Sep 17, 2021
It’s a Process
With less than two weeks left of the regular rodeo season (today is September 17 and it ends September 30) rodeo contestants are doing everything they can to be in the top 15 in the world standings and secure their spot at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It’s rodeo’s biggest stage where world championships are earned and gold buckles are awarded.
In the bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding, those accomplishments can’t happen without the animal athletes. Bucking bulls and horses in those events are responsible for one-half of the total score so if the NFR showcases the year’s best riders, it has to showcase the best animals as well.
The process for those animals to be considered for competition at the Thomas and Mack Center starts on the first day of the regular season and by the time the season ends, many have already done what they need to do to do.
For rodeo contestants, the NFR is the opportunity to increase their incomes, take care of their families and pay the bills. For the animal athletes, it’s a chance to buck amongst the best in the world in one action-packed electric arena and showcase their skills and earn their owners some cash and awards.
Stock contractors who provide the animals are always thinking of the NFR. For many who raise the bucking stock, that is the ultimate goal and when that goal is achieved it’s an honor. Just getting animals selected for the NFR and seeing their animals buck among the best animals in the rodeo is a thrill that is second to none.
At most rodeos there is a primary stock contractor that is responsible for the livestock. They may have some subcontractors involved to keep the quality of the competition even depending on the size of the rodeo. At the NFR, contractors nominate their best horses and bulls. An animal has to be competed on a minimum of eight times at PRCA events to be eligible.
“It’s a big part of what makes the NFR so exciting,” said bareback rider Caleb Bennett who is an eight-time NFR qualifier. “The combination of the top 15 contestants competing on the best bucking horses in the world for 10 straight nights is unparalleled.”
Along with competing, Caleb also serves as the bareback riding event director for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. It is his responsibility to select the bareback horses for the NFR from the nominated eligible horses. He will be competing in Las Vegas at his ninth NFR and that means he has been watching all of the horses that have been at the rodeos that he has entered.
The PRCA has an Executive Council to oversee the competition which includes a director for each rodeo event. Those event directors are voted on by their peers. The saddle bronc and bull riding directors are responsible for the selection of animals in each of those events as well. It’s a big responsibility and one that comes with a lot of feedback.
“I depend on other competitors and information from the stock contractors to help me decide.” Caleb added. “There’s no way one person can see all these horses firsthand. I watch videos, call the other guys and start narrowing the field. Any animal can have an off day, but when you consider all their different trips at rodeos across the country, get other opinions and talk to owners, the cream will rise to the top.”
According to the PRCA’s media guide, there were 78 stock contractors that were eligible to provide bucking stock at 2021 rodeos. Last year, 59 of them brought bucking animals to Globe Life Field for the 2020 NFR.
The selection process for this year’s NFR is already well underway. In fact, it is a year long study of the animals for the event directors. The stock contractors nominate the animals that they feel are worthy of selection by September 1. That list is given to the directors who then filter through and narrow it down to the 100 that provide the best opportunity for the riders to showcase their skills in even competition. Before the final selection, the list is further reviewed by the NFR General Manager of Production and the PRCA Administration before the final stock roster is announced.
There are also rules in place that a stock contractor must satisfy before they can nominate animals. It’s a process that is managed and overseen by a group of people that want the NFR to be the best. And when the animals are showcased on rodeo’s biggest stage, it’s all worth it.
“As a stock contractor, having an animal selected for the NFR is one of the greatest honors there is,” said Binion Cervi of Cervi Championship Rodeo and The Cervi Brothers companies. “We pour years and years into each and every animal we raise. In many cases those efforts go back decades and affect generations of stock.
“We carefully select which mares to breed to which studs, and from the moment they are born, we are trying to do our best to set them up for success. Watching them grow up and grow into their God-given talents is an indescribable feeling. Having others see that in them as well is incredibly special. That’s what having them at the NFR does.”
Earlier this year, the PRCA and Las Vegas Events announced an increase in prize money, 30% of which goes to the stock contractors (including timed-event cattle). Having a horse or bull at the NFR is not only an honor, it comes with getting a portion of the nearly $3 million paid to owners of the bucking stock. And when a bull or horse’s name is next to the round winners each of the 10 nights, it means a trip to the South Point Hotel & Casino to pick up a new buckle and bonuses.
There are also Wrangler NFR Top Stock Awards. The bucking horses and bulls will each be out in two performances. The animal’s scores are added together and the top total scores get additional awards. Rodeo contestants aren’t the only ones to earn world championships either. The most prestigious award given to the buckers is the Pendleton Whisky Stock of the Year which is voted on by the contestants. That buckle is awarded during the Contract Acts Awards Banquet just prior to the NFR.
It’s what dreams are made of for people that love bucking animals and might even hope to have some of their own. Cord McCoy who competed in the bull riding at the 2005 NFR until a separated shoulder took him out is one of those guys. Cord also made six trips to Las Vegas to compete at the PBR World Finals.
The McCoy family has been raising bucking bulls and competing with them since 2003. Cord’s father Denny was at the helm then. Now Cord is diversifying and has started a new rodeo stock contracting/production firm, McCoy Rodeo.
“I remember the first night I rode in the grand entry behind the Oklahoma Flag and I’ll never forget that feeling,” he said. “We’re just getting started with our rodeo business, but I imagine the first time we have a horse or a bull come out of those yellow bucking chutes it will be the same feeling. It’s a big goal. I dreamt of riding in those yellow chutes when I was a kid, now I can’t wait to see an animal bucking there for our rodeo company.”