Journal on the Road

Roping and Riding at the NFR

December 14, 2011

Champions earn their titles at the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

By Kellie Carr, special to The American Quarter Horse Journal

Trevor Brazile

Trevor Brazile of Decatur, Texas, wins the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo all-around title as others are crowned in their events. (Brenda Fuchs photo courtesy of PRCA)

December 10

He had the world championship locked up in Round 9 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but bareback rider Kaycee Feild wasn’t content with just winning a gold buckle.

In the 10th round of competition December 10, Kaycee rode MGM Deuces Night for 87 points, winning the NFR average, as well as setting the 10-head average record. Kaycee also won the Ram Top Gun award for the most money won at the 2011 Wrangler NFR, and set an NFR record for most money won in a single event at the NFR, with $179,327, as well as set an event record for most money won in the bareback riding for the year at $319,986

“I came out here to dominate,” Kaycee said after his win. “Beating the average record wasn’t my goal coming in, but through the week, I looked up the score and knew what I would have to do to beat it, and I kinda made it my goal.”

During the 10 days of rodeo, Kaycee picked up six round wins, the most by any rough stock cowboy in NFR history – and another place in the record books where Kaycee can sign his name.

“I’m just happy with how it all turned out,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the draw and the way it turned out. That horse I had today (in the 10th round) is just a storybook ending to the whole week. That horse was awesome”

The steer wrestling was one of the toughest and most tightly-contested events of the week, but when the dust settled, it was California cowboy Luke Branquinho who went home with his third gold buckle. Down to the 10th round, it was a race between Luke, Shawn Greenfield and Jason Miller. With all the men out for the win, both Shawn and Jason got in a hurry and broke the barrier.

That left the door wide-open for Luke, who suddenly changed his game plan.

“Those guys were going in there knowing they had to win good in the rounds to stay ahead in the average and get the money they needed,” he explained. “They were taking a chance, you know, and if I was in their situation, I maybe would have clipped the barrier, too.  But that’s just rodeo. It happens, day in-day out in rodeo, and unfortunately for those two, it happened in Round 10 at the NFR. I can’t say it didn’t affect me a little though. Suddenly, all I had to do was to make a clean run, so even though I wanted to go out there for a round win, I did safety up and take things a little slower. From my standards, that last run was a horrible run, but it got the job done.”

Luke gave credit to his hazer and former NFR qualifier Les Shepperson for his help and advice all week, as well as to his horse, Gunner, who also helped him win his first world title in 2004. Prior to coming to Vegas, Luke hosted several steer wrestlers, including Jake Rinehart, Trevor Knowles, Blake Knowles, Les and Jason, for practices at his arena – a move he credits with helping him stay sharp for the finals.

“That’s the thing about the sport of rodeo, especially steer wrestling, is that everyone is pulling for everyone else. When you practice with that kind of athletes and that caliber of guys, I think it makes a big difference coming into here. It is all of us helping each other trying to speed up our runs, get flat falls and good starts, I think it makes a big difference. I’ve been to the Finals here when I’ve practiced by myself, and never felt as sharp as when I’ve practiced at home with those guys.”

Team roping was a dream come true for NFR veterans Turtle Powell and Jhett Johnson. Turtle was competing in his sixth Wrangler NFR but had yet to win a round. That all changed this year. Not only did the header from Stephenville, Texas, win his first round at the WNFR, but he and partner Johnson also set the NFR earnings record, winning $125,625 during their 10-day run in Vegas. The pair won two rounds, the average and the world championship title.

“I told Jhett this morning that we should have met for breakfast at 5 o’clock in the morning, because we were both laying there, staring at the ceiling,” Turtle said after his big win. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve dreamed of backing into the box in the 10th round of the NFR with the championship on the line, but it’s a lot different than I expected. That’s the hardest steer I’ve ever run in my life.”

As for Jhett, his loop wasn’t picture-perfect after the steer moved to the right, but he knew he had to catch and that’s just what the Casper, Wyoming, cowboy did.

“It wasn’t the loop I’d always dreamed about throwing in that situation, but it got the job done,” he said. “I have lots of family and friends here celebrating with me, but only Turtle and I know what it all took to get here: the all-night drives, the waits, the wondering, the tough times. To get to the finish line like this, it’s just a blessing.”

Saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy walked into the Thomas & Mack with the lead in the world standings, and he left that way, too. But the week was anything but easy, as Utah’s Jesse Wright gave him a run for his money. Jesse walked away with the average title, but Taos, who was the only other cowboy to ride all 10 head, held onto second in the average, which allowed him to hold onto his lead by about $8,000 and change.

Taos, who won his first world title his rookie year in 2007, said getting another was an accumulation of a lot of hard work.

“The first time I won the world it was my first year, and I was really going hard and everything just fell into place. I didn’t really know how hard you have to work to get another one. This took a lot of work, and it means a lot to me.”

While Jesse’s streak of great rides kept Muncy on his toes, he enjoyed watching his competitor climb aboard a bronc.

“I just had to focus on myself and not worry about what Jesse was doing. It was awesome to watch him ride, though. I’ve never seen someone spur over a horse’s head like he did. He had a heck of a week, and I’m just thankful to have another gold buckle.”

Tuf Cooper was another cowboy who walked in with a lead on the regular season after his outstanding year in the tie-down roping, but he had to fend off serious competition from World Champion Cody Ohl, as well as NFR average winner Matt Shiozawa and his oldest brother, Clint Cooper, to earn his first gold buckle.

“We didn’t have the finals we were expecting, but if you look back at it on paper, it turned out just like we were expecting,” Tuf explained.” It all worked out in the end – God always works it out the way it’s supposed to be, no matter what it is.”

