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LAS VEGAS â€“ 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 Rodeoâ€™s Biff for 74 points, pocketing $3,005 in the process.
â€śI had one of the weaker horses in the pen, which is not always a bad thing in the eliminator pen,â€ť Johnson said, referring to the toughest-to-ride horses in this yearâ€™s NFR. â€śJust getting a check and getting two ridden is always a big relief.â€ť
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 ProRoeoâ€™s championship event, only six earned scores.
Most importantly for Johnson, heâ€™s ridden both broncs heâ€™s attempted to ride and has collected $4,006 in the process. While thatâ€™s a long ways from the top of the heap â€“ traveling partner Cort Scheer has won nearly $26,000 in two nights â€“ it is important for Johnson to continue to ride well.
â€śIâ€™m pretty happy with it,â€ť said Johnson, who credits his sponsorship with Wyoming Tourism and Rodeo Austin as keys to his fourth NFR qualification. â€śItâ€™s good to get two checks. I really want to get something going. Obviously Iâ€™d like to be placing higher, but Iâ€™ll take this. I feel good, but I just donâ€™t believe Iâ€™ve had the best chances. Hopefully Iâ€™ll get to placing higher here pretty quickly.â€ť
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.
Heâ€™s in good riding shape as he handles the rigors of the 10-round title bout. It has helped, especially after Johnsonâ€™s first horse of the rodeo had a bad start and fouled the Wyoming cowboy, hitting Johnsonâ€™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.
â€śThat horse hit me pretty good on the gate, so I was a little sore,â€ť Johnson said. â€śWeâ€™re staying at the Monte Carlo, and theyâ€™ve taken good care of us. We try to go to the spa every day to take care of the body.â€ť
As long as it works, Johnson will hit the spa every day. Heâ€™s got eight more chances to make a significant living in Las Vegas, so itâ€™s well worth it.
LAS VEGAS â€“ 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 Carrâ€™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. Thatâ€™s a great two daysâ€™ work, but itâ€™s just the beginning right.
â€śThis start is a lot better than last year,â€ť said Bennett, now in his second straight NFR qualification. â€śI feel like Iâ€™m riding a little bit stronger and better than last year. I couldnâ€™t be more tickled. I just want to keep the ball rolling the way itâ€™s going.â€ť
Itâ€™s going pretty well for the cowboy who entered ProRodeoâ€™s championship No. 15 in the world standings. Heâ€™s already moved up to 10th â€“ 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.
â€śIâ€™m going to try to place in every round,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™m going to try to make that a goal and hopefully get a couple more go-round buckles.â€ť
Thatâ€™s what it takes. In order to do that, though, heâ€™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 heâ€™d never seen before.
â€śIâ€™ve seen a lot of guys win money on her,â€ť Bennett said of the bay mare. â€śI 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 wasnâ€™t going to be a day off and that Iâ€™d better take care of business.â€ť
He did. He made a few in-ride adjustments that worked.
â€śWhen 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,â€ť he said.
He may have to do that Saturday in the third round, when he is matched against Frontier Rodeoâ€™s Delta Ship.
â€śI got on him last year at the NFR, and he dang near bucked me off,â€ť Bennett said. â€śI owe him one, so this is revenge.â€ť
Call it revenge or call it confidence, but Bennett is out to make a statement in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS â€“ Bray Armes has been to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo before, and he understands the pressure and the fireworks that come with playing on ProRodeoâ€™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 didnâ€™t realize, however, that those nerves would return with him.
â€śI donâ€™t think I was near as nervous on the first night this year as I was last year,â€ť said Armes, the 14th-ranked steer wrestler from Ponder, Texas. â€śIf you donâ€™t walk into that building and not get wound up, then something is wrong. I just didnâ€™t control it on the first night.â€ť
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.
â€śI felt like the second night, I was still kind of charged up and ready to go, but I controlled it,â€ť he said.
It worked out quite well. A year ago during his first trip to the NFR, Armes didnâ€™t find the pay window until the third round. Heâ€™s hoping that momentum is the key to success.
â€śMy steer was supposed to be the hardest running steer, but my horse got me there and helped me out,â€ť he said of Ote, a palomino now owned by fellow NFR steer wrestler Matt Reeves. â€śI missed the barrier a little, and my horse ran him down.â€ť
A bulldoggerâ€™s best friend is the horse he rides, and it looks like the palomino is a good fit.
â€śI need to get a little better start, but I think itâ€™ll take off,â€ť Armes said. â€śThe nice thing about that horse is that you donâ€™t have to worry about being able to catch one because they run too hard, because I know Ote would get him caught.â€ť
During Saturdayâ€™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.
â€śBulldogging is so tight; I think itâ€™s going to be a great race,â€ť he said. â€śAs of right now, the world title is anybodyâ€™s to grab. Weâ€™ve got eight more nights, and you can win $18,000 more each night; I think itâ€™s anybodyâ€™s game.â€ť
LAS VEGAS â€“ 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 â€“ horses that are so hard to ride, theyâ€™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 Rodeoâ€™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 â€“ thatâ€™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.
â€śI was real happy with the way it turned out,â€ť said Scheer, who mounted Spade for the first time in his career. â€śIâ€™ve seen that horse a lot. Iâ€™ve seen him rip bareback ridersâ€™ 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 heâ€™s really good.
â€śHe feels really good, but heâ€™s hard to get started on.â€ť
Spade has the early moves that tend to push a cowboyâ€™s stirrups back, which gives the horse a big advantage. Oftentimes when bronc riders buck off, itâ€™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.
â€śI believe you can ride anything,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s about getting your mind right. Whatever doubts you have in your mind, you just have to throw it out.
â€śWhen you get to the eliminator pen, theyâ€™re huge, fire-breathing rascals, so to get through that night the way we did was awesome.â€ť
Placing in the first two rounds of ProRodeoâ€™s grand finale is a great way to start the rugged 10-day championship. The key, though, is to keep that momentum going forward.
â€śHonestly the key is not even thinking about it,â€ť Scheer said. â€śYou just donâ€™t think about whatâ€™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 itâ€™s clichĂ©, but if you can do that, you add just a little fuel to the fire.â€ť
The fire already is burning brightly for Scheer.