Making Memories

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

I decided before I came that no matter what happened I was going to leave here with my head held high.

by Joey Sonnier

In Round Four, I drew a horse that likes to buck guys off. Indian Burn from Bridwell Rodeo. He has, like, bull stats. In twenty or thirty outs over the last two years, I think he’s only been ridden twice. Most guys don’t get past the second jump. He’s huge. He’s the epitome of an eliminator, a scary son of a gun, but there was no question in my mind that I could ride that horse. My traveling partner, Bradley Harter, had him at Puyallup this year, and he rode him. At one point during the year, Indian Burn had my vote for Bucking Horse of the Year.

Indian Burn is really tricky to mark out. He’s big and drops out of the chute with his head up in the air. That’s what happened on Sunday night. He started bucking, and I rode him. During those first three jumps, I felt like I was going for a round win, but out of my peripheral vision I saw that yellow flag. That doesn’t change your game plan when you’re out riding. A horse like that, the minute you let up he’s gonna cut you for a flip right over his head!

The flag wasn’t really a surprise. I felt like I missed him out. But those first four jumps were the real deal. He felt good. For as much as he was bucking, I felt like I was all in, for sure. I was in the right spots, doing the right things. Feeling that good on a horse that big and strong when he was doing his very best was a real boost of confidence. I thought, This week’s gonna be fine. I’m gonna draw the right horses somewhere along the way and do my part. Everything else is out of my control.

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I still feel fine. It’s just that things haven’t been going too good. I’ve gotten flagged out five of seven nights. I don’t feel like I’m riding bad at all. I made mental errors in the second and fourth rounds that I’ve held myself accountable for. I don’t feel like I need to change anything equipment-wise or even mentally. I rode the exact same from October first of last year until today. I’m doing the same thing that got me here. Maybe I just need to leave a little less doubt in the judges’ minds about my markout. Whatever the case may be, I’m not putting the blame on anybody else.

It’s funny. Whenever things aren’t going your way, everybody wants to text. I know they mean well. They want you to keep your head up and give all sorts of advice, but the reality is my head’s never been down. I decided before I came that no matter what happened I was going to leave here with my head held high.

Since I’ve been back these past few years, I’ve learned not to worry about what people think of me. When I get to the back of the bucking chutes, I don’t look at anything outside of the arena. I don’t care whether I’m at The American or a little rodeo in Florida with a thousand dollars added money and people sitting on lawn chairs. It’s all the same if you prepare for what’s inside the fences.

Besides, there’s still a lot of money to be won here at the NFR. There’s still a lot of fun to be had.

At the end of the day, the worldly things of this rodeo are going to fade. And the money’s gonna spend. Every night we’ve left the rodeo as a family in a cheery mood blessed to be here. I’m gonna make memories with my family, and they’re gonna last forever. I feel like that’s the most rewarding part of this deal.

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