Just days before he was set to leave for the NFR, Tuf found out that the horse he’d been planning to ride, Twisters Enola Gay, who also took him to his big win earlier this year in Omaha, was injured and unable to compete. In an act of true brotherly love, fellow competitor and Tuf’s brother-in-law Trevor Brazile sold him his horse, Jag, who previously has carried Trevor to world championship titles.

“I’m so lucky to have a brother like that,” Tuf said. “He sold me his best horse so that I’d have the best chance I could to win. I mean, he’s behind me and he wants to win just as badly as I do, but he took care of me, and I’m really grateful to him, and to all my family, for all the incredible support they give me.”

Tuf’s family knows a thing or two about winning gold buckles. He and his father, eight-time world champion cowboy Roy Cooper, joined an elite group of now just six other father-and-son teams who have both won world championships. Tuf is also the nephew of 2008 champion tie-down roper Stran Smith.

“My family has supported me so much throughout the years, I can’t wait to go hug them all and say thank you,” Tuf said after his big win. “And seeing my brother, Clif, win the last round…that was pretty special, too.”

Canadian cowgirl Lindsay Sears kept every barrel standing during all 10 runs, and her fast, clean runs earned her the winning spot in the average, as well as her second gold buckle. Much of the credit, Lindsay says, goes to her outstanding horse, Sugar Moon Express, better known as “Martha.”

“I rode my backup horse for the majority of the year and then got on Martha again toward the end of the year in the summer, and got to bring her here and run her all 10 rounds this year,” said Lindsay, who added that Martha had suffered an injury at the 2010 WNFR. “It was great, she was solid all week. Things just kinda fell into place for us, and it felt like a lot of hard work really paid off. She was the AQHA-WPRA Horse of the Year in 2008, and she’s been one of those great horses for me. She’s been THE horse for me. She’s made me a career in barrel racing – I can’t give enough credit to her.”

Lindsay won $133,557.72 during her trip to Vegas, for a year-end total of $238,864.17. Capturing the NFR average title, though, was a big accomplishment in itself, she said.

“Winning that is huge. It’s something I’ve always wanted,” Lindsay explained. “It’s the first time I’ve gotten around barrels all 10 rounds, and I’m very excited to have finally gotten that.”

Bull rider Shane Proctor was able to get by a tough challenge from defending world champion J.W. Harris, but his victory celebration had to wait. Proctor sustained a badly broken arm during the last round and lay motionless in the arena for several minutes until he was carried out. Shane will have surgery on his arm when he returns home to North Carolina, but he kept his sense of humor about the situation.

“The bull was good – he jumped out and got me raised back and put me down on his head. I ended up hanging to him. I’ve always said to either be a 90 or be in the highlight reel, and I guess tonight I made the highlight reel!”

Shane earned $66,490.40 at the 2011 NFR, with a total of $238,248.85 for the year. He finished fourth in the average race with five bulls ridden for 399.5 points.

Trevor had his ninth all-around cowboy title locked up in Round 4. After winning the steer roping title in November, Brazile is now a 16-time World Champion, tying rodeo legend Jim Shoulders for the second most championships.

“The 16th gold buckle this year means a lot,” Brazile reflected after the 10-day stretch was over. “I’m such a fan of the cowboys who have been before me, and I love rodeo history. I never thought I would have been in the same sentence with Jim Shoulders. That’s such a humbling experience for me.

“The lesson I’ve learned the most this year is that when I started out, they told me that these goals would never be done, and I don’t want the next generation to be stifled by those things,” Trevor continued. “Just because something’s never been done in the last 20 years doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You just have to have something to believe in and work towards. I worked hard to get where I am, but I couldn’t do it without great sponsors, the support of my family, and my horses.”

At this year’s NFR, Trevor rode two horses, an unregistered palomino gelding name Rio, and “Sport,” a horse that Brazile says goes back to Docs Jack Sprat.

“He’s the horse I’ve had here for the last two years, and he’s been really instrumental in the success we’ve had in the team roping,” Brazile said of Sport.

The 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo paid out a record $6 million in prize money – $750,000 per event (per man in team roping).

December 9

So Round 9 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo: Can you say WOW? That was crazy!

If you had told me December 1 that Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith would have a miss and a broken barrier, Cody Ohl would be on track for the gold buckle and miss, Tuf Cooper would break a barrier, Sherry Cervi would hit a barrel and Brittany Pozzi would hit two, I would have called you crazy.

But that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen out here, and mistakes like that are why this rodeo is the best one in the world.

Usually by this point, we have some races tied up and others all but tied up. This year, the only ones we know for sure are the all-around title, which Trevor locked up in Round 4, and the bareback riding, which Kaycee Feild locked up last night. But that was no surprise – Kaycee has been on a roll all week.

After splitting fourth-place money with Ryan Gray and Wes Stevenson during Round 9, Kaycee pushed his Wrangler NFR earnings to $115,577. He still leads the bareback riding average standings heading into the December 10 final round, and he continues to lead the Ram Top Gun Award standings – so there’s plenty on the line tonight, just not a gold buckle.

Kaycee has already tied Bobby Mote for the most round wins in a single Wrangler NFR with five, and he could break both the bareback earnings records for an entire season and the Wrangler NFR – both records also set by Bobby in 2009. If Kaycee can pull off an 86-point ride in Round 10, he’ll also break Justin McDaniel’s average record of 859 points on 10 rides, set in 2008. He’s not gonna slow down folks, so look for some history-making rides tonight in the bareback riding!

