2009 Wrangler NFR Recap

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All-Around Seventh Heaven
Trevor Brazile Ties Ty Murray's Record for All-Around Titles

After Trevor Brazile clinched his seventh world all-around title, the PRCA arranged a photo shoot on the floor of the Thomas and Mack Center for him with his now-equal Ty Murray. Murray and his wife, Jewel, were with PRCA officials when Trevor walked in the arena, carrying his head rope.

Here they were, the two most decorated rodeo cowboys in the history of the sport. One, an icon of the roughstock end and one the best timed-event hand ever. Bystanders could only dream about what they'd say to one another. Strategies for success? How to live life as a rodeo legend? The direction of the sport?

Nope.

Immediately the two fell into a conversation about ropes. Murray grabbed Brazile's rope from his hand and they started talking about feel and how ropes have changed over the years. Two cowboys having the same kind of exchange cowboys everywhere have. The only difference was these were the two best cowboys in the history of rodeo.

"When I won three world titles, they'd be asking me about Ty's world title and it seemed so far away," Brazile said. "It had taken my whole life and all my resources and everything I had done up to that point to get three, so doubling it and then some felt like something I didn't want to think about. That's why I was always the guy that said I was just taking it one year at a time. I'm just so blessed that this year, one year at a time puts me at number seven. It seemed like a goal that was so far away for so long."

Technically, he secured the title after the ninth round of the 2009 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and ended the season with $346,779 in earnings. But what proved that he was a transcendent all-around champion was his performance in the 10th round of the tie-down roping.

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He drew a calf that had a record as a runner and then he would not stand in the chute. With a second tie-down roping title on the line and the all-around in the bank, he could have approached his final calf indifferently; either taken a chance and known that he went down swinging or saftied up. But in Brazile's mind, neither was an option. He was going to rope and tie that calf fast.

During the photo shoot with Murray, the duo took some photos at the timed-event end. There, the conversation turned from cowboy small talk to a conversation only those two men could ever have. They talked in hushed tones-almost not wanting the bystanders to learn the secrets to their success. Murray said he didn't care what they ran under him on the roughstock end, he wanted to ride it. Brazile nodded.

"I wanted it on my shoulders," he told the media later in reference to that last calf. "I didn't want a calf to stumble and break a barrier. I saw a safe start, but I'm a roper. If I had to take a chance on throwing a half a coil or take a chance at the barrier, I'm going to go with the roping, because that's what got me here. When you're here Saturday, you just want a chance. I had a chance and I wanted to get it done and that's all you can ask for."

In those seconds after he tied a 9-second calf in 8.8, he put another brick in the wall of his ever-growing legacy. (As an aside, Brazile and team roping partner Patrick Smith struggled at the NFR, only earning $2,764. Brazile made $55,427 in tie-down roping.)

"You would think I would have arrived now that I've tied Ty Murray's record, but he's as much my hero today as he was before they called my seventh world title. He's the best cowboy that ever set foot on dirt as far as I'm concerned. He's the reason I worked so hard for so long. I'm afraid to think anything other than he's up here and I'm down here. I want to keep working as hard as I can the whole time because of the example he set."

Now, Brazile will head home and enjoy number seven-for a while. It won't be long until he's evaluating his horses, improving his physical regimen and preparing for number eight.

"The world championships are nice, the whole thing when I started out-if you say a legacy-I just wanted to be known as a well-rounded cowboy," he said. "One of these days when I'm walking around and I'm not competitive and I'm on to other things and enjoying my children and stuff, I can be one of those guys that they say was a good cowboy. That I've learned more than just one event, learned about the sport, about horses and how to be a cowboy. That's all any of us ever wanted to be."

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Pushed to the Limit
Bobby Mote Wins His Third World Title

There comes a time when every champion needs someone to push him; someone to force him to dig deep and discover if he can respond to a challenge or finish a battle.
Bobby Mote would never concede that Clint Cannon became his rival this year.

Rodeo is too tight-knit. These men spend too much time together for hard feelings. In a way, they're more like brothers in a battle against the sport and their draw. But there's little doubt that Cannon did push Mote to new levels.

