this can be accomplished without the stock and contractors
who breed, transport and care for them.
“These animals are athletes too, they have to be treated like it,”
Louderback said. “These trips can be tough on them, sometimes
we go 1,000 miles one way. We have enough stock to rotate so
they can rest.”
The road to the NFR for the stock and their contractors is quite
literally determined through popular opinion. The top twenty
professionals in the world cast a vote for the animals and personnel
who attend. The stock at the JNFR are voted on by a panel after
watching application videos from the stock contractors.
“Last year we took forty head to Vegas, it is hard to say how
many we will take this year,” Louderback said. “We have a lot
of animals to accommodate for the four age groups at the
JNFR. The older kids get on the bigger animals, but the younger
groups ride our mini broncs and bulls.”
The PRCA season ends promptly on September 30th, only to
turn right around and begin all over again on October 1st.
To make the top 15 in the world and qualify for the NFR,
professionals are ranked by the amount of money they earn
in those 364 days at approved PRCA rodeos.
The daunting road to qualification finds competitors in
Cheyenne, WY; Fort Worth, TX; Estes Park, CO; and Red Bluff,
CA. There is simply no limit to how many miles competitors
young and old will travel on the road to Vegas.
WHY TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED?
What the world yearns to know every Christmas season is what
it takes to get there. Not the highs and wins of the season, but
the tough, nitty gritty work and tragic tears of dreams won and
lost that pave the road to Vegas. Trials and triumphs, many
leading to heartbreak come September, and a few lucky and
hard-earned spots are awarded to the top fifteen.
The glory of rodeo is not in the buckles and checks. It is in the
fact that these top fifteen spots, for no sum of money, can be
bought. A million miles is only driven by two hands and a will to
make the next performance. An expensive horse can only hold
up to the care it is given, and the human body simply learns by
what it repeatedly does.
No, the road to rodeo fame is paid for in the hours before the
sun comes up when it seems like the world could care less
about the competitor praying they make it for 8 a.m. slack. The
true spirit of rodeo sits in the heart of the pink-clad cowgirl
kicking with all her might to emulate what her heroes do on
television. Lest rodeo fame ever forgets what they do this for,
simply turn to the audience and find the hands begging for a
touch from all they aspire to ever be: cowboy.
“There is no way to describe the road to the NFR other than it
is prestigious, it is honorable, it will test your faith and at the
end of the day the winners are the ones who remain true
to themselves and who never gave up no matter the
circumstances,” Spears finished.