With his first world title locked up, Kaycee and his father, five-time champion Lewis Feild, join an elite group of just five other father-son world champions. They include Deb (saddle bronc riding) and Jeff Copenhaver (tie-down roping); John W. and John W. Jones Jr. (steer wrestling); John and Clark McEntire (steer roping); Butch and Rope Myers (steer wrestling); and Bobby (bull riding) and Sid Steiner (steer wrestling).

Of course, Tuf Cooper and his father, Roy, could also be joining that group tonight, but Tuf is going to have to get tough and rope fast if he wants to claim that gold buckle he has worked so hard for this year.

If you watched last night, the tie-down roping left pretty much everyone on the edges of their seats. It has been a battle all week between Tuf and Cody. Cody was a real threat to Tuf, and then after Round 8, when Cody was 16 on his calf, it looked like Tuf might just be back on track.

But then Round 9 happened. First, Cody missed his first loop. He got back on, took a second and tied him, only to have the buzzer go off as he was finishing up, resulting in a no time. So it was looking good for Tuf, but he still needed to catch and have a good time. Drawing one of the best calves in the pen, Tuf set out to be quick. With a 6.8, he was on track to go to the SouthPoint for a round buckle, but he got out too quick and broke the barrier, turning a 6.8 into a 16.8.

So, while all week it has been a race between Tuf and Cody, it is now a race between Tuf and Matt Shiozawa, who is now winning the average.

If Matt wants to win his first world title, he has to be fourth or better and keep his first-place spot in the average, and also hope Tuf places lower than fourth. If Tuf wants to win and Matt wins the round, he must also be fourth or better. Now, should Matt not place high in the round, that gives Tuf some breathing room, but I don’t think anyone will be breathing much until after this race is over tonight.

In the saddle bronc riding, Jesse Wright won his fourth round of the week and is now sitting second in the world standings behind world standings leader Taos Muncy. Only five riders made the whistle in a tough pen of broncs last night, and going into Round 10, Jesse trails Taos by $14,309, making this another tight race that’ll come down to tonight’s last round.

For the third time this week, there was a three-way tie atop the leader board in an event, and this time it was steer wrestlers Luke Branquinho, Casey Martin and Jake Rinehart, all making 3.6-second runs in Round 9.The $14,231 payday for each cowboy helped keep Luke in the race for his third world championship. The three cowboys made a lap around the Thomas & Mack, with two of them sharing a horse. It was fun to see!

Luke still leads the world standings but is sitting third in the average going into the final round, while Jason Miller is second in both and Shawn Greenfield is first in the average and third in the world. This event continues to be the closest race from top to bottom after nine rounds, and it’ll be a race to the finish to see who will walk away with the gold buckle.

Team roping saw another unbelievable round, with Chad Masters, the 2007 world champion header, and heeler Jade Corkill winning the round with a 3.6-second run. Clay Tryan and Travis Graves took second in the round with a 3.7-second run – a move that moved Travis back into the lead in the heeler world standings. Clay continues to lead the header standings. The pair is fourth in the average, however, while Turtle Powell and Jhett Johnson moved to first in the average with a 5.0-second run that placed sixth in the round after average leaders Trevor and Patrick broke the barrier on a 4-second run. They needed to make a move last night, and that barrier cost them big-time. Turtle is second in the heading world standings, while Jhett is third in the heeling standings. Anyone who wants to win a world title will have to step up and rope one again.

Barrel racer Lindsay Sears, who won her first world title in 2008, has the inside track on her second world title tonight. She placed sixth in the round December 9, is second in the world standings and leads the average race. World standings leader Brittany Pozzi hit a barrel in Round 8 and has dropped to eighth in the average. Three-time champ Sherry Cervi is third in the world and fourth in the average. Unless Lindsay tips a barrel tonight, it’s looking pretty safe for her to lock up gold buckle No. 2.

The bull riding is still between world standings leader Shane Proctor and three-time winner J.W. Harris. Shane took sixth place in Round 9 with a 69-point ride on Growney Brothers’ War God, while J.W. bucked off. Shane has earned $216,614 this season and sits third in the average race heading into the final round, while J.W. is fourth in the average and second in the world.

All I can say at this point is that I hope you find a way to watch. If you’re here, at a casino live feed, at home watching on GAC, or watching online, whatever you need to do, be sure to watch! This is one rodeo you do not want to miss, I promise.

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 8

Well, as I sit down to write this, it’s 1:30 in the morning, and I have to go to the Miss Rodeo America speeches at 8 a.m. Such is the life here at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo!

I’m back in my hotel room so late because I finally decided to venture out and have some fun after the rodeo. OK, not really: Tuf Cooper’s mom asked me to drop the tie-down roping standings by her hotel, the MGM Grand. Then she said, “Well, stay and have a drink with me and eat a little something.” Little did I know that she is the driving force behind THE place to be after the rodeo: the Gold Buckle Zone at the MGM Grand!

While I was in the infamous Gold Buckle Zone, I ran into Stran Smith, Billy Etbauer, Will Lowe, Trevor Brazile, Patrick Smith, Chandler Bownds and many, many more cowboys and cowgirls there, all hanging out, mingling with fans. How cool is that? Definitely something to add to my “must do in Vegas” list.” It might have to take the place of sleep, but a couple of nights once a year isn’t too much to spend having a great time and visiting with friends.

Yesterday, I also ventured out to Cowboy Christmas for the first time. I walked (very quickly) through the trade show at the South Point Hotel and also the one at the Las Vegas Convention Center, near the Hilton Hotel. So much shopping! I did manage to stay in control of myself, but I bought a few fun things for my family.

Yesterday was also great because it was one of the highlights of my NFR every year – the ProRodeo League of Women Luncheon. This event is always a big hit, and this year saw $100,000 being raised for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. That’s a lot of money (rodeo people helping rodeo people), so it’s nice to be able to go to an event and know you’re also helping a great cause.

