Thursday, December 11, 2008

All Around Cowboy: Trevor Brazile gets richer!

Trevor Brazile clinched his sixth NFR title of All-Around Cowboy (one who competes in at least three different events) in round 6 of the 50th National Finals Rodeo. How big a deal is this? In fifty years only three other cowboys have won the title six or more times. The short list includes Larry Mahan, Tom Ferguson and Ty Murray who holds the record of seven all-around titles.

It should be noted that Trevor competes in timed events while one of Ty Murray's events was bull-riding which is much harder on a cowboy's body, though it takes nothing away from Trevor's feat. Not only did he win All-Around Cowboy he did it with style, winning the round in Tie-down roping with a 7.7 time to beat out young Tuf Cooper. Trevor also competes in Team Roping where he's been struggling a little and steer roping where the finals are held seperately.

If all of this isn't enough, with the Tie-down roping win, Trevor also surpassed Joe Beaver's record for the highest career earnings and, as of today, now leads with $3,050,194. That $3 million mark is a big milestone for a rodeo cowboy. Unlike other professional sports, cowboys don't get paid a salary, they have a chance to earn only if they compete and the purse money, though increasing, is still small in comparison to what athletes in other professional sports earn. Particularly considering competitors have to shoulder all their expenses--food, lodging, transportation and entry fees--yes they have to pay to play. And they also have to pay for all the expenses for their horses (in timed events) as well. So while $3 million is significant, once you subtract all the expenses, including taxes, and spread it over Trevor's twelve year career and, while still impressive, it by no means constitutes wealthy. And Trevor, like all rodeo cowboys, works hard for his money--training, traveling and competing. So hats off to Trevor Brazile--2008 All-Around Cowboy--Well done!

You can find the National Finals Rodeo on ESPN2, usually late in the evening so don't forget to set the DVR.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nothing Easy About Bareback Riding

Twenty-one year old NFR rookie Kaycee Feilds, son of legendary bareback rider Lewis Feild, scored just one point short of an arena record in round 6 of the NFR with a 90.5 on Classic Pro Rodeo’s Wise Guy. He just joined the PRCA last year and already has earned over $100,000. The $16,766 he earned from round 6 for placing first will add to that total. Quite an accomplishment for your first year in pro rodeo!

I admit I’m primarily a saddle bronc fan, mainly because when a rider does it right, it’s a graceful dance with the horse, both in sync with each other but with the cowboy clearly in command. Bareback riding, while just as exciting, doesn’t look nearly so elegant. In fact, a bareback rider who is doing it right reminds me of a rag doll being shaken by an angry child—limp and bouncing around. And it looks painful—like the stuffing is going to be knocked out of the cowboy with each buck of that horse. That’s the reason most bareback riders wear a neck brace-- to absorb the impact of all that jostling. Few, however, wear a helmet and given that they ride with their upper bodies stretched out flat along the back of the horse, having your head bumping against a helmet for eight seconds no doubt doesn’t appeal.

Tomorrow I’ll look at Trevor Brazile, whose winnings last night clinched the All-around title for him—his sixth!

You can catch the NFR on ESPN2—check your local listing for times. Also, for all the standings, pictures and news about the NFR, you can check out

Monday, December 8, 2008

Barrel Racing at the Rodeo

While women can compete in any of the rodeo events, the overwhelming choice for women is barrel racing. In barrel racing, horse and rider must complete a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels without any of the barrels going down. The horse and rider that completes the pattern clean in the fastest time is the winner.

My sisters competed in barrel racing and they spent many hours training our palomino Dusty (my heroine in Re-Ride at the Rodeo is named in Dusty’s memory) to take those turns. The horse is the real star of barrel racing, even though the rider has a lot to do with the success. Horses that are fast, intelligent, trainable and with a desire to please can make good barrel racers. And when you find one with that combination of qualities you can pay upwards of $60,000 for the privilege of ownership.

Jill Moody won the event at the NFR’s first round with a time of 14:02 on her horse, Dolly. But each day the times seem to get faster. Cassie Mosely won with a 13.85 in round 2, Lindsey Sears—the number one in the world by almost $50K in earnings--won round 3 with a time of 13.91 and Britteny Pozzi-Pharr, number 2 in the world, won round 4 with a time of 13.84.

It’s a joy to watch the combination of skill between rider and horse bring it on home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Billy Etbauer, A Rodeo Legend In The Making

In Re-ride at the Rodeo, my hero, Clay Tanner, is a saddle bronc rider and even though he’s a winner, he’s not looking to make it a career. If he looks at forty-five year old Billy Etbauer’s career earnings of over $2.5 million dollars he may want to reconsider.

Billy Etbauer is just about every saddle bronc riders role model. By all accounts a modest man, Billy has been to twenty National Finals Rodeos since he became a professional saddle bronc rider twenty years ago. He’s won the NFR champion title five times and for 2008, he’s well positioned to do it again given he is only $5000 off the current leader, Cody Wright.

The 5’5”,140 lb., Oklahoma bronc rider has three children. His brothers, Robert and Dan, are also rodeo cowboys. In fact, Robert, who no longer competes, will be a pick-up man for the first time at the rodeo, an honored spot voted on by rodeo cowboys.

Today, the first day of the NFR, Billy came in second with a score of 85.5--he's still in the hunt. And Bryce Miller came in first with a score of 89 and a ride that was classic saddle bronc riding--pure poetry in motion. Check it out on ESPN at midnight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rodeo Superbowl: The National Finals Rodeo is Here!

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?