Every year as the Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, people begin to think about what they’re most thankful for in their lives.
It’s a natural occurrence, as families and friends gather to break bread, overdose on delicious food and fall asleep watching football in a festive celebration of all that is right with the world. Thanksgiving is a chance for some to mend fences, others to reunite and countless others to cherish every moment spent with those they love.
The beloved holiday is monumental within the rodeo industry, where family comes first and friends are friends for life. ProRodeo contestants preparing to head to Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals get one last chance to celebrate their achievement with loved ones, and they all agree they have much to be thankful for this time of year.
“I’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” said steer wrestler K.C. Jones, who is preparing for his seventh career Wrangler NFR. “Probably No. 1 is just being able to do what we love and rodeo, and I’m thankful for what rodeo has given to (wife) Gayle and I. It’s created a lot of opportunity for us, and we love to give back to the sport. We’re real thankful for the sport of rodeo.”
Jones enters the bulldogging race sixth in the standings with $69,207, $39,731 behind Casey Martin. With round victories going for $18,630 and the Wrangler NFR average carrying a $47,776 payout by itself, Jones is a real contender for this year’s gold buckle.
“Man, that’d be great,” Jones said of winning a world title. “Every year, that’s what you’re thinking about, and every year it seems I put a little too much pressure on myself. All year long (this year), we just had fun. (In Vegas), I’m just going to do more of the same.
“I’ll just go out there, run every steer, see how much money we can win and have fun doing it. When it’s all said and done, we’ll see what happens.”
Bareback rider Bobby Mote knows all about gold buckles. The four-time world champ enters Las Vegas in the No. 1 spot in the bareback riding standings with $126,187 and has a great chance to tie Joe Alexander’s and Bruce Ford’s record for most bareback riding world titles.
He’s thankful for that chance, and much more.
“I’m thankful to be healthy and that my family is healthy,” said Mote, who is competing in his 13th straight Wrangler NFR. “They’re behind me and are continually supporting me every day. Every day, I’m mindful to not take anything for granted. You’ve got a roof over your head and food in your belly, and there are a lot of people who don’t.
“(My career) has been way bigger, better and longer than I ever could have hoped for. I’ve been really blessed and am glad to be doing what I’m doing.”
Jake Wright has seen two of his brothers, Cody and Jesse, stand upon the world champions’ stage, and he’d love to join them. The saddle bronc rider enters his second career Wrangler NFR seventh in the world standings – Cody is first and Jesse is second – and he’s relishing the chance to ride with them again while chasing a gold buckle of his own.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m glad the year turned around for me and I started doing really good. I kept my head up, like Cody tells me, and I think I’m in a good spot. If I go and ride like I’m supposed to, I think the possibilities are endless.”
Wright will spend Thanksgiving with his large family and is on Cloud 9 these days as he gets ready to go to Las Vegas.
“I’m thankful for everything that’s going good,” he said. “My family’s doing good, and I love life. I’m thankful I get to do what I love, and that’s ride broncs. The NFR’s coming up, and I think that’s why everyone’s excited and in a good mood. Life is good!”
Bull rider Josh Koschel has had a breakout season and will enter his first Wrangler NFR fourth in the world standings. It’s been a dream year the Nunn, Colo., cowboy is more than thankful for.
“I’m most thankful for the friends and family I have and the rodeo year God’s blessed me with so I get the opportunity to go to the NFR for the first time,” Koschel said. “I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been training hard, going to the gym and getting on practice bulls. So, I feel pretty good about it.”
What’s he most looking forward to?
“Just the opportunity to ride in the best rodeo there is for 10 days straight,” Koschel said. “My expectations are pretty high.”
For seven-time world champion team roper Clay O’Brien Cooper, the chance to compete in his 27th Wrangler NFR is a treat the steely veteran is immensely thankful to have this year. It is among the many things he will be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to go experience and enjoy another NFR, that’s for sure,” said O’Brien Cooper, who is 14th in the heeling standings. “I’m thankful for good health, that my family is healthy and happy and am just thankful for the opportunities we get every day. We’re absolutely blessed to be able to do what we love to do and live in a country that gives us the freedom to enjoy our lives, be what we want to be and do what we want to do.”
And me? I’m thankful for the chance to be a self-employed sportswriter who sets his own schedule and gets the opportunity to cover great events like the Wrangler NFR. It’s a distinct pleasure to cover these contestants and the rodeo world, especially this time of year, when dreams are realized and magic happens on a daily basis.
That’s not a bad scenario at all.