I wrangled myself a seat up front to take pictures (I may or may not have stolen it from Trevor Brazile, but we all ended up playing musical chairs anyway). Long story short, Trevor said I didn’t steal his meal, so it was all good.

The luncheon is an annual tradition for me, as well as many others, so if you missed it this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next.

In case you were wondering, yes, I did actually go to the rodeo last night! I was shooting from my favorite special spot, meaning that I took a hoodie and my fingerless mittens along and got covered in dirt all night looking for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. So much fun!

Round 8 had a lot of ups and downs. The steer wrestling saw another change in the leaderboard, as Jason Miller moved to the top after winning the round with a 3.9 second run. Luke Branquinho moved to third in the average after a long 6.8 run. This race just got tighter, and Jason has gold on his mind.

The team roping saw average leaders Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith fall as Patrick missed the heeling end loop, and the duo had to take a no time. To win the gold buckle at the end of the week, the pair is going to have to make up $12,000 and some change in order to overtake Turtle Powell and Jhett Johnson, who are currently the projected winners after the average is figured in. Trevor and Patrick will have to win a round or place high in the next two in order to win it and give Trevor a third Triple Crown.

Tuf Cooper did exactly what he needed to do to keep his gold buckle dreams alive. Competing first in the event, he roped his calf in 7.3 seconds, winning second. A stumble by Cody Ohl and the resulting 16.1-second time put the two within less than $70 of each other after the average is calculated, with Tuf having the edge. This battle will be a tough one to the end!

Barrel racing saw a big change when average leader Sherry Cervi hit the third barrel and dropped to fourth in the average race. Lindsay Sears is now leading the average and has a good shot at going home with the gold.

The bull riding last night was exciting, as J. W. Harris rode for 87.5 points on Korkow Rodeo’s Black Velvet. J.W., who is riding with a fractured ankle, sprained knee and sprained lower back, is putting pressure on regular-season earnings leader Shane Proctor, who is holding on to fourth in the average. After factoring in the average payout, J.W. is in the lead for the gold buckle, but only about $4,000 is separating the two. These two will make it a great showdown for the last two nights here!

In the bareback riding, there was a three-way tie for the win between Kaycee Feild, who looks to wrap up his first world title, Bobby Mote and Clint Cannon.

In the saddle bronc riding, Jacob Crawley rode Flying Five Rodeo’s Sundance for 83.5 points

Thanks for reading!

Blessings,
Kellie

December 7

I promised you that the next few rounds at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo would be battles, and the contestants delivered December 7!

The tie-down roping had a three-way tie for first between Clint Cooper, Ryan Jarrett and Tyson Durfey. All three clocked in with a 7.6-second run. While the world championship race is still between Cody Ohl and Tuf Cooper, Clint Cooper might just sneak in there and give his brother a run for his money.

In the barrel racing, I told you that Lindsay Sears and Sherry Cervi would be neck-and-neck for the world title, and these two women proved they both are serious about going home wearing a new gold buckle. Lindsay won the round with a 13.56, while Sherry turned in a 13.71 for second. Current world standings leader Brittany Pozzi was third in the round with a 13.76. Considering that 14’s were winning rounds at the beginning of the week, these girls were FAST tonight.

Sherry is still leading the aggregate standings, but Lindsay is close behind in second. If the rodeo were over tonight, Sherry would be the world champion, but she has less than a $4,000 cushion for that, so every round will be crucial. It’s so great to see these girls and their impressive American Quarter Horses out there running their hearts out!

Bull riding saw what could have been a bad wreck turn into a round-winning ride for Clayton Savage. After getting his spur caught in his bull rope, causing him to be dragged under the bull, Clayton earned 85 points aboard D & H Cattle’s Early Bird. Remarkably, Clayton walked out of the arena with no visible injuries.

Regular season saddle bronc earnings leader Taos Muncy won his first round of the week with an 86.5 aboard Korkow Rodeo’s Blew Apart. The New Mexico cowboy wasn’t taking anything for granted during this trip.

“Anytime you win, it’s real important,” Taos said after his win. “I haven’t had a bad weekend, but it’s awesome to get a go-round buckle. Winning a round at the biggest rodeo in the world means a lot!”

Kaycee Feild won yet another round in the bareback riding, this time after an 85.5-point reride aboard Big Stone Rodeo’s Gold Dust. Winning the average and having a 74 on his first horse, Kaycee perhaps would have been wise not to take his chances, but, as he explained later, “I didn’t come here to win second. I wanted to win first.”

Kaycee is still first in the average and the world standings, and should be well on track to win his first gold buckle.

Steer wrestling has been another hotly contested race, but California’s Luke Branquinho is positioned to win yet another gold buckle, as he is leading both the world standings and the average. Luke has had a great finals out here, earning nearly $84,000 so far!

Team roping got interesting December 7. Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith roped their steer in 4.3 seconds, which a few days ago, was a round-winning time and last night wasn’t even in the money. The run enabled the pair to maintain their lead in the average standings, and they are now the only team to turn all their steers. The second-place team in the average, Turtle Powell and Jhett Johnson, however, are still ahead by about $12,000 and change, according to my calculations, if you figure in the average. What’s really interested is that both of these teams came into the NFR near the bottom of the standings. It just goes to show that once you get to Vegas, most of these world championships are anybody’s to win!

That’s going to wrap it up for me today! I’m headed to the ProRodeo League of Women Luncheon, which is always so much fun! Tonight is Round 8 – I think it’ll be another great night of rodeo!!

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 6

Well, folks, it’s getting hectic for sure in Las Vegas at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo!

