Fred Whitfield has every right to be frustrated.
He’s dealt with bad draws, bad luck and even the death of a horse during a dry spring and summer that has him on the outside looking in at another Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth. But the Hall of Famer from Hockley, Texas, is keeping his chin up and mind strong as the season hits its stretch run, and he has not changed his plans of earning a 21st trip to Las Vegas.
“I’m not frustrated at all,” the eight-time world champion said. “I’m mentally tough, so that’s not a problem. It ain’t like it’s never happened before, and I think (my experience) will help a lot.
“The thing for me is just going around here and not winning and having bad things continue to happen, it just drains you. I’m not that worried about it, really. It’s either going to happen, or it’s not.”
Whitfield started the season with a whirl, banking $19,484 through March to firmly solidify himself in the top 10 in the world standings. Since then, he’s only been able to add $21,189 to his total, dropping to 18th in the standings, $6,490 behind 15th-place Jesse Clark.
Whitfield said he doesn’t feel “snake-bitten” but acknowledges that the rodeo gods have not exactly smiled upon him in recent months.
“It’s not been good,” said Whitfield, who did not qualify for last year’s Wrangler NFR. “I had a horse die in Ogden the other day that I’d been borrowing from some friends of mine, and I’ve just been having Hell. I was 10 (seconds) in Caldwell and broke the barrier to win Castle Rock (Colo.), so it’s just been a nightmare, really.
“I don’t know what the problem is.”
The luck of the draw has been a factor, he says.
“I haven’t been drawing good at all, honestly,” said Whitfield, the 1999 world champion all-around cowboy. “I’ve just been drawing bad, and it’s just been the whole nine yards.”
The rough summer run included frustrations North of the border, and Whitfield had to abandon his goal of also qualifying for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
“It was not good,” he said of his Canadian quest. “I quit that deal after I didn’t have enough money won or enough rodeos up there.”
Whitfield had to rest his prized mare, Jewel, after she fell ill, but he said he likely will go to her for the stretch run.
“I’m going to start riding my mare, Jewel, again,” he said. “She got sick in Calgary, and I’ve run a few calves on her, but not too many. I think it’s about time to get back on her.”
The seven-time world champion tie-down roper plans to stay on the road most of the next month-and-a-half as he chases down a Wrangler NFR spot. He will nod his head in Caldwell, Idaho, Gooding, Idaho, Moses Lake, Wash., Rapid City, S.D., Pueblo, Colo., and San Juan Capistrano, Calif., among others, the next couple of weeks alone.
Whitfield is $19,899 behind the $60,572 it took for Randall Carlisle to grab the 15th and final spot in last year’s Finals, but he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the ground he needs to make up.
“There’s still plenty of time, but it just needs to turn around,” he said. “I’ve got 20-something rodeos left, I’ve just got to get to winning.”
Whitfield has stayed active throughout the summer doing speaking engagements and making public appearances to promote his autobiography, “Gold Buckles Don’t Lie: The Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield.” Connecting with fans has enabled him to forget the hurdles he’s faced this season, and the appearances have lifted his spirits.
“I’ve had a couple signings and have been busy with all that,” he said. “It’s been going good.”
Heading into the home stretch, Whitfield is focused and ready for the challenge ahead.
“I’ve been at this all season long, and I’m not just going to abort my plan,” he said. “I’ve still got a good chance to make the Finals, but I’ve got to win something.
“It’s the start of the fourth quarter, and it’s time to make some stuff happen.”