I’m trying to rodeo smart and keep it simple this summer. Taking care of my body is number one.
There it was, right at the top of my list of July goals: In your first rodeo back, win first.
My first rodeo back, since breaking my jaw, fracturing my skull and suffering a brain bleed, was in Mandan, North Dakota, three days ago. All spring, I worked hard to get ready for Mandan and the rest of the Fourth of July rodeos.
After my accident, I was on a liquid diet for almost three weeks. That was brutal. I lost a bunch of weight, but it was all muscle and none of the fat. As soon as I could, I started working out with a couple of friends, including bareback rider Mason Clements. They pushed me really hard. For more than five weeks, I’ve been putting in maximum effort at the gym.
I’ve been riding a bucking machine a lot, too, whipping my head around and trying to give myself a yanking as much as I can under a controlled environment. I never once felt dizzy or lightheaded. I sometimes put my bareback riggin’ on my saddle horse and loped circles to get a feel for the horse’s movement in my hips. At home and lying in the gym pushing weights, I dreamed of being at the rodeo and how it would feel. I concentrated on positivity. I visualized winning.
The way I see it, you’ve got to go out with a really strong mindset, a positive mindset. Every horse you get on, you’re gonna spur him. You’re not going to mess up. You’re gonna win a check every time, if not first place. I tell myself, You ride better than anybody else. You’ve got better style than anybody else. You have to really believe that to achieve it.
My dad was a motivator. I would call and talk to him about whatever it was. If it was riding, Dad was like, Just mark ’em out, get ’em going, keep your chin down. It’s simple. It’s just bareback riding. If it was entering, he’d ask, Well, when do you win the best money? On Saturday night? So enter the biggest rodeos for Saturday night and go from there. It’s simple. And he was right: The more you go back to the basics, the better off you are ninety percent of the time.
By the start of July, I was back to fighting weight and had most of my strength back. I felt ready to rodeo more than ever before.
One thing about taking a break from bareback riding, it’s really hard to get your timing right when you’re marking the first one out. You want to mark it out with force and the perfect upper body, but you’ve been away from it.
At Mandan, I drew the perfect horse to come back on—Miss Dunny from Stace Smith Pro Rodeo. She left low and fast, just like I was expecting. I picked her up really good and felt strong the whole eight seconds. I finished strong—no dizziness, no headache. I was 87 and split first with Wyatt Denny. It was great being back. I saw a lot of good friends there. I had a blast. I just never stopped smiling.
Checking that one off my to-do list felt good.
The next day, July 3rd, I was up at Livingston, Montana, on a bigger, stronger, older horse. Those older horses figure out some tricks to get guys out of position, and then they kind of step away and beat on you for a second. I had a lot of motivation going into the second one. He did exactly what I expected. The ride started really good, and then he stepped away and came around to the right. The last two jumps, he whacked me in the back of my head. The whistle blew, I sat up and double-grabbed and noticed I felt great. No dizziness or headache.
I was 87 again and ended up winning fourth.
Those first two nights were exactly how I dreamed they would be. It’s like my dad said, It’s only bareback riding. It’s only eight seconds. You can’t make it harder than just bareback riding. So, if you have the mental power before you get there—you put the work in—you can get there and nod and get off and think, Wow, how did that happen? I was 87? That was cool.
This summer, I’m trying to rodeo smart and keep it simple. Taking care of my body is number one. Number two is the National Finals Rodeo, and I’m treating these rodeos as full-on practice for the NFR.