On December 5, I went to the Miss Rodeo America WNFR luncheon. The pageant has moved to the MGM Grand this year. It’s a great facility, but boy, is it huge. No worries about missing the gym these 10 days. I’m getting plenty of miles logged walking all over the place!

Those MRA contestants are a great bunch, and they all seem knowledgeable and well-spoken, not to mention beautiful! I know AQHA is a proud sponsor of the Miss Rodeo America pageant, and I think any one of these young women will do an amazing job in 2012.

The December 6  rodeo round was pretty exciting, with a lot of potential shake-ups in the world standings. Most notably was tie-down roping: a first-loop miss and 15.8-second time for leader Tuf Cooper put him in a dead heat with Cody Ohl for the world championship, and these are two cowboys who do not let up. They are going to battle it out, and there are no room for errors from either one.

The team roping went from being ice cold earlier in the week to smoking hot in Round Six. In fact, it was the fastest team roping go in the 53-year history of the Wrangler NFR. Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith turned in a 3.5-second run, winning the round and putting the pair first in the average race. I think these two could very well pull off another world championship.

With Trevor already winning the steer roping and all-around titles, it would be his third Triple Crown and second consecutive title. Leave it to Trevor – that guy isn’t rodeoing if he’s not breaking a record somewhere!

I was soooo happy to see Sherry Cervi and her AQHA-PRCA Horse of the Year MP Meter My Hay win a round! Sherry is now leading the average, and it’s going to be a race to the finish. It should come down to a race between Sherry and Lindsay Sears. It’s always fun for fans when it’s a nail-biter of a race, and in that respect, this year’s NFR has not disappointed.

Other Round Six winners were Bobby Mote in bareback riding, Jake Rinehart in steer wrestling, Tyler Corrington in saddle bronc riding, Ryan Jarrett in tie-down roping and Chandler Bownds in bull riding.

I still have not made it to any Cowboy Christmases, but I hope to get there December 8 or 9. I hear the shopping is awesome!

I’ll update you after tonight’s round. We’re getting down to the wire on these gold buckle races, and the last few rounds will likely be ones you don’t want to miss!

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 5

There was a sea of pink December 5 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in the Thomas & Mack Center for Tough Enough to Wear Pink night, an event that has helped raise $12 million toward the battle against breast cancer since the program’s inception.

So it was fitting that a cancer survivor was one of eight contestants taking victory laps that night. Heeler Jhett Johnson, along with his partner, Turtle Powell, turned in a 3.8-second run to claim the Round Five victory.

Jhett is a testicular cancer survivor, fighting the disease in the 1990s, and is now cancer free – and having his best NFR in five trips. He and Turtle have placed in all five rounds of competition and are holding onto second place in the average race, moving to third in the world standings and second in the average race.

“Turtle had it on him so fast, but the steer kind of moved away from me, and I didn’t get around him as far as I would like,” Jhett said of the run. “I had to kind of float a loop around his hip, but luckily I was able to set it in there.”

Turtle and Jhett also made the trip to the SouthPoint for the nightly buckle presentation after their Round Three win – the first of Turtle’s career.

“Maybe I broke the ice with that first one, and now they’re going to come a lot easier,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind taking a few victory laps before the week is over.”

Jhett had a few words of encouragement for anyone facing cancer like he was.

“It’s not a death sentence anymore,” Jhett explained. “So, if there’s someone out there who has just gotten that diagnosis, maybe seeing me and hearing I’m a survivor can help them a little.”

It was also great to see bareback rider Ryan Gray, who came back this year from a lacerated liver that he suffered at last year’s NFR. Ryan gave his testimony at the Elevation Sunday event after Round Four, and shared that while lying there on the arena floor, he didn’t know whether he’d live to see another day, let alone compete again. He not only made it back to the 2011 NFR, but he won his first round in six years after spurring Carr Pro Rodeo’s MGM Deuces Night for 90 points.

“I’m so thankful that I’m able to be back here and competing, doing something that I love and enjoy doing. I’m happy that I had an awesome horse tonight and was able to match up for the win.”

Other round winners included Jesse Wright in saddle bronc riding; Carlee Pierce in barrel racing, setting a new arena record with a 13.46-second run; Luke Branquinho in steer wrestling; and Matt Shiozawa in tie-down roping.

The Miss Rodeo America pageant is under way. I’m excited to go to my first event there tomorrow with my friend, Miss Rodeo Austin Princess Stephanie Revels. She’s flying in for a couple of days. I don’t know if I’m more excited to have a friend here or to put her to work!

The week is only going to get busier from this point on, but that only means time will go faster as well. We’re at the halfway point after tonight, and the races for the gold buckles will heat up as well.

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 4

Trevor Brazile inspires me. And not because he’s now a 16-time world champion. That’s cool, but I’ve seen a lot in my years around rodeo, and one thing I’ve learned is that gold buckles don’t mean anything except that one year, you roped better and won more money than anyone else. No, Trevor inspires me because of his relentless pursuit of excellence. On December 4 in Round No. 4, Trevor Brazile clinched his ninth all-around world title and 16th overall world championship. I have been thinking about this for a while, and I thought now would be a good time to share it. To wrap up the all-around by Round 4 – basically from his outstanding regular-season earnings – that’s quite an accomplishment. It’s a testament to a guy who goes out there every day and does his job well, not to mention juggles all the stuff he has in the air all the time.

Now, don’t misunderstand – I’m not sitting here writing a puff piece about Trevor. In fact, if he ever reads this (which I doubt he will – let’s face it, he’s pretty busy this week!), he’d probably give me a hard time – Trevor loves to have something to tease someone about! But seriously, Trevor’s success makes me look at my own life and career and challenge myself to do better, to be the best. To strive for excellence.

