LAS VEGAS – Sometimes just getting through is a good thing.
Take Chet Johnson on Friday night during the second round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The Sheridan, Wyo., cowboy rode C5 Rodeo’s Biff for 74 points, pocketing $3,005 in the process.
“I had one of the weaker horses in the pen, which is not always a bad thing in the eliminator pen,” Johnson said, referring to the toughest-to-ride horses in this year’s NFR. “Just getting a check and getting two ridden is always a big relief.”
Yes it is. In fact, most of the bronc riders in the field failed to score an eight-second qualifying ride. Of the 15 cowboys in the mix at ProRoeo’s championship event, only six earned scores.
Most importantly for Johnson, he’s ridden both broncs he’s attempted to ride and has collected $4,006 in the process. While that’s a long ways from the top of the heap – traveling partner Cort Scheer has won nearly $26,000 in two nights – it is important for Johnson to continue to ride well.
“I’m pretty happy with it,” said Johnson, who credits his sponsorship with Wyoming Tourism and Rodeo Austin as keys to his fourth NFR qualification. “It’s good to get two checks. I really want to get something going. Obviously I’d like to be placing higher, but I’ll take this. I feel good, but I just don’t believe I’ve had the best chances. Hopefully I’ll get to placing higher here pretty quickly.”
Staying on is important, too. In addition to go-round winners earning $18,630 each night, the top 10-ride cumulative score will claim the coveted NFR average title and a check worth nearly $48,000. Since the rodeo season ended more than two months ago, several of the top cowboys have taken time away from the rodeo arena to get themselves ready. Johnson went about things another way, competing in the Canadian Finals Rodeo the second weekend in November.
He’s in good riding shape as he handles the rigors of the 10-round title bout. It has helped, especially after Johnson’s first horse of the rodeo had a bad start and fouled the Wyoming cowboy, hitting Johnson’s leg on the chute gate and dumping him to the dirt. He was rewarded a second chance on another horse and finished the first round in a tie for sixth place.
“That horse hit me pretty good on the gate, so I was a little sore,” Johnson said. “We’re staying at the Monte Carlo, and they’ve taken good care of us. We try to go to the spa every day to take care of the body.”
As long as it works, Johnson will hit the spa every day. He’s got eight more chances to make a significant living in Las Vegas, so it’s well worth it.
LAS VEGAS – Caleb Bennett likes the way things are going so far during his business venture to the City of Lights.
Over the course of the first two of 10 go-rounds, the Morgan, Utah, cowboy has a round victory and a share of sixth place, the latter of which happened Friday night when he spurred the Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo horse Fancy Free for 82 points. That was worth $1,502.
In all, though, Bennett has pocketed $20,132 at the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. That’s a great two days’ work, but it’s just the beginning right.
“This start is a lot better than last year,” said Bennett, now in his second straight NFR qualification. “I feel like I’m riding a little bit stronger and better than last year. I couldn’t be more tickled. I just want to keep the ball rolling the way it’s going.”
It’s going pretty well for the cowboy who entered ProRodeo’s championship No. 15 in the world standings. He’s already moved up to 10th – in rodeo, dollars equal points, and the cowboy with the most money at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champion. Each of the last two seasons, the gold buckle has found a home in Utah with Payson cowboy Kaycee Feild; Bennett would like it to return, but with his name engraved on the wearable trophy.
“I’m going to try to place in every round,” he said. “I’m going to try to make that a goal and hopefully get a couple more go-round buckles.”
That’s what it takes. In order to do that, though, he’s going to continue to ride as well as he has the first two nights. On Friday, he put on a strong spur ride on Fancy Free, a horse he’d never seen before.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys win money on her,” Bennett said of the bay mare. “I knew she could be a little more of a handful. On that third or fourth jump, I felt her try to pull on my. I realized this wasn’t going to be a day off and that I’d better take care of business.”
He did. He made a few in-ride adjustments that worked.
“When you feel a horse pull on you, I just automatically squeeze my hand a little harder, grit my teeth a little more and spur a little bit harder,” he said.
He may have to do that Saturday in the third round, when he is matched against Frontier Rodeo’s Delta Ship.
“I got on him last year at the NFR, and he dang near bucked me off,” Bennett said. “I owe him one, so this is revenge.”
Call it revenge or call it confidence, but Bennett is out to make a statement in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS – Bray Armes has been to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo before, and he understands the pressure and the fireworks that come with playing on ProRodeo’s biggest stage.
Now in his second straight qualification to the NFR, he recalls just how nervous he was last December when he walked into the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time as one of the top cowboys in the game. He didn’t realize, however, that those nerves would return with him.
“I don’t think I was near as nervous on the first night this year as I was last year,” said Armes, the 14th-ranked steer wrestler from Ponder, Texas. “If you don’t walk into that building and not get wound up, then something is wrong. I just didn’t control it on the first night.”
That changed Friday during the second go-round. Armes grappled his steer to the ground in 5.3 seconds to finish sixth on the night, collecting $3,005.
“I felt like the second night, I was still kind of charged up and ready to go, but I controlled it,” he said.
It worked out quite well. A year ago during his first trip to the NFR, Armes didn’t find the pay window until the third round. He’s hoping that momentum is the key to success.
“My steer was supposed to be the hardest running steer, but my horse got me there and helped me out,” he said of Ote, a palomino now owned by fellow NFR steer wrestler Matt Reeves. “I missed the barrier a little, and my horse ran him down.”
A bulldogger’s best friend is the horse he rides, and it looks like the palomino is a good fit.
“I need to get a little better start, but I think it’ll take off,” Armes said. “The nice thing about that horse is that you don’t have to worry about being able to catch one because they run too hard, because I know Ote would get him caught.”