Cannon smashed the regular-seasons earnings record that Mote set two years ago when he entered the Wrangler NFR with $233,504. Mote trailed him by $63,165.
"I've had countless people tell me, 'Well, you think you even have a chance?'" Mote said. "One of the reporters asked me after Round 8, 'Do you think you have a chance.' I thought I had a chance when I entered it and not to sound arrogant, but I believe that. When I show up to a rodeo and don't think I have a chance to win first, that's probably when I'm not going to enter."

But with the way Cannon was riding, he was the clear-cut favorite heading into the Wrangler NFR-where anything can happen. What's more, Mote wasn't in the best of health prior to coming to Vegas.

"A month before the NFR I couldn't even open a pickle jar, my arm was so sore," he said. "I came in with a torn ligament and torn tendon in my riding arm elbow that was a little iffy. The Justin Sportsmedicine program makes it possible because here I am after the 10th day and I feel better than the day I showed up. I managed to stay relatively healthy through it all and they kept me patched up."

Along with the Sportsmedicine program, Mote, who has been to the Finals nine times, has formed a routine that results in him being one of the strongest and healthiest competitors in the most grueling event of the 10-day marathon.

"I worked hard all year staying in shape and preparing for this and I think that helped out," he said. "I got on a real specific diet starting this summer. Between that and exercising regularly, that was a big factor in staying healthy. I lost 12 pounds, got leaner and felt much better. The running during the week helps keep the soreness worked out of your muscles."

What's more, he's worked hard to make the Las Vegas experience as much like home as possible.

"We got a condo deal where we had a kitchen and my wife cooked things that I needed to be eating and I was able to keep a certain amount of normality," he said.

"You go from eating things you're used to and doing things your used to being thrown into this where you're going out to eat, meeting hundreds of people and staying up late and it's taxing on your body. It's important to stay level through the whole week."
And while neither he nor Cannon drew particularly well early in the week, Mote was prepared for the chance that he would. Cannon's dream season, on the other hand, was catching up with him. A painful groin injury and a torn ligament in his knee were hampering the riding style that had carried him to his record season.

As the nightly recaps came out, Mote was steadily climbing closer to Cannon. After missing a horse out, Cannon was out of the average and Mote was leading it. The battle that simmered all season was beginning to come to a boil as the NFR wore on.
"I really wasn't interested in focusing on that," Mote said. "I knew he was going to make a good ride every day, just like he had been doing all year. He's had the best year anyone's ever had coming into the Finals, but I had the best year I've ever had coming into the Finals. I thought if I just kept doing my job, certainly things would take care of themselves. If it was God's will that it would work out, then it would work out."

In the eighth round, Cannon and Mote tied for the round win, putting them in a dead heat and setting up the two final rounds as two-header for the gold buckle.
"I'm appreciative of Clint because he blew my regular seasons earnings record out of the water," Mote said. "He started off in the lead and he kept gaining more and more momentum and it forced me to got to more rodeos that maybe I wouldn't have gone to normally and it kept me from getting complacent and trying to find an edge where I could improve my riding. If it hadn't been for him, I might not be riding maybe as good as I have."

In the end, Mote won (or tied for the win) in five of the last six rounds, won the average and his third world by amassing $310,219-a new single season earnings record for the event.

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A Battle to the End
Lee Graves Earned His Second World Title in a Controversial Finish

He could have called it a career. That would have been easy. Lee Graves had already won a world steer wrestling title, dominating in 2005. The large, friendly Canadian still held the record for most money at the National Finals Rodeo, cashing in $126,412 the same year he won the gold buckle.

Graves didn't spend most of his 2008 in the rodeo arena, he spent it at the gym, rehabbing from a devastating knee injury. He tore the patella tendon of his right knee at the PRCA rodeo in Tucson, Ariz. So difficult the injury, he needed the surgeon from the NBA's Phoenix Suns to fix the problem. He was 37 years old and at a professional crossroads.

"I wasn't sure I was going to bulldog again," Graves said. "I started thinking I might have to find something else."

But Graves is a proud cowboy and he wanted back in.

"To get back in the game, to get back to the Finals, that motivated me every day in the gym," said Graves who lives in Calgary. "When everybody else was going out to the bar, I was going to the gym."

Graves began his comeback began in Montana, winning the PRCA NILE Rodeo in Billings in the fall of 2008 to start his 2009 season.