In all the time I’ve known Trevor, I’ve learned a thing or two about him. A talented roper he is, but I don’t think he was born with an innate ability to throw a loop or tie a calf. I honestly think that no matter what Trevor did with his life, he would be the best at it. I mean, if he were a brain surgeon, he’d be the best brain surgeon. And, knowing Trevor, he’d probably not be content with just that, he’d also have to be an award-winning podiatrist. And probably the chief of staff or something as well. My point is, being the best isn’t about being the most innately talented – it’s about working hard and doing everything you can to rise to the top, no matter what field you’re in.

Trevor’s line of apparel and tack is called Relentless. That’s fitting for him. He’ll be the first to tell you, he has to work a little harder than some to be the best because he isn’t physically the tallest, fastest or strongest. Or even the most naturally talented. He just works the hardest.

Much has been said and written about Trevor’s work ethic, and knowing him, I can tell you, it is all true. But working hard in the practice pen is just one of the many things that has made him a 16-time world champion. So I’ve compiled a list of what I think makes Trevor excellent at his job, and I’m sharing it with you today because I think we can all learn a lesson or two from him, no matter what profession we are in. Maybe you’ll be inspired like me.

  • He believes in a higher power and gives praise to God when he wins and loses. I think part of his drive for excellence comes from his beliefs. There are lots of verses in the Bible about striving for excellence in your work, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the primary drive behind Trevor’s work ethic and success.
  • He has a support team behind him. No one wins world championships or does anything excellent without the help and support of those around them. Trevor’s family, the guys who help him when he’s practicing at home, his friends and his sponsors all contribute greatly to getting him down the road. Whatever you want to excel at, don’t be afraid to ask for help, but remember, you must also give in order to receive!
  • Trevor has great American Quarter Horses that he depends on. A good horse is a necessary tool of Trevor’s trade, but whatever you are doing, have the best equipment you can afford. It does make a difference.
  • Don’t take success for granted, be thankful for your wins, and give credit where credit is due. Trevor will be the first to tell anyone that records are made to be broken. And as someone who has pretty much broken most of them, he should know. But he’ll also tell you that while he’s on top right now, there will come a day when someone will go out and topple them all just like Trevor is doing now. Every day that he’s living his dreams, he’s appreciative of  it. He takes nothing for granted. He’s thankful for this time in his life where he’s on top, and he is the first to say thanks to the people that helped him get there. That’s important.
  • Remember what’s really important in life – God, family, friends and the little everyday blessings. Trevor is a great husband and father and puts his family before his work. This sport demands a lot from families, and so can any job, but Trevor has his priorities straight!

So that’s what I’ve learned from Trevor. I hope you can learn a few things from him, as well. In a world with far too few heroes, Trevor is someone to look up to. I’m so proud to know him and proud of his accomplishments.  I’ll have more rodeo updates for you tomorrow, but for today, I thought this was worth sharing … hope you do, too . Thanks for reading!

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 3

The biggest story of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo so far is coming from the bareback riding.

I know we usually only care about the horses that DON’T buck here,  but Kaycee Feild has had an outstanding NFR so far, so I have to talk about him tonight. This guy has won ALL THREE of the first three rounds. That’s impressive, but even more so when you’re in rough stock, an event that is so dependent on the luck of the draw.

With the December 3 win, Kaycee is tied for the record of consecutive rounds won in the bareback riding with John Edwards, who won the first three rounds of bareback riding at the NFR in 1969. No bareback rider has ever won the first four rounds in a row, so all eyes will be on Kaycee at the December 4 matinee performance to see if the Utah cowboy can break the record.

Since yesterday’s post was so long, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet for you, but you know me – I love me some tie-down roping. And I promised you some good behind-the-scenes stuff, so I’ll share this gem from the Cooper/Brazile family.

A week before Tuf Cooper was supposed to leave for Vegas, he found out that the horse he’d planned to ride out here – 11-time AQHA world champion Twisters Enola Gay, aka “Roanie,” owned by AQHA Professional Horseman C.R. Bradley – was injured and unable to compete.

A setback like that can really affect a cowboy. Tuf left the Thomas & Mack last year planning to ride Roanie to his first world championship this year, and he has been counting on her talents all year long. Fans got a preview of the talented mare at Omaha, when Tuf and Roanie captured the Justin Boots Championships tie-down roping title. Because Roanie is 18 years old, C.R. doesn’t let Tuf make many practice runs on her, which is a testament to her talent, as well as Tuf’s trust in her.

“She fits me perfect – we get along so great, there’s no need to practice on her,” Tuf said in Omaha in September.

Helping Tuf win his first world championship is something C.R. took very seriously – enough so that he kept the mare home from the AQHA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City and entered Zans Even Parr, owned by Dr. Jason Layfield instead. That decision turned out to be a smart one, as the 23-year-old gelding earned the 2011 AQHA senior tie-down world championship. But that very night, the Bradleys learned that Roanie had a torn tendon – an injury that would keep her from making the trip to Vegas.

Never one to let a setback keep him down, Tuf turned to his family of champions for help. Both his older brothers, Clint and Clif, qualified for the NFR in tie-down roping, as well as brother-in-law Trevor Brazile. It was Trevor who ultimately came through to help, selling his horse, “Jag,” to Tuf.

“I’m lucky to have a brother-in-law who is not only a great roper, but a great person. He really came through for me by selling me Jag,” Tuf said. “I’m a lucky guy. If I can’t have Roanie, I’m happy to have Jag helping me out every night!”

Another interesting twist? Jag was originally owned by Tuf’s older brother, Clif. Truly, this was a family affair.

