Ty Erickson of Helena, Mont. competes in the steer wrestling during the fifth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas. (David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
By Todd Dewey
Las Vegas Review-Journal
With a record $10 million prize purse at the National Finals Rodeo, no lead in the world standings is safe.
Despite the high stakes — each round winner pockets $26,230.77 — there was only one change atop the leaderboard following Thursday's first round before a crowd of 16,793 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Not surprisingly, the shuffle took place in steer wrestling, which featured the tightest title race entering the world's richest rodeo, with a little more than $30,000 separating leader Clayton Hass and 15th-place qualifier Blake Knowles.
Ty Erickson placed third with a time of 3.6 seconds to take over the top spot from Hass, his traveling partner. Hass didn't place and fell to fourth in the world, a little more than $10,000 behind Erickson.
Veteran steer wrestler K.C. Jones won his fourth round at the NFR with a time of 3.4 seconds.
"It's so exciting this year with $10 million," Jones said. "There are a lot of people who worked hard to get that purse up there for us contestants and we're really thankful for them and it makes it really exciting when you win $26,000 in 3.5 seconds."
Saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell won the first round with an 86.5-point ride on Andrews Rodeo's Fire Lane to move from fifth to second in the world standings, less than $6,000 behind leader Cody DeMoss, who finished fifth with an 82-point ride on Pete Carr's Classic Pro Rodeo's Manhattan Moon.
Sundell has drawn Frontier Rodeo's Tip Off for today's second round.
"I'll come gassin' and I'm due to ride him," Sundell said of his strategy. "I've been on him three times for a total of about eight seconds."
Bull rider Parker Breding moved within one round win of defending world champion and standings leader Sage Kimzey by winning the first round with an 86.5-point ride on Smith Harper & Morgan's Magic Bullet. But Breding paid the price for the victory, getting gored by the bull's horns under his protective vest.
"I've had cracked ribs before, but I've never had a bull's horn get up in my vest like that," the 23-year-old from Edgar, Mont., said. "It's a scary deal, because people have been killed that way before. I was dang sure blessed tonight, that the bull didn't stay with me too long."
Kimzey was bucked off, allowing Breding to cut his deficit in half, to about $26,000. But Breding is questionable to compete in today's second round and beyond.
"He's OK right now; we're keeping an eye on him," said Dr. Tandy Freeman of the Justin Sportsmedicine team. "He's got some abdominal tenderness, but not anything to suggest he's got a major injury. He's probably got a couple of fractured ribs. He'll probably end up getting some X-rays, and we'll see how he's doing (today)."
Major injury or not, Breding was in some major pain after his ride.
"It hurts a lot just to lay here," he said. "It hurts to take breaths. It hurts some to talk."
Despite the injury, Breding plans to compete today.
"I don't know what it'll feel, but I'm dang sure going to try," he said. "This rodeo is as big as it gets, so I'm going to try."
osted date December 3, 2015 - 11:51pm
Nogueira raising awareness for injured team roping partner Barnes
By Ed Graney
Las Vegas Review-Journal
He knelt beside a hero to many and began to pray:
"I asked God not to let this happen, that I loved him for all he had done for me and it shouldn't end this way. Please, don't let this happen. He wasn't breathing. He was turning different colors. Finally, after a minute or so, he came back. He didn't recognize me at first. Didn't know what happened. Said he wanted to get back on the horse and rope more. I told him he couldn't. He got mad at me. I told him I wouldn't rope, that he had been hurt very badly. But he wouldn't listen. He got back on the horse and roped a few more steers. Then the ambulance came, and we convinced him to go to the hospital. He didn't know the day, the date, nothing. He couldn't remember. He was very hurt. If he didn't go right then, he dies."
Jake Barnes was bleeding in three places within his brain, his ankle broken and a hand badly injured. His horse had fallen during a training run and stepped on Barnes, leaving the 56-year-old and seven-time world champion team roper in a dangerous and traumatic place.
