Bungee jumping and hip surgery, we’re talking about the Wrangler NFR.

It’s official. Kaycee Feild will return to Las Vegas this December to defend his bareback riding gold buckle in the number one position. He has been a fixture at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) for the past seven years. The past four years, he left with eight championship saddles, more buckles than he can count on all his fingers and toes, and pockets full of money.

There was little doubt for Feild’s fans that they would see him return to the Thomas and Mack Arena this December. He never doubted it either, but when the Fourth-of-July Cowboy Christmas run started and he was 19th in the world standings, fans knew that even for one of the best bareback riders of all time, there was a challenge ahead.

Kaycee Field’s winning ride on Calgary Stampede’s Special Delivery at the Washington State Fair Rodeo – PRCA photo by (c)Kent Soules

Kaycee Feild’s winning ride on Calgary Stampede’s Special Delivery at the Washington State Fair Rodeo – PRCA photo by (c)Kent Soules

Feild had an opportunity rare in a sport where injuries run rampant. A torn hip labrum (the ring of cartilage in the hip joint) had been plaguing him with pain. When it became more than the Justin Sportsmedicine team could treat and manage he knew it was time to take the next step. Because it was a chronic problem, and not acute like most rodeo injuries, he was able to plan surgery around his rodeo schedule.

The ever competitive athlete started 2015 strong. He won $23,173 at the San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo shooting him to the top of the world standings. That money was sorely needed as he knew he was going to miss 8 to 12 weeks of competition after surgery.

Ever the planner, he decided to have surgery after the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo that was held March 25-28. He hoped to return to competition at the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo and be on track for the lucrative Fourth-of-July run.

A quick trip to Vail, Colo., for surgery on March 31 was the first step in his quest to be healthy and riding pain free again. His appointment with Dr. Mark Phillippon, who has successfully treated over 1,000 professional and Olympic athletes, went as planned. Now it was on to rehab and getting ready to get back on bucking horses.

Everything came out exactly as Field had wanted. He was released for competition and got on his first horse at the Reno Rodeo on June 24th. The best layed plans can go awry and the comeback had a few setbacks. Field scored 71 points on that horse, got on a plane and headed to Ponoka, Alberta to ride the next afternoon. Flight delays kept him and his traveling partners from getting on their second round horses at Reno, definitely not the way they wanted to start their Cowboy Christmas.

He earned $1,989 for a second place finish at the Home of Champions Rodeo in Red Lodge, Mont., and meanwhile his fellow bareback riders were leaving him in the dust. Evan Jayne who lives in Rockwall, Texas, but is originally from France won $18,285 over the Fourth and moved to the number one position.

What might have been frustrating for others drove Feild even harder. He tied for the win at the Nampa, Idaho, Snake River Stampede with Winn Ratliff and moved to 13th in the world standings. He climbed steadily after that and regained the number one spot after a second place finish at the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo.

He came to the Washington State Fair Rodeo in Puyallup and won that for the fourth time in five years. That gave him $9,349 to add to his earnings and helped increase his lead.

Kaycee Field checking his equipment and getting ready to ride at Puyallup.

Kaycee Field checking his equipment and getting ready to ride at Puyallup.

“I want to have a little bit more of a spread between me and that guy in second place,” he said. “There’s a lot of money in Vegas and there’s a lot of guys that are riding really really good. They are pushing me harder than I’ve ever been pushed.”

One of those guys is Austin Foss from Terrebonne, Ore., who finished in second place in Puyallup. He is also second in the world standings and is less than $10,000 behind Feild. And, he is the guy that finished behind Feild in the race for the 2014 world championship.

“I know I’m Austin’s target. He won’t tell me that, but I know it,” Feild said. “He’s riding outstanding and he’s healthy. I need to prove to myself that I’m tougher than these other guys. I need to go home and ride my spur board more than they ride their spur board. I need to be in the gym more than they’re in the gym. I need to push myself outside of the arena more than they are all the way around.”

There are two more comeback stories on this year’s NFR roster in the bareback riding. Tim O’Connell from Zwingle, Iowa, has his second consecutive qualification. This was in spite of hurting his riding at the Calgary Stampede and missing four weeks of competition he finished the regular season in seventh place.

Steven Peebles will be making the trip to Las Vegas for the seventh consecutive time. Peebles, from Redmond, Ore., missed the last six rounds of last year’s NFR when he sustained a compression fracture to his back. He returned at San Antonio but had a slow winter. Then things picked up with a pair of championship spurs from the Reno Rodeo.

Steven and his Reno Rodeo Spurs.

Steven and his Reno Rodeo Spurs.

Peebles was off to a good start over Cowboy Christmas, but one winning ride nearly took his life. He and traveling partner Brian Bain from Powell Butte, Ore., were in Livingston, Mont. Peebles rode Kesler Championship Rodeo’s Imperial Beach for 86 points, the win and $4,822.

Peebles lost his grip just as the eight seconds were up, came off the back of the horse and landed hard on his back. He walked out of the arena, but as he was gathering up his gear and getting ready to head to the next rodeo, he was having excruciating pain in his abdominal area.

As they left the arena, Bain made the decision to find a hospital in Livingston. That decision saved Peebles’ life. He had broken some ribs and one of them punctured an artery which was filling his chest cavity with blood.

Peebles was transported from Livingston to Bozeman by ambulance where a team of medical staff went to work to save his life. He spent the ambulance ride fighting to stay awake, texting friends and loved ones and praying. He woke up the next morning in the hospital grateful to be alive and thankful for a traveling partner that was more concerned about Steven than getting to the next rodeo.

Just a month later, he was making a 350 foot bungee jump, thinking if he was strong enough for that he was ready for a bucking horse. His official comeback was at the Omak (Wash.) Stamped on Aug. 13. He scored 83-points and had a second place finish.

Steven Peebles bungee jumping

Steven Peebles bungee jumping

Peebles had dropped to 22nd in the world standings and had a lot of ground to make up in a short period. He won the rodeos in Ellensburg and Walla Walla over Labor Day. Then he got a big check for being the champion at the River City Roundup’s Justin Boot Championships in Omaha, Neb. That moved him into the 14th spot.

“I learned a lot about myself this summer,” Peebles said. “I don’t want to take anything for granted and appreciate every opportunity I have now. A near death experience will teach you a lot about life. I’m probably more excited about this year’s NFR than I ever have been. I can’t wait.”

Kaycee Feild may be the odds on favorite for this year’s bareback riding world championship but there are 14 other determined and talented cowboys that are going to take every opportunity to unseat him from that number one position.

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