Tuf is holding onto a lead of about $42,000, and he tied for second and third with Clif during Round Three with both ropers turning in a time of 7.8 seconds. It was great to see NFR Rookie Cory Solomon win the round with a 7.6. I don’t know him personally, but from what I’ve seen and heard, he’s a great guy in addition to being a great roper.

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 2

Hello friends and rodeo fans!

The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Round Two is officially in the books, and the races are already heating up fast!

The leader board in the steer wrestling was all shaken up December 2 after Dean Gorsuch of Nebraska gave it his all but still didn’t manage to get his steer down. That mistake took him out of the average race for now and moved him to fourth in the standings. Former champion and crowd favorite Luke Branquinho moved to first in the world standings, while Trevor Knowles won the round, but this is the most tightly contested event of the NFR, and it’s still early in the 10-round competition, so I think it’ll be a great race down to the end.

Although Round One didn’t go as great as I’m sure he had planned, eight-time all-around cowboy Trevor Brazile and partner Patrick Smith turned their steer last night in 4.1 seconds, giving the two their first trip to the SouthPoint stage and putting them on track for another gold buckle this year.

“I truly believe that team roping is the most unpredictable event at this rodeo,” Patrick said after the win. “Some nights can be wide open, and others can be record-setters. Trevor and I came in down toward the bottom of the standings, so we can rope like we have nothing to lose. I’ve come in at the top before and felt so much pressure to protect that position. We try to relish the experience while we’re here because there will be a day when we’re not here anymore. It’s just like any other sport – our time will pass, and other guys will be in the spotlight.”

Patrick is a humble guy who always ends his statements with “to God be the glory.”

The pair came from behind last year to win the world, and I think they could do it again. Keep your eyes on them!

The tie-down roping was a replay of Round One, as Cody Ohl took home another round win – the 45th round win of his career – and moved himself to third in the world standings. Coming into the NFR, fans expected to see a showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 ropers Tuf Cooper and Hunter Herrin, but when Cody is in the mix, he’s never one you can count out, even if he’s coming from behind.

Tuf is still holding onto a lead of more than $46,000, but Cody has pocketed more than $35,000 in just two rounds and stands to earn $45,000 more if he can hold onto that aggregate championship, so this could be a battle down to the very end. I know Tuf has had his eye on a world championship since he was a kid, and he’s pretty serious about it this year, so look for him to bring the heat!

Cody came to the NFR in sixth place after competing at just 26 rodeos throughout the year. When most cowboys are hitting 60-75, that is impressive. This guy is a roping machine, and he will be putting lots of pressure on Tuf.

“They don’t have a gold buckle strapped on them yet. When I get here, I want to make a statement,” Cody said of competing against many of the young guns who are at the NFR this year. “I’m not giving up that easy. You don’t have one of my gold buckles yet, and you’re gonna have to earn it.”

If you are watching the rodeo action at home on GAC, you might also notice a small black-and-white patch at the top of the tie-down ropers’ back numbers with “BB” on it. The “BB” is in honor of Brody Beaver, the 20-year-old son of eight-time champion Joe Beaver, who died in August. Losing Brody was a tough personal experience for me, as it was for many of the people whose lives he lit up in both the cutting and rodeo worlds, and I think it’s great that these tie-down ropers are honoring his memory this way. Vegas isn’t quite the same without Brody here. He’ll always be missed by so many.

Barrel racing fans were shocked to see former world champion Brittany Pozzi hit a barrel last night, knocking herself out of the average race early on. The round win went to Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, South Dakota, and while Brittany is still leading the world standings, Lindsay Sears, who is second, is leading the average.

Sherry Cervi, the reigning world champion, is holding on to second in the average, so expect to see a showdown between these three this week. Personally, I have to root for Sherry. If you read my blog last year, you know that I think very highly of her personally.

She’s a great role model, and as an aunt of several nieces, who you are as a person means a lot more to me than if you can run fast or rope well.

Sherry’s also a true cowgirl who can rope and ride like no other! I also have a half-sister to “Stingray” at home, so I’m a little partial. Go, Sherry!

Sherry and Brittany shared the AQHA Horse of the Year honors for Stingray (MP Meter My Hay) and Brittany’s horse “Duke,” (Yeah Hes Firen), for 2011, so these women are well-mounted. Only time will tell who’s going home with the gold a week from tonight!

People keep asking me where I am every night, and the answer is never the same. I try to shoot pictures from the photographers’ “pit” next to the announcers when I can, but I’m not there every night. It’s pretty crowded, and I want to give everyone a chance to shoot!

If you are here in Vegas, DON’T MISS Elevation Sunday at 5:30 December 4 at the KA Theatre inside the MGM Grand. It’s a matinee performance, so there’s plenty of time to get over there and enjoy it. I can’t wait!

Happy trails,
Kellie

December 1

Well, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas has started!

Last night did not go as planned. It took me three hours to get my rental car and get into my room, so I didn’t make it to Treston Brazile’s fourth birthday party (he’s the son of Shada and Trevor Brazile, the reigning all-around champion).

