logandale (Nev.) was her first rodeo.”

Having opportunities and taking advantage of them can be separate things. He rides bucking horse because he loves it.

“When you get tapped off on one, there’s just no other feeling in the world like it in the world,” he said.

That positivity is contagious, which is why Corrington, Scheer and Johnson rode at the Canadian Finals and will ride together again at the NFR.

“This is the best life you can have,” Corrington said. “You get to do what you want every day. The travel, while it can get old, is really cool, because you get to see a lot of cool places. I’m pretty blessed to do what I do and live the live I do.”

Of course, leaving Las Vegas with the world champion’s gold buckle would just be a great symbol of a life well-lived.

postheadericon Jarrett taking business to NFR

COMANCHE, Okla. – Ryan Jarrett is a cowboy, and rodeo is his business.

Right now, business is good. Jarrett, the 2005 all-around world champion from Comanche, will return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the eighth qualification of his career. While in Las Vegas for the Dec. 5-14 championship, Jarrett hopes to collect his fair share of the $6.25 million purse.

“Each and every year, I try to rodeo a little smarter,” said Jarrett, originally from Summerville, Ga., now living in southern Oklahoma with his wife, Shy-Anne. “It doesn’t always seem to work that way. My plan when I start the year is to go to rodeos I feel comfortable at and where I dang sure know we’ll rope good calves.

“I came through alright, but I didn’t get the finals made until the last two weeks of the season.”

Ryan Jarrett

Ryan Jarrett

The rodeo season is cyclical, meaning it wraps around itself. The 2013 regular season lasted from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013, but the world championship doesn’t take place until early December. Jarrett kicked off his campaign by winning a share of the title at the rodeo in Allen, Texas, last November. He was still trying to secure every dollar in this September to remain one of the top 15 on the money list to secure his place in the Nevada desert.

“The first couple of years when I was behind the eight ball coming down to the wire, it was a lot more stressful,” he said. “I kind of know what it takes to get there, and it’s a long road. You just have to bear down and get it done.”

That gives Jarrett a distinct advantage. He turned pro in time for the 2004 season, then won the coveted all-around gold buckle a year later by winning more money than any other cowboy competing in multiple events. As a businessman, he understands all the components that go into being a successful cowboy.

In all, he won six event titles in 2013, four of which were in tie-down roping; he added all-around championships in Bennington, Kan., and Great Falls, Mont. – two of a few rodeos in which he also competed in steer wrestling. When Jarrett won the world title eight seasons ago, he qualified for the NFR in both tie-down roping and steer wrestling. Will he ever try to take his bulldogging skills back to Vegas?

“I don’t own a horse, and a lot of the bigger rodeos have back-to-back runs, and that really hurts a bulldogger that doesn’t own a horse and that ropes calves as a priority,” Jarrett said. “You’re never sure how you’re going to fit with the horse and how it’s going to work in consecutive runs.”

Horsepower is vital in rodeo. Cowboys need a lot of help from their equine partners, especially if they hope to compete at an elite level. For years, he leaned on the assistance of Country, which he has ridden at numerous NFRs. This year, though, Country is on injured reserve and will miss the finale; Jarrett will lean on a borrowed horse named Hippie.

“I rode that horse quite a bit two years ago,” Jarrett said. “Hippie’s been around quite a bit. He’s a winner. He’s a top-shelf kind of a horse, and the NFR is kind of his set-up.”

Jarrett has found a pretty good setup along the way, which is why he works his annual schedule the way he does. Take, for instance, the week beginning Monday, Aug. 5, for example: Jarrett began the week in Strathmore, Alberta, where he won the tie-down roping title. He took Tuesday off, then shared the title in Missoula, Mont., on Wednesday.

Thursday featured Jarrett roping in two morning sessions – first in Grace, Idaho, then a few hours later in Logan, Utah; he failed to pocket a check, though. That afternoon, he caught a flight from Salt Lake City to Oklahoma City, and by Thursday evening, he was backing into the roping box in Ponca City, Okla. His busiest day of a busy week resulted in zero dollars earned, but he made up for it Friday, finishing in a tie for second place in Lawton, Okla. He wrapped up that stretch the next day in Lovington, N.M. In all, he earned more than $10,800.

It was a nice addition to his annual earnings, and every penny counted. In rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestants in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions. Jarrett’s felt that before, and he strives to do so again. In mid-August, Shy-Anne joined him in the rig and helped him put the wraps to a solid 2013 campaign.

