The top 15 teams in the world are gearing up and getting ready for the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. You know what the setup is in the Thomas & Mack Center in Vegas, and what the game plan is going in. Everybody has their game face on, and is ready for nod, ride, get it on ’em fast and go left mode. It seems like yesterday when we had the first NFR at the Thomas & Mack in 1985. It seemed a lot harder then, when we roped big, fresh steers with big horns in that little building. The only two setups like that at that time were the NFR and the George Strait (Team) Roping (Classic) back when it was in Kingsville, Texas. There are a lot more quick setups today.
The biggest factor at the NFR is the way you score, and your approach to how you score. What makes it really tricky is when a steer doesn’t start. With that small of an arena, they have no choice but to have a really short score. You have to gamble that the steer’s going to start or you get left behind. If you try to actually see a move and the steer gets a jump on you, you’re behind and it forces you to take a bad shot. All of a sudden you’re scrambling to get a shot off before the back end.
The electricity is so much different at the NFR than anywhere else. You have 17,000 people packed into that building, and it feels like they’re sitting right on top of you and staring you down. It’s so much different than it used to be when there was a moat, and you rode up and watched the other guys go before you roped. Now we all sit in the back, and you ride single file into the arena one by one. Your horse has no idea what’s about to happen, and all of a sudden you’re riding into the box. (Jake and Clay shown winning the 2007 NFR.)
The average horse guys ride at the NFR tends to be a little older. There’s a reason for that. Stage fright can be a factor for the guys and the horses. No matter how many times you’ve been there, it feels like your heart’s about to bust. You have to be mentally prepared not to get too excited, so you don’t lose your focus.
The NFR isn’t like any other rodeo where you’re relaxed when you back in there to nod your head. Everything is full throttle at the NFR. The whole year’s on the line, so it’s really important to shake the jitters off and get off to a good start at the Finals. If you get off on the wrong foot, it can snowball in a hurry and make things really tough. That’s not to say you can’t come back if you do get off to a slow start. Look at Speed Williams and Rich Skelton (shown here) all those years. If you’re going to mess up on a steer, the first one is the time to do it. They came back from just about everything that could possibly happen in round one to win all those world championships.