So he woke up, stood up and got back on his horse.
I guess Barnes really takes seriously that Code of the West stuff about living each day with courage and always finishing what you start.
Cowboy tough or cowboy crazy?
It's a fine line.
Junior Nogueira's voice cracks when recounting the story of what happened at Barnes' practice arena in Scottsdale, Ariz., a day after Thanksgiving, when his teacher and friend and mentor lay motionless on the ground and there was no one in or around the house to help. He imagined the worse.
The National Finals Rodeo began Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center, and Nogueira was without his teammate of almost two years, without his surrogate father, Barnes having been replaced by JoJo LeMond.
In the first of 10 go-rounds, Nogueira and LeMond cashed for $5,500 by finishing tied for fifth in 4.6 seconds.
This is how relationships are sometimes forged in rodeo: Nogueira had a dream when he arrived from Brazil in 2013, a rodeo star in his native land whose parents were both accomplished ropers. He had grown up watching DVD tapes of Barnes winning his world titles, and wanted more than anything else to meet him.
So he showed up in Phoenix, made enough contacts to land on the Barnes ranch one day, roped 15 or so steers during a clinic and impressed the boss enough to secure a place to live and compete with the king himself.
Barnes was that taken with the young roping heeler.
"Jake and his wife and family have taken me in, done everything for me," Nogueira said. "I am trying to stay positive because this is the finals, but it's very emotional knowing what happened. He is the reason I am here …"
Nogueira is 25 and LeMond 33, and within both is a deep, profound respect for Barnes and all he has meant to rodeo. It seems many hold him in such reverence.
Toni Barnes set up a fundraising account to help offset her husband's medical bills, and within the first 72 hours of the efforts beginning, 332 people had contributed more than $60,000. On Thursday, the total was more than $83,000.
It's a long way back for Barnes, who was alert and talking once at the hospital and has begun the recovery process. He is a Hall of Famer who holds the finals record for most go-round wins by a team roping header at 31 and in 1994 set the team roping average of 59.1 seconds on 10 steers with then-partner Clay O'Brien Cooper. Jake Barnes is all that is good about rodeo, and this would have been his 27th finals appearance.
Instead, the telephone rang out on the middle of Texas, and LeMond went from tending to first-calf heifers to making plans for Las Vegas and for a friend to transport his horse from Colorado.
It all sounds sort of chaotic, especially the part about the heifers.
I suppose that's calving for you.
I have a tough enough time tying my shoes.
"Jake Barnes has been my hero since childhood," LeMond said. "He's a legend and will be the rest of his life. It's a blessing watching that guy compete. I don't want to be here under these circumstances. It's heartbreaking. I'd give anything for Jake to be here and me watching him on television.
"We all know the risks and that horses have brains of their own. The horse wasn't trying to hurt Jake. But he stepped on him and hurt him bad. It was a freak thing. I know people who walk across the same street for 30 years, same steps, same everything, and nothing happens. And then one day, they get run over.
"You just can't prepare for some things."
Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on "Seat and Ed" on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter:
Barrel racer Carter, Blaze fulfill WNFR dreams
By Patrick Everson
Las Vegas Review-Journal
When Vickie Carter rode into the arena at the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday night, she made her official debut at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It was yet another milestone in what's been an incredible journey for the 60-year-old rookie barrel racer.
Yes, you read that correctly: a 60-year-old rookie.
And as amazing as that may sound, it's but a small part of a touching, heart-wrenching and inspirational story in which Carter is living a dream while fulfilling the dreams of a rising young star in the world of barrel racing.
A few years ago, Rachel Hendrix was making all the right moves on an amazing horse, Blaze Ta Win. She was likely well on her way to the crowning achievement in her sport: a berth in the WNFR. Hendrix had won the Nevada high school barrel racing title and taken fourth in the National High School Finals Rodeo. By January 2014, a few months after graduating from Fallon High School, the 18-year-old college student was looking to compete full-time on the Women's Pro Rodeo Association circuit.
