Saddle bronc and bareback contestants at this year’s Junior National Finals Rodeo don’t have to look far to find rodeo mentors. Not only are their parents in Las Vegas to offer support and advice, but they’ve got a handful of former National Finals Rodeo qualifiers in the Wrangler Rodeo Arena to do the same.
Five-time NFR bull riding qualifier Scott Breding; four-time NFR bareback qualifier Cody DeMers; and 18-time qualifier, and 1991 world champion bareback bronc rider Clint Corey have been front and center all week.
“I don’t know what it means to the kids, but I know what it means to me,” DeMers said. “To see the talent that I’ve seen the last three days here gets me excited for the future of rodeo.”
The future of rodeo is what the Junior NFR is all about. And based on what DeMers and Breding have seen this week, the future of the sport is in good hands.
“These kids are like 10 years ahead of where I was at that age,” said Breding, whose son Parker is currently second in both the NFR average and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bull riding world standings. “These kids have nowhere to go but up if they want to keep pursuing this. There is so much structure and organization. I’m just in awe of the rides I’m seeing from these kids. It’s been impressive to watch.”
DeMers echoed those sentiments.
“It’s amazing to see what is coming up and what’s going to happen in the near future,” he said. “The way rodeo is right now, there’s a shortage of roughstock kids, and we all know this. But we’re bucking at least 90 horses a day here and every one of those kids has a lot of talent. I look forward to seeing most of them go on.”
Not only do the competitors at this year’s Junior NFR have the talent to ride, but they also know what to do before they nod their head in the chutes.
“Every one of these kids I’ve seen has really good chute etiquette,” DeMers said. “They get in there and they know what they’re doing.
“They’re going through the steps not much different than they are right down the street at the Thomas & Mack. And these kids think they are at the Thomas & Mack. And they are.”
Obviously, the Thomas & Mack Center, which is home to the NFR, is the end-goal for the majority of the contestants. So having NFR veterans like Breding, DeMers and Corey at their disposal this week has been a bonus.
“Coming to the Junior NFR gives me a taste of what I’m getting myself into and what I want to shoot for,” said Jacoby Campbell from Blackjack, Texas, who is competing in the novice bareback division. “So having guys like that who have been there telling me that, ‘Yes, you can get there if you just keep trying,’ helps a lot.”
While having quality stock for the contestants to compete on is important, so is giving them a professional, controlled environment that benefits both the kids and their parents. It’s something that event programmer Lacie DeMers, who is married to Cody’s father, Joe, has worked hard to deliver.
“The backbone of the organization is good stock, good personnel and a good fundamental program,” she said. “So if these parents might question what we’re doing, they see these guys helping out and it’s a sigh of relief for them. I think having the experienced personnel builds not only builds the contestants’ confidence, but it builds the confidence of their parents.”
All of it has made for a great place for these cowboys of future to learn about the ins and outs of a big-time rodeo.
“There haven’t been very many controlled places for kids to get the experience that they are getting here,” Cody DeMers said. “And that’s what makes this so awesome. So these kids can get the experience and they can get the confidence.”
And that confidence, combined with their talent, has these kids primed for a promising future in rodeo.
“Ten years from now we’re going to see the repercussions from this,” Cody DeMers said. “Several of these kids here are going to be at the Thomas & Mack, because there are some kids here who eat and breathe rodeo. You see a 9- or 10-year-old kid here and they look like Billy Etbauer or Cody Wright standing there getting ready. They know the steps and they’re learning the right way.”