Just as the Earth revolves on its axis, the rodeo world is cyclical. One season begins before another ends.
In ProRodeo, the 2018 regular season concluded Sept. 30. The qualifiers to the National Finals Rodeo are securing their final arrangements to compete in the sport’s grand championship, held inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas and featuring a $10 million purse.
For most, though, Oct. 1 came with without that cherished trip to the Nevada desert. It’s frustrating and haunting—a year of all-night drives, fast-running calves and horses that duck and dive all ended the gold buckle dreams so many had. But it also brought a new dawn, a hope for the 2019 campaign and several opportunities to get back to work the first few weeks of the new campaign.
But even the NFR qualifiers understand just how important it is to get off to a good start for the next season.
“When I start the new year on Oct. 1, I’m nobody,” said Tammy Fischer, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Ledbetter. “I’m not Tammy Fischer who made the NFR, and I need to get in the top two or three in the standings before I go to Vegas if I want to get into Calgary (Alberta), Houston, San Antonio or Denver. You need to think you’re just as good as your next run.
“Those new-year rodeos are important. You want to be better than you were yesterday. Those new-year rodeos give you that opportunity.”
There are 33 rodeos that take place in the first month of the new season, 10 in Texas. That makes the Lone Star State a hotbed for rodeo in these spectacular 31 days.
“I don’t think of it so much as a transition; as soon as October first hits, you’re thinking about December,” said Jacobs Crawley, the 2015 world champion saddle bronc rider from Boerne. “You’re still going, but you’re viewing it as really good practice. You’re trying to stay in a really good mindset. You’re able to go to some good rodeos and get some great practice.”
That reflection is why Crawley has been to the NFR seven times and will return for an eighth. While he considers it a practice session, he’s also earning money—in rodeo, dollars equal championship points, and only the top 15 on the money list at the conclusion of the regular season advance the compete in Las Vegas. The contestants in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the NFR are crowned world champions.
But there are downsides to starting over so quickly. For most who make a living on the rodeo trail, they’ve spent weeks, even months, on the road, traversing the country in order to earn a living. But there’s no time to rest, no time to refocus.
“You’re just so tired and want a break,” Fischer said. “But I can rest myself and my horse in November.”
So, whether it’s Hempstead or Liberty or Waco, October rodeos in Texas are vital to everyone in the game. —Ted Harbin
Ted Harbin is a longtime journalist who spent 22 years in the newspaper industry before focusing on rodeo. He owns Rodeo Media Relations and TwisTed Rodeo and is one of just eight individuals to be honored with media awards by both the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. He lives in Maryville, Mo., with is wife, Lynette, and their two daughters, Laney and Channing.