Not every steer wrestler backing into the box at the Thomas & Mack Center has a four-time world champion at his side.
But Clayton Hass does.
The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookie bulldogger from Terrell, Texas, not only has the luxury of riding the AQHA/PRCA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year Cadillac, but gets to nod his head alongside ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ote Berry. Berry, who won world championships in 1985, from 1990-91 and in 1995, is hazing for Hass, who enters Round 6 ranked seventh in the world standings.
Hass was connected with the 1998 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee through 1981 World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker after he realized he had secured his first career Wrangler NFR berth, and the duo has been an effective pairing. Berry is a great resource and mentor for Hass, who celebrates his 31st birthday on Tuesday.
“He’s just a positive guy,” Hass said of Berry. “I’ve always looked up to Ote. Growing up, I watched him on TV bulldogging, and I met him when I started bulldogging.
“He’s always been a very nice person to me, and I’ve looked up to him and respected him. If I ask him a question, he’s always been honest with me.”
Berry has a great deal of admiration for the 6-3, 235-pound Hass.
“Clayton’s a good cowboy to start with, and to me, that’s important,” Berry said of his teammate. “I grew up on a ranch being a cowboy, and it’s the same with Clayton. I think what makes him so good is that, not only does he ride good horses, but he has great horsemanship skills. He’s a tough competitor.”
Berry even went so far as to say he believes Hass could be a multiple-event cowboy in Las Vegas.
“Clayton has a legitimate chance to be here in the team roping,” Berry said of Hass, who banked $9,763 as a header in team roping earnings and $493 in tie-down roping money this season. “He ropes that well. He’s a great cowboy, and he’s a good timed-event man.
“He went to the (Wrangler) Timed Event Championship last year, and he’s just a good all-around cowboy who can go do it all.”
While they finished out of the money in the first four rounds, Hass and Berry made solid runs of 4.8, 4.8, 5.1 and 6.9, and they finally broke through with a split of fourth place thanks to a 4.2-second run in Round 5.
“We finally broke the ice tonight here in the fifth round, but we’ve made good runs and gotten by them,” Hass said. “We haven’t been on the best end of them, but (Ote’s) been positive and has kept me motivated.
Berry helped the young talent keep an even keel in the early rounds and stay focused on the task at hand.
“Clayton’s in the right mindset,” said Berry, whose brother, Wade, is one of the Wrangler NFR’s judges. “It’s going to come. He’s riding too good of a horse – Cadillac, the horse of the year – and Clayton’s too good of a cowboy to get shut out. It’s a marathon and a sprint.
“You want to do well in the rounds, but you can’t panic this early. There’s still so much money to be won here. You just go out and try to make the best runs you can and try to have a good chance the last Saturday night.”
Hass has appreciated the guidance Berry has been able to provide during his maiden voyage in Las Vegas.
“It’s easy out here to kick yourself if you haven’t placed and know you should have,” Hass said. “You want to so bad that you can get down on yourself, and he’s helped me stay positive, make game plans and lets me know what we need to do different. He’s been a great asset.”
Despite having to wait until the fifth round to earn a check, Hass has enjoyed his first Wrangler NFR qualification.
“It’s every man’s dream, especially in our business,” he said. “It’s awesome. I’m here living my dream, and I just need to stay positive.”
Being back in the saddle in the building where he won all four of his gold buckles has been a special treat for Berry.
“It’s great,” he said. “The last time I was here was in 2000 as a competitor, and I kind of retired after that, stepped away and got away from rodeo. (Competing is) a great fit, and it always has been.”
Returning to action in 2014 has convinced Berry he broke away from the sport too soon.
“Thinking back, I can’t believe I stepped away from rodeo,” Berry said. “It’s something I loved and have done all of my life. When I got hurt in 2006 – I tore my MCL in my knee – I stepped away from rodeo and decided, ‘I’m done.’
“I had no regrets until this last year when I came back. I realized how much I missed it and how much it meant to me to be back out here with this group of guys. I was wrong to step away in the first place, but had been doing it my whole life.”
Berry didn’t want to be one of the guys who held on too long.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to be the guy who’s still entering and competing when I have no chance to win,’” he said. “I’ve seen guys take their careers too far, and I didn’t want to be that guy. Now, I realize I can be a factor and I can be helping young guys and mentoring them by using my experience and hazing abilities. I’ve really gotten back into it.”
And Hass is sure glad Berry decided to return. He’s staying positive and locked in and has big plans for the final five rounds.
“I’m going to stay aggressive and try to get good starts every night,” Hass said. “I think we’ll just keep our head down and when they run some good ones in there, we’ll take advantage of it. We’ve got five more rounds, and I’ll try to blow the barrier out every time and see what happens.”