“We took a rig up to the Northwest, and she stays up there with me in Oregon and Washington for the last four or five weeks of the season,” he said. “She helps me in those situations in more ways than one, from taking care of the horses to giving me the support I need and helping me with my roping.”

It all comes together in nice package that is the Jarrett family business, and he’s hoping to take care business during those 10 December nights in the Nevada desert. That’s particularly important at the finals, where go-round winners will earn $18,630 each night.

“I take everything pretty serious, especially rodeo,” he said. “I do some things by the seat of my pants, but I know what my goal is every year, and I work and strive to accomplish it.”

postheadericon Scheer zeroed in on gold buckle

Cort Scheer had a tremendous 2013 campaign, winning the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede and the Professional Rough Stock Series bronc riding title. Now he's ready for his third trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (ROBBY FREEMAN PHOTO)

Cort Scheer had a tremendous 2013 campaign, winning the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede and the Professional Rough Stock Series bronc riding title. Now he’s ready for his third trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (ROBBY FREEMAN PHOTO)

ELSMERE, Neb. – If the third time is the charm, Cort Scheer must like his chances at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Scheer is the No. 6 saddle bronc rider in the world standings, and the Elsmere cowboy is headed to the NFR for the third time in four years. Through the rigors of ProRodeo’s regular season, Scheer earned $89,731 and is in prime position to come away with the 2013 world championship, a title he can earn at the NFR, the sport’s marquee event that takes place Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

“Any time you can go to the NFR, you’re dang sure excited to be there,” said Scheer, who attended Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Montana State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. “I’m feeling really good right now and have a ton of confidence.”

He should. Scheer had seven saddle bronc riding championships this season, including a big victory at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede, in which he was awarded the $100,000 first-place prize. He also qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo and won the year-end title in the upstart Professional Roughstock Series, an organization that features the top bareback riders, bronc riders and bull riders in the game.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“I feel like I could’ve ridden better at the Canadian Finals, but I won some money there,” he said. “I did really well at the PRS finals. At both of those events, I got to get on really good horses, and most of them will be at the (National) Finals.”

Qualifying for the NFR is no small feat. Cowboys must compete all year long, crisscrossing North America to do so. In order to earn a paycheck, a cowboy must finish better than most. When the smoke clears and the season concludes the end of September, only the top 15 on the money list in each event earn the right to test their talents at the NFR.

Playing for the biggest pay in the sport in Las Vegas is vital. Go-round winners will earn $18,630 each of the 10 nights of the championship, and the contestant with the best cumulative score at the NFR’s conclusion will win the coveted average championship and a check worth almost $48,000.

“I’ve drawn really good this year, but I’ve always drawn pretty good,” he said, referring to the blind draw that matches cowboy with livestock. “I’ve always put a lot in the draw, because you can’t get a good score without a good horse.”

In rodeo, scores are based on the 100-point scale; half the score is based on how well the animal performs, and half is based on how well the cowboy rides the animal. At Calgary, for example, Scheer posted a 93.5-point ride in the championship round aboard Flying Five Rodeo’s Spring Planting.

“That was a game-changer for me,” Scheer said from his family’s ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills. “I hadn’t had a big hit like that since Houston (in 2011). It was really sweet, because I could never imagine what it would be like to be in that situation.

“It was such a cool experience, and it led up to what everybody brags about when they talk about Calgary.”

Riding such a noted horse as Spring Planting also was a cool experience.

“That was pretty bittersweet for me,” he said. “That horse had bucked me off, and I wanted a little redemption on him. I’m really glad I got it in the $100,000 round.”

Because the Calgary Stampede is not sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, that money did not count in his qualification for the NFR. Nonetheless, it’s a valuable victory; unlike most other professional athletes, rodeo cowboys must pay their own expenses to get from one event to another and also pay an entry fee in order to compete.

“I need to give a lot of credit to my traveling partners,” Scheer said of Tyler Corrington and Chet Johnson, two other bronc riders that will compete at the NFR. “I think it says a lot when all three of you make it together.

“I think a lot of their attitude reflects on how they ride; we’re always smiling no matter whether we’re up or we’re down. Tyler has the best spur out in the PRCA, and Chet’s the businessman in the group. All of us have that competitive spirit to it, and we all want each other to do well.”

Cowboys spend a lot of time away from family and friends, but they find the same in their rodeo family, that tight-knit congregation of cowboys and cowgirls who make their livings in the sport.

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

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

There definitely is a passion to what cowboys do, no matter the miles they drive in an effort to chase their gold buckle dreams.