I’m excited to see how this week plays out and who goes home wearing those gold buckles. There are a lot of returning world champions looking to add one to their collection and a few guys who are hunting their first. Here are some things to watch for, according to a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association press release:

  • J.W. Harris of Mullin, Texas, is trying to become the first bull rider to win four consecutive gold buckles since his mentor, Don Gay, did it from 1974 to 1977. He would be just the fourth man in bull riding history to win four straight.
  • Bareback rider Bobby Mote of Culver, Oregon, is taking aim at his fifth world title, which would tie the record currently shared by Joe Alexander and Bruce Ford. Bobby needs just $45,232 in Vegas to become the 18th cowboy to surpass $2 million in career earnings.
  • Saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy of Corona, New Mexico, will try to become the third cowboy to win the Canadian and world championships in the same year, joining fellow bronc rider Mel Hyland (1972) and steer wrestler Lee Graves (2005).
  • Jake Barnes of Scottsdale, Arizona, will tie the team-roping record of eight world championships held by Speed Williams and Rich Skelton if he and partner Walt Woodard rise through the ranks and win the gold buckle. Barnes and Woodard would also be the oldest team in pro rodeo history to win the world championship, a combined age of 108 years; Barnes is 52, and Woodard turns 56 December 5.
  • There are two events where there is a strong possibility that rodeo fans will see the crowning of a second-generation world champion. Roy Cooper, the winner of eight gold buckles, has three sons in the tie-down roping field: Tuf (No. 1), Clint (No. 5) and Clif (No. 15). Bareback riding leader Kaycee Feild of Payson, Utah, is the son of five-time world champion Lewis Feild, and bareback rider Royce Ford is the son of five-time world champion Bruce Ford. They are all aiming to follow in the footsteps of the five previous father-son world champions: Deb and Jeff Copenhaver, John Sr. and John Jones Jr., John and Clark McEntire, Butch and Rope Myers, and Bobby and Sid Steiner.

And then, of course, there is Trevor Brazile. The Decatur, Texas, cowboy became a 15-time world champion at the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping a few weeks ago in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and he’s now in a position to earn his third triple-crown title in just five years. If he earns world titles in two of the three gold-buckle races he’s in in Vegas (all-around cowboy, team roping and tie-down roping), he’ll be just the second cowboy in pro rodeo history to earn three triple crowns, joining rodeo legend Jim Shoulders, who accomplished the feat in 1956, 1957 and 1958.

If anyone can do it, Trevor is the man for the job. He’s focused and in a prime position to break even more records this year. Everyone will be keeping a close eye on him.

On another note, if you’d like to hear more from me, I will be doing a radio show every day at 3:30 p.m. Central for KBRX radio in O’Neill, Nebraska. If you’re local, you can tune in to 102.9 FM or listen online at www.kbrx.com.

Happy trails,
Kellie

November 30

Welcome to my 2011 AQHA Wrangler National Finals Rodeo blog! I’ll be here with you on americashorsedaily.com with my view from Las Vegas. I’ll be giving you nightly updates with all the action and standings at the NFR, as well as behind-the-scenes tidbits and pictures from my experiences out here.

Today is November 30, and I’m on my way to Vegas, getting through airport security with 12 days’ worth of luggage and work equipment! I have my 24-inch iMac computer, a laptop, two cameras, two lenses (one big one), a monopod, 12 pounds of jewelry, five pairs of boots and lots of clothes. They allowed me one extra pound total in my bag, and the rest is in my carry-on bags. I feel sorry for some of the people around me, but there are lots of cowboy hats on my flight, so I think there are a few rodeo fans as excited as I am to get to Vegas!

Tonight will be a crazy one. As soon as I land and get my massive amount of luggage, I will go get my rental car as quickly as I can and then try to make it to Treston Brazile’s fourth birthday party tonight at the MGM Grand. I can’t believe he’s 4 already! I usually miss it because I don’t come to Vegas until the last weekend, so I’m excited to be here for the entire time and experience some of the beginning-of-the-week action that I’ve missed the past few years.

Round 1 of the NFR starts tomorrow! This year, it will be broadcast on GAC instead of ESPN, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a good broadcast. Also, it’ll be live – no more staying up all night to catch the action!

If you are coming out here, there are a few things you don’t want to miss. I’m sure I’ll add to this as the week goes on, but here’s enough to get you started:

  • The Wrangler NFR live at Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. If you can, go to at least one night. Don’t have tickets? No problem. There’s an exchange at many of the Cowboy Christmas gift shows. If you want tickets, there are some to be found. There is electricity in the air at Thomas & Mack that you can feel the minute you walk up to the front of the building. Don’t miss it.
  • Cowboy Christmas – everywhere! There’s a new trade show this year at the MGM Grand that I’ve heard is amazing. Also, be sure to check out all the great vendors at the Convention Center, Mandalay Bay and Sands Convention Center. Be prepared to get your exercise, but they are great shows. The original Cowboy Christmas Gift Show is at the Las Vegas Convention Center North Hall, and AQHA will be there to answer AQHA-related questions and help with memberships, transfers and Journal subscriptions.
  • Go to one night of rodeo at one of the live-feed parties at the hotels all around Vegas. The fans get into the action, and the screens are huge. A great experience for any rodeo fan!
  • The nightly buckle presentation at the South Point Hotel & Casino starts at 11 p.m. and is fun! The round winners bring family and friends on the stage with them, share personal anecdotes and go through the winning run. It gets over late but is so worth it!
  • Elevation Sunday at 5:30 p.m. December at the MGM Grand KA Theatre will be so awesome. I’m thinking it might be the highlight of my week. Clay Walker (wow!) will be singing, along with Susie Dobbs, and Dr. James Dobson will be the featured speaker. A lot of the NFR cowboys attend, and it’s open to the public. Visit www.elevationsunday.com to learn more.

If you aren’t able to make it out to Vegas, don’t worry – I’ll give you some great behind-the-scenes stuff that you can read while everyone else is off spending their money at Cowboy Christmas! Keep reading, and I’ll do my best to keep you informed and entertained.

Kellie Carr is a contributing writer from Burwell, Nebraska. When she isn’t doing freelance writing for various western publications, Kellie is a portrait photographer and graphic designer who specializes in the equine industry. To learn more, visit her website at www.kccreationsphotography.com, or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1500587753.

For more of Kellie’s photos from the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, see the slide show below. Click on each photo to read about it.

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