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LAS VEGAS â€“ In just her fourth rodeo, a talented 6-year-old redhead shined quite brightly during the first round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Her name is Lolo, and sheâ€™s a young sorrel mare who carried her jockey, Carlee Pierce of Edmond, Okla., to a fourth-place finish Thursday night in Las Vegas. Pierce and Lolo rounded the cloverleaf pattern in 14.29 seconds to collect the $7,969 payday in the sportâ€™s richest event.
â€śI think for this being her fourth rodeo every, she did awesome with room to improve,â€ť said Pierce, a three-time NFR qualifier who grew up in Freedom, Okla. â€śIâ€™m pretty stoked that we didnâ€™t tip a barrel.â€ť
More than 17,000 fans pack into the Thomas & Mack Center every night for the 10-round championship. The atmosphere is electric, and even the greatest animal athlete can struggle inside such an arena. Throw in the fact that Lolo is still a filly, and the biggest stage in the game can be overpowering.
Fortunately for Pierce, her young mount passed the test. In the process, she moved from 13th to eight in the Womenâ€™s Professional Rodeo Associationâ€™s world standings.
â€śItâ€™s exciting to be back in Las Vegas for the NFR,â€ť she said. â€śItâ€™s really exciting to be riding these awesome young horses here.â€ť
In addition to Lolo, she has Tiny, a 5-year-old sorrel mare. The young animals are proof that Pierce has a strong stable of solid horses.
She also has a strong support system in the form of her family. In fact, Pierce missed the 2013 NFR when she opted to spend more time at home than on the rodeo trail. She was the No. 3 cowgirl in the world when she ventured home to spend more time with her family.
Now sheâ€™s focused in on getting her fair share of the $6.375 million purse thatâ€™s up for grabs in Las Vegas.
â€śWhen you rodeo for a living, you know how important it is to not only be at the NFR but do well here,â€ť said Pierce, who did very well in her first two trips to Las Vegas in 2011-12. â€śIâ€™m really excited to share this with my husband and my children.â€ť
LAS VEGAS â€“ The mental game in rodeo is vital to any cowboyâ€™s success.
Saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer changed his approach to the National Finals Rodeo, and it already has paid off. On Thursday, he rode Frontier Rodeoâ€™s Short Stop for 87 points to win the opening go-round of ProRodeoâ€™s championship event.
In the process, he pocketed $19,002 and moved from third to second in the world standings. Itâ€™s a much different feel for the Elsmere, Neb., cowboy, who last December placed in just three go-rounds but rode all 10 horses to finish second in the all-important NFR average race.
â€śI just had to loosen up,â€ť he said. â€śLast year I came in kind of tense. I was just thinking about too much instead of one horse at a time. The Canadian Finals really helped me get my momentum started. I know I had a great horse, and Iâ€™d rather fall off instead of being 75 (points), so I really wanted to win one (round).â€ť
Mission accomplished. Scheer posted the highest marked right of the night â€“ the winning bareback and bull rides were 85 points each. He also bested second-place finisher Heith DeMoss by five points while watching some of the greatest bronc riders in the world buck off.
â€śIt just shows the caliber of the bucking horses,â€ť Scheer said. â€śThose are the best guys in the world. To see them come down doesnâ€™t really affect you. In my mind, itâ€™s me and my horse. I donâ€™t really think about anybody else. If anything, I feel bad for them when they come down, because it makes me ride better when they win, too.â€ť
A month ago, Scheer won the average title at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta. He placed in all six go-rounds, winning three. Both the Canadian Finals and the NFR feature the top animals in the sport.
â€śI didnâ€™t know anything about the horse other than he was a bareback horse they moved to bronc riding,â€ť he said. â€śI heard from a lot of people heâ€™s stall out if you got into him.â€ť
In bronc riding, cowboys are judged by how well the horse bucks and how well he spurs the horse through the bucking rhythm. By making sure the horse feels the sensation of the cowboyâ€™s spurs, the rider actually helps the horse along.
â€śMy rein was a touch too long, which made him feel a little buckier, but he was pretty nice.â€ť
So was Scheer. Heâ€™s continuing to carry a season-long drive through rodeoâ€™s grand championship.
â€śMomentum is tremendous,â€ť Scheer said. â€śNow Iâ€™m going to forget about this. Iâ€™ve got (Pete Carrâ€™s) Mike and Ike (Friday) and just go one horse at a time. Thatâ€™s how you win titles, I guess, and I really donâ€™t care about the average.â€ť
LAS VEGAS â€“ Pinch Kyle Irwin all you want; heâ€™s not waking up from this dream.
On Thursday during the opening night of the 2014 National Finals Rodeo, the Robertsdale, Ala., cowboy wrestled his steer to the dirt in 4.1 seconds to finish fifth place in the first round, pocketing $4,904 in the process.
It was a heck of a way to kick-start his inaugural NFR.
â€śI was real proud to get to represent the state of Alabama,â€ť he said. â€śI was real proud to get to represent myself and everything that weâ€™ve worked so hard for. Iâ€™ve put in the effort, time and dedication to back in the (timed-event) box and get ready to run one for all these fans and everybody watching at home.
â€śIt was the greatest feeling Iâ€™ve felt in the rodeo industry.â€ť
Irwin, who competed in collegiate rodeo at Western Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma University, pushed his 2014 season earnings to $64,640 and moved up one spot to ninth in the world standings â€“ in rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestant who finishes the full season with the most money won will be crowned world champion.
He remains more than $32,000 behind the leader, Nick Guy of Sparta, Wis., who utilized his $19,002 first round-winning check to move into the No. 1 spot. But with paydays like that, the standings can change in a hurry, especially in steer wrestling, which is the tightest overall race of all the events in Las Vegas.
The interesting aspect of rodeo is that all the competitors are also colleagues and assist one another often. That worked out to Irwinâ€™s benefit Thursday.
â€śThe guys told me if I didnâ€™t hit things just right on that steer, he would wad up and cost me a lot of time,â€ť he said. â€śI knew I needed to try and maybe do things a little different than I normally would. Lucky enough, I have been practicing the last two weeks at Luke Branquinhoâ€™s house, so I was prepared for it.â€ť
Branquinho is a four-time world champion from Las Alamos, Calif., who hosted a number of NFR qualifiers for practice sessions leading up to the championship. This is the biggest stage in the sport, and all that work has seemed to pay off.
â€śThere may have been a couple things I could have done differently, but Iâ€™m not going to pick the run apart,â€ť Irwin said. â€śI was 4.1 on my first steer at the NFR, and we have nine more to run.
â€śI was more nervous today signing autographs for Southwest Truck and Trailer, my sponsors. I guess it was because I was just stuck inside. I enjoy doing it for them and getting out there, but when I got back to saddle my horses, it was different. I guess I had to get a little dirty to calm my nerves.â€ť
And with that inaugural run down, he can bear down on business.
â€śThat first round was awesome,â€ť Irwin said. â€śThis was it. In my eyes, this is the catâ€™s meow.â€ť