“I ride broncs because I love it and I’ve always dreamed about it,” Scheer said. “God has blessed me with the talent to do it, and it’s my responsibility to do it and give Him the glory. All the talents and everything you’ve got are blessings from God, and He wants you to use them for Him. I give Him all the credit for wanting me to and for me having the ability to do it.”

postheadericon Elshere ready for NFR’s pressure

FAITH, S.D. – One trait cowboys learn early in life is to overcome any obstacle that comes their way.

Cole Elshere and his family, like so many in South Dakota, experienced true devastation in early October when a blizzard blanked their home. Tens of thousands of cattle perished statewide, including a good portion of the Elsheres’ herd.

“We definitely lost plenty of cows during the storm,” said Elshere, 23, of Faith. “It took us from being a successful year of ranching to one that’s in the red. We still have enough cows that we can continue ranching, but it sure hurt us.

“There are ranchers that have lost years and years of building up a herd. We did lose some, but we’re still able to do what we love. I’m not sure what some people are going to have to do financially. There are still side effects to the storm that are going on right now.”

Cole Elshere

Cole Elshere

It’s a lot to take in, but Elshere believes he is blessed. You see, in addition to a ranching operation, Cole Elshere rides bucking horses in ProRodeo, and he’s pretty good at it, too. The South Dakota cowboy is heading back to his second straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale that takes place Dec. 4-15 in Las Vegas.

He spends a great deal of time away from the ranch in western South Dakota while traveling the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit. While he’s chasing his gold buckle dreams, his parents, Andy and Donella, take care of things at home.

“Family grows more and more important every day,” said Elshere, who finished the regular season with $80,698 and heads into the NFR 10th on the saddle bronc riding money list – only the top 15 contestants in each event qualify for ProRodeo’s championship event. “I have a real good, supportive family, and they’re all very strong Christians. They’ve never put any pressure on me to do good or to be home instead of being on the road rodeoing.”

That’s the kind of support that has enabled Elshere the opportunity to be one of the elite cowboys in the sport. One year ago, he walked into the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas as a contestant for the first time, realizing he was a big part of the hoopla that is the NFR. Stepping over the famous golden bucking chutes can be quite intimidating, especially with a crowd of more than 17,000 expressing its excitement.

The young cowboy handled things quite well, winning a round and placing in three others, earning $58,600 in the process. With his 10-day run in the Nevada desert, Elshere almost doubled his regular-season earnings, finishing the year No. 7 in the world standings with $124,437

“After being there last year, I understand the pressure and the intensity of the arena,” he said. “It’s still going to be there this year, but I think I’ll be able to use it to benefit me.”

When dealing with the potential loss of livelihood, the NFR pressure is dwarfed in comparison. Plus, it’s a great way for Elshere to continue riding well; through the regular season, he won at least a share of bronc riding titles at 11 rodeos, from Mississippi to Alberta.

“I’ve been more consistent this year,” said Elshere, who credits much of his 2013 success to his sponsors: SweetPro, EquiPride, Stuber Ranch, Rodeo Mart, War Pony, Panhandle Slim and Bar C5 Rodeo Co. “I just tried to make every ride a little better than the last one.”

It’s worked pretty well, but this is nothing new to Elshere. He estimates he started competing in rodeo at the age of 3, when he was old enough to ride sheep. He started riding broncs a decade ago.

“When I was little, I went to every rodeo I could go to, and I just kept moving up the ladder,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a bronc rider ever since I was a little kid. My family has pictures of me on a bouncy horse with my hand up in the air.”

Maybe it’s something in the water. South Dakota is well known for being the land of bronc riders; from Casey Tibbs to Robert and Billy Etbauer to Chad Ferley, world championships are part of the lifestyle in the Mount Rushmore State.

“There sure are a lot of guys that were bronc riders or want to be bronc riders,” Elshere said. “Everybody wants to be wants to be part of it any way they can.

“What I like about it is the spurring and being able to spur something. I don’t like getting on a horse that bucks, but I want to spur one that bucks.”

During those December nights, the South Dakota cowboy will get his chance on 10 of the world’s best bucking horses. He trails the world standings leader, two-time world champion Cody Wright, by more than $48,000, so the world champion’s gold buckle is a longshot. Still, go-round winners can earn $18,630 each night.

“With as much money as is added there, anything is possible,” Elshere said. “I’m going there to try to make good rides all 10 nights and let it all play itself out.”

postheadericon Colletti excited about business trip

Casey Colletti rides Carr Pro Rodeo's Big Lights during the final performance of the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo in May. Colletti is heading to his third straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

Casey Colletti rides Carr Pro Rodeo’s Big Lights during the final performance of the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo in May. Colletti is heading to his third straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

PUEBLO, Colo. – Casey Colletti has never taken his status as one of the elite ProRodeo cowboys for granted.