But on Jan. 26, 2014, Hendrix died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the living quarters of her horse trailer. It was a tragedy that should never befall parents. Yet shortly thereafter, in an effort to pick up the pieces, Clay and Annette Hendrix sought out a dear family friend, someone who had coached Rachel, someone whose son had rodeoed with Rachel: Vickie Carter.
"At first, they asked me to put on a memorial barrel race for Rachel," Carter said. "Then they said they wanted me to run Blaze in that race."
Carter first needed to get better acquainted with the horse — something that went exceedingly well.
"I broke the arena record the first time I rode him, at St. George, Utah," said Carter, who lives in Milford, Utah.
The memorial race didn't go quite as well, she said, but that didn't stop Clay and Annette from persisting to keep Carter in the saddle with Blaze.
"They asked if I'd like to ride him, and I said I'd be interested," Carter said. "I said, 'Let me take a year to get with him and see how it goes, and we'll see where we're at.' And we were doing really well. So last October (2014), I got my tour card, then took third at Billings, Mont.
"So we said we'd go until the Fourth of July," a time of year often referred to as Cowboy Christmas, because there are several lucrative rodeos going on. "And I just kept climbing in the standings."
However, rodeo is a tremendous grind even for the youngest competitors. Long drives, long days and nights of waiting to ride, followed by more long drives. By the end of July, Carter was struggling to battle the fatigue.
"I was really tired," she said. "And I had friend say, 'If you think you're tired now, wait 'til September."
Part of the problem was that Carter was also handling much of her scheduling, picking events, doing paperwork, submitting entry fees and the like. So she made a move that helped take that off her plate, bringing in Ann Thompson, an expert at those matters for many contestants.
"That's when Ann sent me to the northwest, and I had a really good run," Carter said. "Ann said, 'If you really want to go the Finals, you're staying on the road for the next two months.' Friends would sometimes drive with me, but a lot of times, I was alone. It was tough."
But she kept finishing in the money and kept grinding.
"If you really want to do it, you have to hit four to five rodeos a week. You're either driving or riding," Carter said.
As the regular season was coming to a close, in the final week of September, Carter was pushing hard to finish among the top 15 money winners to earn that WNFR berth. She had four rodeos on the docket: Kansas City, Omaha, Apache, Okla., and Stephenville, Texas.
"I had a three-day break, then went to Kansas City. I was sitting 13th in the world standings, but I knew I really needed to put a run down there," said Carter, who did just that by taking second. "That was the game-changer. That's what clinched it for me."
Good thing, too, because the next few days were dicey. The water pump on her truck blew in Omaha, forcing her to miss the Apache rodeo, and she had to hitch a ride with a friend to make Stephenville, where she cashed to finish a whirlwind week aboard her speedy steed.
"He's just so fast and so quick, he turns so hard," Carter said of Blaze. "It's fun. It's just unbelievable."
Carter stayed in 13th, ending the regular season with $62,768, about $3,300 above the cut line as she earned that trip to Las Vegas and the WNFR.
"I'm just in awe, I guess," Carter said. "For the longest time, I'd just have to pinch myself. It's something a girl dreams about from the time she's a kid. I thought I was done and wouldn't have that chance."
But she knows how that chance came about, which breaks her heart.
"The hardest thing for me is to have all this success, when Clay and Annette lost Rachel," Carter said. "They've come out and backed me, tried to help me out there. I know it's hard for them. How could they not wish it was Rachel?"
Carter said she knows Rachel is there in spirit.
"I feel her presence a lot. I know she's there," Carter said. "I believe that when you find a penny, that's an angel talking to you. So whenever I find a penny, I put it in my pocket for my next run. I know Rachel has helped. And I've got a lot of other people supporting me."
Most notably, parents who are watching their daughter's dream ride on.
"They're unbelievable people, and that horse is so talented. I'm just fortunate I'm the one who got chosen."