"That was huge," he said. He finished it by winning the 2009 world steer wrestling title in Las Vegas.

Graves completed his comeback by winning both the NFR average and world championship at the 10-round NFR. He set records for single-season earnings ($251,031) and money won in steer wrestling at the NFR ($130,457). The previous single-season earnings record was $242,018 by 2008 world champion Luke Branquinho, of Los Alamos, Calif.

"I appreciate this more," said the 38-year-old Graves, of his second championship.

"It's a long road back to the NFR."

And it was Branquinho who played a role in Graves' title run. The two were locked in an epic struggle through the NFR, with fellow Canadian Curtis Cassidy and South Dakota's Jake Rinehart also in the picture. Graves, who entered the NFR leading the world standings, won rounds four and five, while Branquinho won rounds six and seven.

Graves was battling a back injury, occurred early in the NFR. "It was ice, hot tub, stretching, getting straightened out (by a chiropractor) every day," Graves said. "There was no day off."

Entering the 10th round, Graves still led the standings but Branquinho led the high-paying average and Cassidy was second.

"We respect each other," Graves said of his peer. "We're pulling for each other. We never backed off the barrier; you can't when you're trying to beat the best. Before the final round, Luke and I were talking, 'Now it's a one-header.' That's what the whole season came down to."

Cassidy went long with an 11.4-second run, taking him out of the race. It was down to Graves and Branquinho. However, when Branquinho threw his final round steer, he lost his grip and despite touching the steer while the steer was down with all four legs out, he didn't get a flag. In retrospect, it was a tough call for the official to make, but the slow-motion replay showed he made the wrong one. Cries for instant replay in the sport will grow louder and louder.

"I didn't expect that to happen," said Graves of Branquinho missing. "I didn't see it, I was trying to get ready. It was a ruckus back there (behind the chutes). It was kind of sad to see their bad luck was for my gain."

Aboard his horse Jesse, "He just scores well and always gives 110 percent," Graves said, all he needed was a solid time for the title.

"I knew all I had to do was throw down," said Graves. "But sometimes, that's tougher, more pressure to just throw one down. I was more excited than nervous. The build-up was pretty intense."

With friend Shorty Brown as his hazer, Graves put his steer down in 3.5 seconds.

"Once I latched on to him, I knew it was over," he said.

Branquinho was one of the first to congratulate Graves on his world championship and the two embraced in a big hug later deep in the bowels of the Thomas and Mack Center. Graves placed in eight of 10 rounds and had six rounds with times of 3.9 seconds or better. His best throw was a 3.3 seconds in the sixth round. Ironically, it only placed him second to Branquihno's 3.2.

"Luke, he's still the one to beat at every rodeo," said Graves.

And that back pain that plagued him through the NFR?

"My back healed up for some reason," Graves said with a big smile. "It's amazing what adrenaline can do to a person."

Or a second world title.

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Kruse in Control
Jesse Kruse Wins the Gold Bucklet at His First NFR

Jesse Kruse missed the 2008 Wrangler NFR. He had more than enough money won, but a self-inflicted book keeping error had him two over his rodeo limit.

"Yeah, it was tough," said the Great Falls, Mont., saddle bronc rider. "But a guy can't sit around and pout. ?He just has to move on."

Kruse didn't miss the 2009 NFR in Las Vegas. And he didn't just compete at his first NFR. He won the whole darn thing. Kruse led 2009 PRCA world standings from early March to Dec. 12, the final performance of NFR at the Thomas and Mack Center. With a little scheduling help and a couple of timely rides at the NFR, Kruse became the sixth cowboy from the Big Sky State to win a world championship.

"It's a dream come true," said the 23-year-old Kruse, who was the 2007 PRCA rookie of the year for saddle bronc riding. "It can't get any better than this. It's pretty cool I got a gold buckle to wear around. My first NFR has been great. It's been great to be around all these great cowboys, great horses, stock contractors and all the great fans."

Kruse was in control almost all of 2009, winning saddle bronc titles at 17 rodeos in 12 different states. The rides included a record 91-point ride on Flying Five Rodeo's Kool Toddy at Ellensburg, Wash., and a record 86-point ride aboard Flying Five Rodeo's Spring Blues at Sisters, Ore. His other notable wins included the Laughlin (Nev.) River Stampede and the Red Bluff (Calif.) Roundup.

