The crowd roars, the horses whinny and the cowboys whoop! It's the beginning of the NFR, National Finals Rodeo. From December 4th until December 13th Las Vegas Nevada is cowboy city. The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is celebrating its 50th anniversary with ten days of rodeoing, 120 qualifiying cowboys, and a total purse of $5.62 million.
There will be the timed events of team roping, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing where rider and horse compete against the clock and the rough stock events of bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding. Most people who follow rodeo have a favorite event. Mine is saddle bronc riding.
Saddle bronc riding is considered the "classic" rodeo event. Mainly because the skills needed to stay on a saddled bucking bronc are rooted in the work of the ranch cowboy who had to break new horses. It takes a lot to master saddle bronc riding because unlike bareback and bull riding it takes more than physical strength, it takes skill.
First and foremost the rider must mark out right from the opening of the chute or they will be disqualified. When a cowboy marks out his feet start at the horses should and swing back to the skirt of the saddle in a fluid motion. He continues that motion as he rides. One hand holds the hack rein and the other hand must not touch any part of the horse. How well the cowboy keeps his seat and how well he moves with the horse are factors in his half of the total score of the ride. The other half of the score is dependent on how well the horse bucks—height, vigor, motion.
Thirty-two year old Utah cowboy, Cody Wright, is going into the National Finals Rodeo as the saddle bronc earnings leader over Bill Etbauer, five time NFR champ. Having joined the PRCA in 1998 and with career winnings topping $1 million this year, this will be Cody's sixth National Finals Rodeo. I started following Cody's career in 2005 admiring the 5'8", 145lb. cowboy's grit after breaking his leg over fourth of July. The father of four boys, he is the eldest of seven brothers, all of whom are saddle bronc riders except the youngest.
Tomorrow I'll profile forty-five year old Billy Etbauer, the number two man going into the saddle bronc competition. Who said rodeo is a young man's sport?