BY LUKE LYONS THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
Winn Ratliff was supposed to be a college baseball player.
Instead, he ditched his bat and glove for a cowboy hat and boots.
Now, the 27-year-old from Leesville, La., is one of the top bareback riders in the world.
Tuesday, Ratliff recorded the night’s top score at the 56th Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Ram Rodeo at the Colorado State Fair. Ratliff scored a 78, just outside of the top 10 event leaders.
He said he had hoped for a better run.
“I wish I would’ve finished a lot better,” Ratliff said. “That’s just part of rodeo. Tomorrow is another day.”
Ratliff didn’t begin riding bareback until his sophomore year at McNeese State in Louisiana.
His life in rodeo began at age 5 while riding sheep. In high school Ratliff was a junior bull rider, but rodeo was more a weekend hobby, as baseball was his passion.
After graduating from Stuart High School in Oklahoma, Ratliff considered walking on to the baseball team at McNeese State.
When his mother Rebekah told him about the rodeo team at McNeese, Ratliff began thinking about following a different path.
“I felt like the calling was for me to pursue my rodeo career even further,” Ratliff said. “I decided I better take it. It was destiny.”
He continued riding bulls before his college coach convinced him to try bareback riding.
His coach told him the experience would help bull riding. “My rodeo coach talked me into getting onto bucking horses,” Ratliff said. “I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.”
After learning the art of bareback riding, Ratliff’s competitive nature took over and he decided to give his all to the event.
“I said, ‘Well if I’m going to do this I’m going to be the best I can at it,’ ” Ratliff said.
“I got addicted to it and it felt really good.”
His decision paid off.
In 2011, Ratliff won the all-around title at the College National Finals Rodeo. In 2011, he joined the PRCA, where he has reached the National Finals Rodeo three times, including the past two. He has earned $471,995 in five years and is sixth in bareback riding on the season.
He credits his health as the key to his recent success. “Being healthy is the main ingredient,” Ratliff said. “I’ve placed for the most part everywhere I’ve been and I can’t be happier with how things have gone.”
With a month left in the season and a fourth trip to the NFR within reach, Ratliff plans on continuing his success.
Ratliff said he has a plan. “I’m just trying to keep it simple.”