During Saturday’s third round, Armes will be one of several NFR contestants wearing Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness in honor of a boy name Taylor Tornado, who is fighting neuroblastoma. Armes hopes to bring awareness to the cause while also chasing his gold buckle dreams in Las Vegas. He knows, though, that the next eight days will feature a great race for the 2013 world championship.
“Bulldogging is so tight; I think it’s going to be a great race,” he said. “As of right now, the world title is anybody’s to grab. We’ve got eight more nights, and you can win $18,000 more each night; I think it’s anybody’s game.”
LAS VEGAS – To be one of the elite saddle bronc riders in the world, cowboys must be able to handle any kind of horse.
On Friday night during the second round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, they were tested by the nastiest bucking beasts in the game – horses that are so hard to ride, they’re called eliminators. How tough were the broncs? Of the 15 guys in the competition, only six stayed on for the qualifying eight seconds.
Cort Scheer was one of them, riding through the rank moves of Rafter H Rodeo’s Spade for 87 points to finish in second place in the go-round. He won $14,724, pushing his NFR earnings to $25,841 – that’s the most of any bronc rider competing in Las Vegas. More importantly, the Elsmere, Neb., cowboy has moved to the No. 3 spot in the world standings with eight rounds remaining.
“I was real happy with the way it turned out,” said Scheer, who mounted Spade for the first time in his career. “I’ve seen that horse a lot. I’ve seen him rip bareback riders’ arms off. I was dang sure nervous as heck. You just have to get through those first moves at the start. Once you do, I know he’s really good.
“He feels really good, but he’s hard to get started on.”
Spade has the early moves that tend to push a cowboy’s stirrups back, which gives the horse a big advantage. Oftentimes when bronc riders buck off, it’s because their feet slip back behind them, and they are bucked off over the top of the big black horse. Scheer, though, took care of business.
“I believe you can ride anything,” he said. “It’s about getting your mind right. Whatever doubts you have in your mind, you just have to throw it out.
“When you get to the eliminator pen, they’re huge, fire-breathing rascals, so to get through that night the way we did was awesome.”
Placing in the first two rounds of ProRodeo’s grand finale is a great way to start the rugged 10-day championship. The key, though, is to keep that momentum going forward.
“Honestly the key is not even thinking about it,” Scheer said. “You just don’t think about what’s going on. It gets a little redundant, but you just ride each horse the best you can and see what happens. I just try to relax and take it a day at a time. I know it’s cliché, but if you can do that, you add just a little fuel to the fire.”
The fire already is burning brightly for Scheer.
LAS VEGAS – Hunter Cure lens heavily on his team.
It paid off Friday night during the second round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, where Cure wrestled his steer to the ground in 4.5 second to finish third and earn $11,118. It was a good way to finally kick-start his second trip to ProRodeo’s grand finale.
“I knew my steer was probably middle of this herd,” said Cure, of Holliday, Texas, referring to the 15 steer that were wrestled Friday night. “I figured if I needed to win a check, I needed to make an outstanding run. My horse worked significantly better than he did last night, which certainly helped.”
Yes, it did. Charlie bolted out the chute, allowing the steer the perfect head start. Cure’s hazer, Riley Duvall, did what he needed to set the steer in the correct position for the Texas bulldogger.
“Take Luke Branquinho last night; without being in position, even a multiple world champion can’t throw one down,” Cure said. “My horse worked as good as anything this evening.
“With Riley Duvall on the other side riding Matt Reeves’ good mare, Beemer, I’ve got more chances than some guys. Riley was a touch behind, but then he got in there and got that steer picked up for me. The start is the most critical thing we have here at this NFR set-up.”
Now that all the cogs are working together, Cure is focusing his attention to the details to continue riding the hot wave. He has pushed his season earnings to $76,124 and is sixth in the world standings.
“I feel like that is where we needed to be tonight, and I want to strive to be in there every night,” he said. “I’m a big believer in setting a routing and having time to prepare yourself ahead of time. If you’ve got all those things done when you back in the box, it should feel like home base.”
1. Shane Proctor on New Frontier Rodeo’s Squirrel Grove, 89 points, $18,630; 2. Tyler Smith, 88, $14,724; 3. Cody Teel, 85, $11,118; no other qualified rides.
1. Sherry Cervi, 13.66, $18,630; 2. Michelle McLeod, 13.76, $14,724; 3. Mary Walker, 13.89, $11,118; 4. Kayley Bass, 13.90, $7,813; 5. Lisa Lockhart, 13.94, $4,808; 6. Jane Melby, 13.96, $3,005.
1. Randall Carlisle, 6.8 seconds, $18,630; 2. Caleb Smidt, 7.0, $14,724; 3. Shane Slack, 8.2, $11,118; 4. Shane Hanchey, 8.5, $7,813; 5. Trevor Brazile, 8.8, $4,808; 6. Sterling Smith, 8.9, $3,005.
1. Chad Ferley on Frontier Rodeo’s Tip Off, 87.5 points, $18,630; 2. Cort Scheer, 87, $14,724; 3. Jacobs Crawley, 77.5, $11,118; 4. Isaac Diaz, 76.5, $7,813; 5. Bradley Harter, 75.5, $4,808; 6. Chet Johnson, 74, $3,005.
1. Steven Peebles on Powder River Rodeo’s Craig At Midnight, 88 points, $18,630; 2. Kaycee Field, 87.5, $14,724; 3. Austin Foss, 86, $11,118; 4. Will Lowe, 84.5, $7,813; 5. J.R. Vezain, 83.5, $4,808; 6. (tie) Caleb Bennett and Ryan Gray, 82, $1,503 each.