When it was finally go-time, man, I was so excited I had to calm myself down.
About a month ago, I was hanging out at my girlfriend’s house talking about rodeo.
“I really want that big gray,” I told her, meaning the bucking horse Virgil. I had been in so many situations where Virgil was in the draw. Big rodeos, like the Calgary four-man round, where I was so close to drawing him. Every bareback rider wants to get on that horse. “I know Virgil’s gonna be at the NFR, and I really, really want a crack at him. I think it’s my turn.”
“You’re gonna get him, Clayton,” she said. “You’re gonna get him in Vegas. I guarantee it.”
“I sure hope so, honey.”
The other night, in Round Three, I drew Killer Bee from the eliminator pen. You can score big on him, but he’s known for jerking guys down. I immediately thought about last year.
Last year, I was sitting third in the World at the NFR, when I drew Craig at Midnight, another legendary bucking horse. It was a great opportunity, but I got a no-score. This year, with Killer Bee, I found myself in a similar situation. The ride started great. Honestly, I could have won the round on Killer Bee, but I got jerked down, and the judges called me for slapping.
After that, I was pretty bummed out. You expect the other guys to ride good and ride all ten. I dang sure didn’t want a no-score, especially so early in the rounds. I knew I had a lot of ground to make up. It was time to win some rounds and win some money.
My fourth-round horse just didn’t have her day. I was 77 points and thought I should have gotten a re-ride, but it is what it is. After that I was really bummed out. My year was shaping up like it did last year, one bad thing after another.
That night, after Round Four, I was hanging out with my girlfriend and our families at the Horseshoe Bar waiting to get my draw for Round Five. I knew Virgil was out in Round Five in the TV pen. I was just praying to God my name would be next to his on the list.
The text came in with the list. I looked down at my phone.
“Hey, look at this,” I said, turning the screen around to show Annie and my Dad.
When they saw Virgil’s name next to mine, it was like I’d already rode him! We all just started whooping and hollering. I needed to draw a good one, and I did. I had a solid shot at a round win.
But first I had to get him rode.
Virgil is intimidating. The thought of getting on him made me nervous as hell. For one thing, he bucks so dang hard. Virgil’s a big horse, and he can make little moves with a lot of power. And if you screw him up everyone’s gonna give you a hard time, because it’s Virgil.
He’s dang sure intimidating, but that horse loves his job. He’s the first one in the bucking chutes. You don’t even have to cluck to him. As soon as that slider opens, he’s in the next chute. He knows the deal. He sits there with his head sticking over the top rail looking out at the arena almost like he’s picking a pattern, seeing what he wants to do.
It takes a really special horse to be at the Thomas & Mack. It’s loud and fast-paced. Bucking horses are not broke. They’re not wild, but they’re wild, if you know what I’m saying. Usually, I have people help me pull my riggin in the bucking chute, but with Virgil I had to get my own riggin pulled in back and be ready to go when it was my turn to enter the bucking chute. Back there, you’re pretty much on your own. I could only access my riggin from the alleyway.
Horses don’t usually like flags, and there was this black curtain flapping next to Virgil. I couldn’t get my other latigo pulled, so I had to crawl over the chute and go underneath that curtain. I was doing all this during the Grand Entry. I had flags flying past me and when the bareback riding started I had bucking horses running by and pickup men and ropes, just a lot of things happening. I was crawling all over Virgil, but he just stood there like a show steer and let me do my thing.
When it was finally go-time, man, I was so excited I had to calm myself down. I took a deep breath and thought, It’s just another horse. You still gotta ride from jump to jump no matter what.
When I nodded, Virgil took a big scoot, went out there three or four strides and then he broke. I ride off feel, and when I felt him finally break and kick, there was a bunch of power there, and I really wanted to just let him go, because I wanted to go for a round win. But I told myself, Hey, you better build your ride, because this sucker’s feeling pretty strong!
So I held my feet for a little bit, and when Virgil got to the fence and turned back to the right, he felt like a dream. It was like he was saying, Alright, here’s your shot. If you want to win the round, you better do it now! I was thinking, You better gas it, because if you don’t you’re gonna get bucked off and look like a loser out here. I hustled and got my feet moving and beat him to the ground. I used that forward momentum and spurring motion to keep in time with him. He let me have all the fun I wanted to have on him.
I could feel Virgil underneath me. I knew he did his part, and at the end I rode him really good. When I hit the ground, I thought I was going to be 89 or 90. It’s dang sure gonna be up there. I know I’m gonna win a check. Then I heard what I’ll never forget ever in my life, the voice of Wayne Brooks coming over the loudspeakers: “It’s a new arena record!”
I knew the arena record was 91.5. I was thinking 92. When I heard 93 and the crowd go crazy, I was like, Holy cow! I didn’t just beat the record. I beat it by a lot!
But records are meant to be broken. Virgil’s going to be out again at this NFR. Who knows, somebody could be 94 on him.
There will probably never be another horse like Virgil.
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