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LAS VEGAS â€“ Even for the greatest cowboys in the game, the setting for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo can be somewhat intimidating.
Each night for 10 go-rounds, more than 17,000 fans pack the Thomas & Mack Center, which boasts of an arena about the same size as a hockey rink. For tie-down ropers, itâ€™s imperative they go fast.
How fast? Imagine riding a horse thatâ€™s chasing a calf, then roping the calf and tying it down in less than 8 seconds or less. Thatâ€™s what it took to earn a paycheck Thursday during the opening round of the 2013 ProRodeo finale. Fortunately for Ryan Jarrett, he was one of those.
Jarrett blazed through a 7.7-second run to finish in a tie for second place in the round with Texan Stetson Vest â€“ they were just one-tenth of a second off the winning run by Louisiana cowboy Shane Hanchey. Still, Jarrett and Vest pocketed checks worth $12,921 for their runs in the tiny arena.
Thatâ€™s a great start for the cowboy from Comanche, Okla., who grew up in Summerville, Ga. This marks his eighth qualification to the NFR, and heâ€™s done well inside the Thomas & Mack before. In fact, Jarrettâ€™s first trip to Las Vegas came in 2005 when he qualified in both tie-down roping and steer wrestling.
That December, he won the NFR average championship in tie-down roping and finished the season with $263,665, earning him the coveted all-around world championship â€“ at just less than 22 years of age, he was the third youngest all-around title in rodeo history; only Ty Murray in 1989 and Jim Shoulders in 1949 were younger.
In the six trips to Vegas since that magical season, Jarrett has focused his qualifications on tie-down roping. A start like this one is critical if he wants to make a significant move in the world standings â€“ in rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestants with the most money won in each event at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions.
Jarrett already owns one gold buckle. Heâ€™s riding for another.
LAS VEGAS â€“ As a veteran saddle bronc rider, Chet Johnson knows a thing or two about his discipline.
He knows quite a bit about horses, too, so he knew his match-up with Sankey Rodeoâ€™s Hermit was going to be something special for Thursdayâ€™s first go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Johnsonâ€™s traveling partner, fellow NFR qualifier Tyler Corrington won the rodeo in Great Falls, Mont., on the bronc with an 89-point ride.
Unfortunately, Hermitâ€™s anticipation of a strong performance resulted in a foul when the powerful horse slammed into the chute gate upon leaving the starting line. The result was Johnson getting another shot on The Cervi Brothersâ€™ Multi-Chem War Glory.
Johnson and the bronc matched moves for 78 points, which earned the Sheridan, Wyo., cowboy a share of sixth place on opening night â€“ he finished tied with two-time world champion Taos Muncy and five-time NFR qualifier Wade Sundell, and all three cowboys earned $1,002.
While the earnings arenâ€™t much considering the magnitude of the NFR, any check is important in the sport. This is the fourth qualification for Johnson, a Canadian champion who credits his sponsor relationship with Wyoming Tourism and RodeoAustin as keys to his success. He has finished the season as high as 11th in the world standings, doing so the first year he earned the right to play in Las Vegas.
Now Johnson sits 14th in the world standings, and he has nine rounds remaining in ProRodeoâ€™s championship event. The Wyoming cowboyâ€™s goal heading into the NFR was to win the coveted average championship by having the best cumulative score through 10 rides. With one qualified ride accomplished, heâ€™s well on his way to achieving a watermark event in his long career.
LAS VEGAS â€“ Every bronc rider who makes a living on the back of bucking beasts knows the key to a good ride is the start.
The first step is make sure his spurs are over the front of the horseâ€™s shoulders when the animal leaps from the chute. Not only is it following the rules, but it helps set up the strong spur ride that makes saddle bronc riding the classic event in rodeo.
â€śI feel like I spurred that horse out better than any horse I spurred out last year at the NFR,â€ť said Cort Scheer, a 27-year-old cowboy from Elsmere, Neb., now competing for the third time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
On Thursday during the opening night of ProRodeoâ€™s grand championship event, Scheer spurred Frontier Rodeoâ€™s Griz for 80.5 points to finish third in the round, earning $11,118 in the process. That cash helped Scheer move from sixth to fifth on the money list in his chase for the coveted world championship â€“ in rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestants in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the NFR will win the prestigious gold buckle.
â€śI think a lot of whatâ€™s going on was the Canadian Finals and the PRS,â€ť Scheer said, referring to the Canadian Finals Rodeo that took place a month ago and the Professional Roughstock Series finals that wrapped the 2013 season three weeks ago. â€śLeading up to this, I got to get on a lot of great bucking horses and got through all the pressure situations. Now youâ€™re here, and youâ€™re just wanting those good horses.â€ť
He had one in Griz.
â€śThat horse is amazing,â€ť he said. â€śI got on that horse about four years ago in Corpus Christi (Texas) and got along real good with him. They always place on him in this round. Heâ€™s just one of those horses that youâ€™ve got to spur him out and go at him, because itâ€™s your own fault if you donâ€™t place on him.â€ť
In Fridayâ€™s second round, Scheer has drawn Rafter H Rodeoâ€™s Spade, an animal thatâ€™s been known to be a pill for cowboys.
â€śHeâ€™s a really strong, black horse, and heâ€™s fighting the chute, kicking, dripping sweat in the chute,â€ť Scheer said. â€śHeâ€™s wanting to get it on. Iâ€™m just going to give him the same treat treatment, but IÂ ainâ€™t going to be sweating.â€ť
No, heâ€™s not. Scheer is confident and talented. Thatâ€™s what it takes to get through the toughest bucking horses in rodeo.
Heeler Riley Minor, who won the Wrangler National Finals Rodeoâ€™s opening round with his brother, Brady, on Thursday night, celebrated during the Montana Silversmiths Go-Round Buckle Presentation by proposing to his long-time girlfriend, Jordan Crossley, on the South Point stage.
After Riley and Brady visited with hosts Randy Corley and Flint Rasmussen, they introduced their family, who was standing behind the tandem on stage. With the microphone in hand, Riley got down on one knee, pulled out the ring box and proposed.
A stunned Crossley smiled, looked at Riley Minor and said, â€śYeah, I guess.â€ť
Apparently the couple has been dating for six years, which prompted coos from the South Point audience: â€śItâ€™s about time.â€ť
Reigning world champion heeler Jade Corkill of Fallon, Nev., suffered an injury to his left (reining) hand during the first round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
â€ś(Iâ€™m) not sure how but the top strap of my dally came off the horn when I went to pull back,â€ť Corkill posted on his Facebook page this morning. â€ś(It) made it to where I didnâ€™t even have a dally and the coils came tight around my left hand and sucked it to the (saddle) horn.â€ť
Corkill reported that three fingers suffered cuts and that he is seeking the advice of a specialist today.
â€śThey are saying that could be the tendon on the first finger and bone on pinky so being cautious about joint infection,â€ť he wrote.
He plans to continue to compete and defend his world title