"I just drew good this year," said the former high school wrestler. "It was around Houston where I started riding more consistent, with more confidence. All year long, there might be just two weekends were I didn't get a check."

Like Billy Etbauer before him, Kruse let others take care of the scheduling while he concentrated on riding. While Etbauer still employs Craig Latham to do his entering, Kruse had fellow saddle bronc rider Jake Hayworth, of St. Anthony, Idaho, take care of all the travel arrangements.

"Jake did all my book work," Kruse said. "He did all my entering and made all my travel plans. He would let me know my schedule every three, four days. It's a lot less pressure when you don't have to worry about that. I was having more fun without having to worry about the scheduling."

Kruse came to Las Vegas with a $30,000 lead on Heith DeMoss, of Heflin, La. Kruse basically maintained through the 10 rounds. Heith's big brother Cody DeMoss pulled within striking distance as did J.J. Elshere, of Quinn, S.D. But Kruse kept them at bay by placing in six rounds, including winning round four and placing second in round seven. Entering the 10th round, DeMoss led the average, while Elshere was fourth and Kruse fifth. One bobble and Kruse would lose his grip on the top spot of the world standings. But DeMoss got bucked off and Elshere posted a 74-point ride.

All Kruse needed was a solid ride.

"I didn't see what was going on, I was trying to get cinched in," said Kruse. "I had to have the same approach I did all week: stick to the basics and stay aggressive."

Kruse delivered an 84-point ride on old friend Spring Blues. He placed third in the round and moved past Elshere for fourth in the average. Kruse had his gold buckle.

The always-smiling cowboy finished with $194,465. DeMoss was second with $169,739 and Elshere third with $167,996. It was DeMoss' fourth runner-up finish in the world standings.

Ageless Etbauer won the 10th round for the 12th time in his storied career. At age 46, Etbauer is double Kruse's age. Kruse was three when Etbauer competed at his first NFR. Etbauer has earned more than $1 million dollars at the NFR since 1989 and 51 rounds.

After having unprecedented success at his first NFR, Kruse is already planning his 2010.

"I want to come back to another Finals," he said.

"I dang sure want to come back and make a run for another gold buckle."

But he did offer up one small confession.

"You know, I never saw myself as a world champion," Kruse said. All he has to do is look in the mirror.

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How a Legacy is Built
Trevor Brazile Wins His Second Tie-Down Roping Title

Trevor Brazile and Tuf Cooper were walking up a tunnel at the Thomas and Mack Center at the conclusion of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo when Cooper turned to his brother-in-law to ask a question.

"How much did you win by?" asked the 19-year-old Tuf Cooper.

"By 11 years of experience," replied the 33-year-old Trevor Brazile.

Call it the accidental world title. But with the always thoroughly prepared Brazile, there are no accidents. His arena at home in Decatur, Texas, is set to the specifications of the Thomas and Mack Center. But still, Brazile admits his second world tie-down roping world championship was not a priority for 2009. He won his first in 2007.

"It's been crazy," he said of his season, where he also matched Ty Murray's record of seven world all-around titles. "I put a lot of my focus and effort into team roping this year. When you have a partner like Patrick Smith, you want to win one for him. During the Fourth of July run, I didn't calf rope at some rodeos I normally would because it was very important to me to concentrate on the team roping."

But when Brazile did swing a rope in the tie-down roping, the results were pretty much the same. He won. Brazile won tie-down roping titles at 14 rodeos around the United States and Canada.

"With all the focus on team roping, I let my hair down a little bit more in the calf roping," he said.

Brazile arrived at the NFR with a lead of $32,000 in the tie-down roping standings and protected it

like his first-born son. After an auspicious start-23.8 seconds in the first round and 10.1 in the second-Brazile gradually got better. He placed in four rounds, sharing first in the fifth with former world champion Cody Ohl. Brazile, who was steady enough to finish fourth in the average, earned $55,426 at the NFR. He won a total of $188,342 for his tie-down roping in 2009.

"The calf roping went pretty well, I don't have any regrets," Brazile said. "That first round, that's not the way I wanted to get started. But I was able to get going as the rodeo went on. I didn't need $80,000 or $90,000 to win. I had a lead to protect and I had different strategies."