Riding bucking horses in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is just too hard, too demanding on the body. Bareback riding is the toughest event on a cowboy’s body, where his hand is wedged into a rigging that strapped to a bucking beast. Every jump, every kick, every jerk is felt from head to toe.

Take this year, for example. Colletti, a 27-year-old cowboy from Pueblo, finished the regular season 13th in the world standings, earning $71,534 en route to his third qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. There was no easy path to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which takes place Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.

Casey Colletti

Casey Colletti

“It was hard to make the NFR this year,” said Colletti, who had five victories this season, none of which were big-money wins like he’d seen the previous two seasons. “It was definitely a struggle. I’d go to every rodeo from Florida to California and everywhere in between trying to win money. I’d win a little bit, then the winning would fall off. I was trying to stay consistent placing in the money, but it was really tough.”

“I’d try not to get upset. I’d stay up there in the standings, but it came down to the final weekend before I clinched the NFR.”

Over that final few days of the regular season, Colletti won the bareback riding title in Poway, Calif., then finished second in San Bernadino, Calif. He closed out his campaign in Stephenville, Texas, with a third-place ride.

“When it comes down to it, I made it, but it would’ve been a lot more fun had I clinched the NFR before that and didn’t have to stress and worry about it so much,” he said. “Now I’m going to chase that guy that’s in the No. 1 spot.”

That guy is four-time world champion Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore., now preparing to compete at his 13th straight NFR. Mote has earned more than $124,000 this season and has less than a $4,000 lead over the No. 2 man, two-time reigning champ Kaycee Feild of Payson, Utah. While they have earned about $50,000 more than the Colorado cowboy through the regular season, the rides in Las Vegas are what count the most.

Go-round winners will earn $18,630, so the world standings will change nightly. In rodeo, dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions.

“I dang sure think I can come away from the NFR with a world title on my belt,” said Colletti, whose father, Chuck, rode bareback horses. “They’re ahead of me, but I still think they’re catchable just because of how much money is out there to be won.

“That’s my favorite part of the NFR.”

It should be. The first two years he played in Las Vegas, Colletti earned a combined $118,569. That’s pretty solid considering he did it in just 20 days over two Decembers. Last year, he won the fifth round and placed in three others, leaving Las Vegas with $35,925. While that seems great, it was less than half what he earned in 2011.

“I think I was just trying too hard last year, but I still had a good finals,” he said. “I won more money with three no-scores than guys that rode eight or nine horses, so I can’t be too upset with that.”

So what was the main difference this year?

“I drew better horses the previous two years to make the NFR,” Colletti said. “I drew some good horses this year, but it just didn’t work out as well as I would’ve liked. I got on a lot more rank horses this year to make money.”

Unlike most professional athletes, rodeo cowboys must cover their own expenses, which also include entry fees paid at every rodeo in order to compete. To make more than $70,000, he spent almost all of it to play the game.

“I wouldn’t able to do this if it weren’t for B Tuff Jeans, Greeley Hat Works, Pete Carr and the MGM Grand,” he said. “They make it possible for me to be able to compete because of their faith in me and because of our working relationships.”

When times were tough, he leaned on his family: parents, Chuck and Shelly Colletti; his sister, Kristi; his grandparents; and his girlfriend, barrel racer Brittany Pozzi. When he needed a helping hand in the arena, he had traveling partner Seth Hardwick of Laramie, Wyo. He also had the support of his former mentor, Jim Boy Hash, the rodeo coach at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

“I’ve had a lot of support, and my family is the most important thing to me,” Colletti said. “There were a lot of people backing me and helping me make it.

“As far as Seth, I had somebody to feed off of because Seth was winning a bunch. I’d see him be 84 or 85 points, and I’d want to be 86 or 87. When you have somebody that’s positive like Seth, it helps. He has a really good rodeo attitude. Whatever happens, whether he wins or whether he’s zero, he doesn’t get too worked up about it; that’s good for me, because I let some things bother me.”

Hardwick finished the season 17th in the world standings, just missing the NFR by two spots. Though Hardwick won’t be behind the golden chutes with him during the NFR, Colletti plans to take his friend’s attitude to Las Vegas.

“I have to be a veteran when I get there and look at this as a business trip,” he said.

When one rides bucking horse for a living, the NFR is good for business.