Bareback rider Matt Bright holds on to Satin Sheets for an 81 point ride during the first performance of the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo on Friday at the Ector County Coliseum. Photo by Edyta Blaszczyk|Odessa American
by Lee Scheide - Odessa American
There was a time when Matt Bright's rodeo future was as luminescent as his last name.
Not bad for someone growing up in the non-rodeo hotbed of Knoxville, Tenn.
Bright, 32, did have a background in the sport as his father R.A. Bright rode bareback horses and bulls during his career.
But the opportunities to compete around his hometown were few and far between.
Still, that didn't stop Bright from making the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2001 for Lenoir City High School.
From there, he moved to the University of Tennessee-Martin to work on a degree in agricultural business — while also seizing the opportunity to compete for the school's rodeo team from 2004-2007.
Compete really doesn't do Bright's effort justice as he qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo, in Casper, Wyo, each season.
Success that proved to Bright that he had made the right decision for his career path.
"When I got out of college, I knew that I wanted to go full time," Bright said Friday before the first performance of the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo at the Ector County Coliseum.
"But it was still tough because for me to compete at a rodeo in East Tennessee, it was a six-hour drive.
"I was never home that year (2007), traveling all over the place, sleeping on couches at friends' houses. It was tough."
That's when Bright made the decision to migrate west from Tennessee to Stephenville, a more central location from which to chase his dream of making the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the sport's Super Bowl held for 10 days each December.
A decision that started quickly paying dividends.
In 2008, Bright made more than $30,000 and finished 35th in the world. The following year saw continued improvement as he finished 18th in the world with more than $45,000.
In 2010, Bright broke through and started his season with a victory in the Permian Basin at the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo.
He added seven other crowns and when December rolled around, was in Las Vegas for his first NFR. He placed in one round in Vegas, finished 14th in the final standings and earned more than $81,000.
He also suffered his first serious injury, a fracture of the lumbar spine in Round 8 that sidelined Bright for three months.
"It was everything I expected and then I got hurt," Bright said of his first trip to compete at the NFR.
Bright matched his 14th-place showing in 2011 and then made a third-consecutive trip to the Nevada desert and had his best showing to date, placing in four rounds and finishing 12th in the world with more than $98,000.
Then, his career was bucked into neutral.
"I've been battling injuries the past couple years," Bright said. "I had elbow surgery in 2013 and missed most of the season.
"Then, after I came back from the elbow, I started injuring my groins. I would be able to ride for a couple months, then I would tear a groin and be out two to three months to let it heal."
Still, as beat up as Bright was, he competed well enough during limited time throughout the first six months of 2015 that after the summer rodeos he was in position (20th) to make a serious run for his fourth appearance in Las Vegas.
Then he broke his ribs.
"It's tough to ride bareback horses with broken ribs," Bright said. "Your back gets slammed on every jump, so it's not something that you want to do if your ribs are injured.
"I had to make a decision if I wanted to deal with the pain and I would have had to win or earn a good check in every rodeo I went to just to have a chance. So it would have been tough and I decided to get healthy."
Healthy enough that when the gates opened for Bright and his bronc, Satin Sheets, they worked well enough together to earn 81 points, good for a second-place finish on the night.
A good start for what Bright hopes is a good winter as he goes to Denver today before traveling to Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston in February and March.
And he knows just how important these next 10 weeks are for his season.
"I'm on the back end of my career, at 32," he said. "I've probably only have a few more years where I can really rodeo hard and go for a championship.
"And that's something that I'd really like to do, win a world championship, so that's what I'm focusing on this year. I want to stay healthy, work hard and have a chance to get back to the NFR and win a championship."
THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN, OFTEN: The stars of the rodeo, as far as livestock are concerned, are the bulls, with the 2,000-pound competitors normally getting the best of the cowboys holding on for dear life when the gate swings open.
That wasn't the case Friday during the first performance of the 83rd SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo at the Ector County Coliseum.
Seven times the gate swung open and seven times the eight-second buzzer sounded with the cowboy still astride his charge.
The bulls got a few measures of revenge, but then Edgar Durazo of San Antonio and Corey Maier of Timber Lake, S.D., put the cowboys back in the winner's circle with two more qualified rides.
Maier's ride, the final one of the night, was strong enough for an 83-point marking to take the lead heading into tonight's second performance.
Denton Fugate of Dixon, Mo. is second with 80 points and Durazo sits third at 78.
CHAMP IN THE HOUSE: Every rodeo fan knows the name Trevor Brazile, so it wasn't unexpected when he received a loud ovation when introduced as he backed his horse into the chute for the tie down roping event.
A 23-time world champion, Brazile flashed the quick hands that have earned him more than $6 million dollars in his career, roping and wrapping up his calf in 9.5 seconds, good enough for second on the night behind Bryson Sechrist's 8.1-second run.
ROLLING THROUGH THE CLOVER: The barrel racers showed off their skills Friday and when the final turn had been made in the cloverleaf, a pair of riders were tied atop the standings.
Shelby Vinson of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Morgan Breaux of Tomball both made three turns and stopped the clock in 15.12 seconds. That was three-tenths of a second quicker than Jill Tanner of Tifton, Ga.
STEERS WIN: When you fall off a horse on purpose and then attempt to wrestle a 400-500 pound, horned animal to the dirt, everything has to go right from the start.
That didn't happen Friday for the nine bulldoggers looking to get a leg up on the rest of the competition.
Tom Uttermark of Morris, Okla., was the most successful, dropping his calf in 5.5 seconds, with Jarrent New of Wimberley just a couple ticks (5.7) slower for second.
Most of the competitors, however, either missed coming off the horse or had the animal break free before they were able to put them on the ground.
Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at OALeeScheide