The one constant was Brazile's use of Jaguar, his prized tie-down roping horse. Jaguar suffered a tendon injury in his left leg and was declared ready just six days before the start of the NFR.

"We did laser, ice, everything we could to get him ready for the Finals," said Brazile of the horse that had been away from competition for 60 days. "I ran one calf a day for six days to get him ready. That's the kind of confidence I have in Jaguar, that he was the horse I needed at the Finals."

A highly-competitive field didn't allow anyone to break free and make a run at Brazile during the NFR. Eight different ropers won or shared first place and all 15 qualifiers earned $12,000 or more. Five earned $50,000 or more. One of those was Cooper, the youngest son of legendary roper and former world champion Roy Cooper and brother to Shada,

Brazile's wife. He too, rode Jaguar.

"It wasn't a tough decision to let Tuf use him," Brazile said.

Cooper won the average and $87,355, the most among the NFR tie-down roping field. He finished with 84.5 seconds for 10 runs, just a half-second off Fred Whitfield's record of 84.0 set in 1997. Cooper finished second in the overall standings with $174,348 at just his second NFR.

"At such a young age, he has no weaknesses,"

Brazile said. "It's fun to see a guy do it the right way, in the practice arena and in the rodeo. He's the whole package. And with Stran [Smith] winning last year, it's nice to keep it in the family," Brazile finished with a smile. Smith is Shada's uncle.
Brazile said this year's title, like all the others, is the result of support from family and friends.

"It's a sacrifice to be away from your family and on the road," he said. "There are those cold days when you're practicing and other people are helping, pushing calves, working the chute, videotaping. And they're just as cold as you are. But they're there for you. I'm going to take everything I learned this year and make next year the best one I've ever had."

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At the Wire
Pozzi Clinches Second Gold Buckle in Dramatic Fashion

Fans couldn't have ordered up a more dramatic finish in the race for the WPRA barrel racing world title.

Lindsay Sears of Nanton, Alberta, and Brittany Pozzi of Victoria, Texas, had battled for 12 long months for the third straight year, each hunting her second gold buckle. But it all came down to a one-run prizefight in Las Vegas' Thomas and Mack Center on Saturday night.

When Pozzi had tipped a can in Round 7, Sears looked to have a lock on the gold (after all, the same mistake by Sears in 2007 had allowed Pozzi to steal the championship). But the misfortune of others bumped Pozzi right back into her spot in the average as though the penalty never happened.

Adding to the suspense was hard-charging spoiler Sherry Cervi. She and Sears were the only two cowgirls who'd ridden clean all week, and Cervi could knock Sears from her perch atop the average race and help Pozzi re-claim the lead in the world standings.

On the final night, Cervi posted a 13.79-second run that forced Sears to be 13.89 or faster to win the average and hold onto the world title. Sears' phenomenal 9-year-old mare Sugar Moon Express ("Martha") had already been clocked much faster that week, but on Saturday night, extremely sore and running near the bottom of the pack, she managed a 13.94.

"After Lindsay ran and I knew Sherry had already beaten her in the average, I said 'I got this,'" recalled Pozzi, who then put up a 13.88-second run to steal the gold from Sears-this time by $7,091.

Pozzi had gained $5,805 on Sears in the 10th round, but in the end, by an agonizing five-hundredths of one second, Sears had given up $8,293 in the average. No stranger to tight races in the 10th round, Pozzi was on the losing end of one in 2006 to Mary Burger. This year, however, she was more relaxed.

"I've learned not to pressure up here," said Pozzi, who had gone against conventional wisdom in choosing to run her rookie six-year-old gelding Yeah Hes Firen ("Duke") over her Old Faithful world champion, Sixth Vision ("Stitch"). When Duke got sore mid-week, Pozzi did switch to Stitch, but unbelievably hit a barrel on the horse that had made 20 straight clean runs in that arena.

Just for the record, Pozzi has a bone to pick with anyone who wrote her off after that penalty. Her team of cheerleaders and supporters included her veterinarian, Marty Tanner, DVM, and friends Rana Walter and Samantha Lyne.

Pozzi counts her second world title as more exciting, she said, because she's in a better place in her life and it "showed my ability to win world titles on different horses." Pozzi made nearly $150,000 this year on Stitch and $123,570 on Duke, who was trained by Latricia Duke and is by Alive N Firen (a grandson of Fire Water Flit and Bugs Alive In 75) and out of Splendid Discovery (by Shoot Yeah out of a Hempen daughter).

A frustrated Sears still left Las Vegas $131,126 richer, after having placed in nine out of 10 rounds (Sears has actually won 40 percent of the past 30
NFR rounds).

"I've never had a tougher or more consistent Finals," Sears said. "You do the best you can and that's that."

Sears felt the ground in the Thomas and Mack Center was looser and drier than in years past and caused horses to struggle more than usual (only four cowgirls were clean after the first five runs). In fact, a stumble in the dirt by Lisa Lockhart's horse in the ninth round effectively bumped Pozzi up in the average and, by itself, also cost Sears the world title.

Martha, who won four straight rounds last year, began to noticeably pick her way through the dirt more carefully in the last three rounds, and it cost Sears valuable go-round money.

"Horses get smart and take care of themselves," said Sears of Martha, who was named the WPRA's Horse with the Most Heart. "She strained hard and she'll definitely get a long, well-deserved break."

Watch for another gallant horse race in 2010 between Martha, Duke and Stitch-but don't count out 7-year-old MP Meter My Hay ("Stingray"), on whom Sherry Cervi not only won her second NFR average crown in 10 years with a blistering sub-14-second pace, but shattered the NFR barrel racing earnings record. Cervi's $146,100 was more than the 10-day earnings of any other contestant at the NFR.

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Bittersweet Title
J.W. Harris Wins the World With a Broken Hand

An interviewer asked Trevor Brazile a question about winning the world title despite not having an exceptional Wrangler NFR. (That just shows how high the expectations are for Brazile who can win his seventh all-around title and second tie-down roping title, $58,191 and still be perceived as not having a great NFR.)

In part, Brazile's answer was that the gold buckle is awarded based on an entire season's work-not just what happens at the Wrangler NFR.

From 1976-78, the PRCA awarded the world title based on who won the most money at the Finals. The concept was worth trying, but it wasn't in the spirit of the sport and was quickly dismissed. In more recent times, the jackpot at the NFR has been so large that whoever did the best in Las Vegas would be the world champion.
In the bull riding this year, it turned out that the regular season was all that mattered.

While it wasn't quite record-setting, J.W. Harris enjoyed the second-best regular season in PRCA bull riding history.

He put together $219,275 and won over 20 rodeos big and small. He dominated the field all season long and led by $110,793 coming to Las Vegas.

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "Showing up and winning those rodeos, I think I won 20 rodeos this year. I won a lot of rodeos that I wanted to win this year, Reno, Omaha, St. Paul."

But what wasn't fun was the NFR. After bucking off his first-round bull, he broke his riding hand in round two. He took the next two nights off and tried to ride again in rounds five and six with a broken hand, but couldn't make the 8-second whistle. He turned out of the next two rounds, tried to ride in round 9, but bucked off again.

Nevertheless, after round 9, mathematically no one could catch him. The bull riders gave a poor showing at the NFR, one night everyone bucked off and the next night only one, Corey Navarre, covered his bull and won the round with a 70.5-point score.
In the abscense of Harris, no one stepped up to seize the buckle and he became the first bull rider to win a world title without a qualified ride at the Wrangler NFR since Freckles Brown in 1962, and is the first titlist to earn a gold buckle without earning money at the national finals since Bill Nelson in 1971.

Harris broke the third metacarpal in his riding (right) hand and had surgery Dec. 17. He planned to return to competition for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in February.

"This is something you want to do from the time you are a kid-is to win as many gold buckles as you can," he said. "I actually wasn't too worried. If they caught me, they caught me. They have this thing every year. I'm still young, so I have to keep a positive attitude about it. This is bull riding, it happens. It's all the hard work throughout the year. It just proves that rodeo is 365 days a year. You have to go all year, and I did give myself a cushion in case something did happen I would be all right."

Still, the competitor in Harris was a little disappointed.

"Bittersweet I guess, that I couldn't finish it out. But when I found out that I had won it again, it took care of it. I'd like to have a little better showing here, but it all worked out. It was a dream season and hopefully we can repeat that next year."
Sometimes, dreams are just weird.