Get to Know the Wrangler NFR Contestants: Jacobs Crawley

Favorite movie: Junior Bonner would probably be my all-time favorite movie.

Favorite current TV show: Sports Center

Dogs or cats: Dogs – Jack Russell to be exact.

Favorite dessert: White chocolate macadamia nut cookies with coffee.

Favorite board game: Monopoly without a doubt. I love play money and trying to take over.

Favorite sport, other than rodeo: I like watching UFC or boxing – Connor McGregor is pretty awesome right now. He’s cool because of some of the intellectual things that he says. He is inspirational and motivational and has things to say that are universal to any sport.

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Jacobs at Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo

If you weren’t in rodeo, what would you be doing: I would be a project manager on a big construction site or be a real estate broker. Use my degree. (Jacobs earned his bachelor’s in industrial systems engineering from Texas A&M University. His first NFR qualification was in 2011 and he had to hurry back to College Station, Texas, for his graduation ceremony.)

Best childhood memory: All of my experiences at youth rodeos. I competed in all of the events – one time at the AJRA (American Junior Rodeo Association), I won five saddles.

Best gift you ever received: The engagement ring that Lauren’s grandmother gave to me to propose with. (Jacobs and Lauren Cox got married last May.)

Favorite thing you like about Las Vegas: Other than the NFR, the food. I eat outstanding there – go out a lot and get food that I wouldn’t typically eat. More sushi than I could ever imagine. After the performance we always find some place to go. The BRAND steakhouse in the Monte Carlo is somewhere that we always go to at least once.

LJS_nfr 3 Jacobs Crawley1089 83.5 pts on #371 Lipstick and Whiskey, Powder River Rodeo PRCA photo by Larry Smith
Jacobs Crawley 83.5 pts on #371 Lipstick and Whiskey, Powder River Rodeo PRCA photo by Larry Smith

Historical figure you’d most like to meet: Teddy Roosevelt would be pretty awesome. He did it all from Military experience to being President and the country was still a “frontier.”

What do you like to do in your spare time: Work out, work on my place. If we are at a rodeo and we are hanging out, you will see guitars come out.

 My role model is: Dale Brisby – my college roommate – we had bunk beds. I love his confidence in any situation.

What would people be surprised to learn about you: How much I work on my mental game – in and out of the arena – personal and spiritual growth is something I’m always working on it.

Best travel partner: As long as we are both competing, I will travel with Sterling. We are as close as brothers could be.

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Jacobs and Sterling

Any characters in your family: Pretty much everyone in my family is a character. My great grandmother was a gypsy. She ran away from home at 13 and joined the traveling circus. She died when I was 12 – she watched us after school, lived in fifth wheel behind my grandmother’s house. She wore lots of jewelry and told stories – spoke Gypsy it was a different vocabulary.

Surprises and sentiments

There are always a lot of surprises at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and this year was certainly no exception.

The surprises aren’t always in who rises to the top. The ability of rodeo contestant’s to rebound always amazes me and is a testament to their dedication, resilience and perseverance. If you would have told me on Dec. 3, that barrel racer Sherry Cervi would come into the tenth round of competition and not have won a dime, I never would have believed it.

But that’s exactly what happened. She was poised to get a check for being fifth place overall, but even that was dependent upon the 10th round. Most of the time Sherry rides a palomino mare named Stingray. She also has had success on two horses owned by Trip DuPerier, Atlas and Arson. She came into the Thomas & Mack on Saturday night on Arson and had the fastest time of the rodeo at 13.55 seconds. That took her earnings from zero to nearly $50,000.

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(c)Dan Hubbell

It was a sweet night for Trip as he first watched Sherry and Arson, then watched his daughter win both the NFR and the world title on her horse, Dillon. This was the first time for Callie to make it here, but not the first time for Dillon.

Dillon made his first appearance in the Thomas & Mack Center in 2008 with Annesa Self who trained him. Then he was back again in 2011 and 2012 with Carlee Pierce. They set the arena record in 2011 at 13.46 which was broken in 2013 by Taylor Jacob.

So, this gold buckle is as much Dillon’s as it is Callie’s.

It’s always interesting to watch the competition unfold and see whose stars are shining. I don’t know if it was the increased prize money, but in most of the events the prize money was spread across the top 15 contestants. In fact, there were only two contestants that didn’t place in any round or the average, Bradley Harter in the saddle bronc riding and Dustin Bowen in the bull riding.

Bradley had a huge accomplishment winning the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days this summer. He has struggled in Las Vegas before, but we can’t just say that he has had bad luck. He has been on 100 horses in the Thomas & Mack and has made some outstanding rides. Only one time has he gotten a go-round buckle. In 2006, he tied with Chad Ferley for the win in the ninth round. He told me he’s made some of the best rides of his life here, would be waiting in the back to make the victory lap and then someone would beat him by a point or even half a point.

This was Dustin’s first qualification and for a kid who grew up near Hershey, Pa., that’s quite an accomplishment in itself. He deserved to be here and I hope he makes it back and gets to the pay window on multiple occasions.

Announcer Boyd Polhamus compared the tie-down ropers to a bunch of kindergartners, because they all did such a good job of sharing. They did spread the money and the go-round wins out. Because of ties in two of the rounds, 11 of the 15 got round buckles. Fans watched as Tuf Cooper struggled, but he emerged victorious in the 10th round to tie with Tyson Durfey with 6.7-second runs.

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(c)Tom Donoghue

We started this year’s competition without Jake Barnes in the team roping who was injured while practicing at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. JoJo Lemond, the man in 16th in the standings replaced him and roped flawlessly with Brazilian Junior Nogueira for nine rounds. They were on pace to break the arena record for the fastest total on ten head of 59.1 seconds that was set by Jake and Clay O’Brien Cooper in 1993. Disaster struck in the 10th round when JoJo lost his rope and they got a no time. JoJo’s reaction in the arena said it all. He wanted to win, not just for him, but for Jake and Junior. He and Junior still left Las Vegas with $117,404 apiece.

The drama of the NFR will never be repeated at any other rodeo. And with increased prize money and gold buckles at stake, the pressure will never decrease. Handling the pressure of the competition is just element of every contestant’s experience here. There are so many commitments and demands on their time. They may say treat it like any other rodeo, but it’s not and never will be.

The 2016 season is already underway and the lucrative building rodeos are just around the corner. I hope everyone has a blessed Holiday Season and takes time to enjoy family and friends. Personally, I’m going to take time with my family, my animals, and thank God daily for allowing me to live the Western Lifestyle.

Ninth Round

We all knew that with the major increase in prize money at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, records were going to be broken, but no one had a crystal ball and could see how the action would actually play out.

Heading into the 10th round, only two races have been decided and they were the easiest to predict – Trevor Brazile clinched the all-around after round six and Sage Kimzey got his second consecutive bull riding buckle after round nine. In rodeo, nothing is ever for certain, and especially not here.12313666_1122425494434802_5949020644859206714_n

The jump in prize money from $8.8 to $10 million this year has made the competition even more dynamic with every contestant having a chance at a gold buckle. Sage Kimzey had the biggest lead coming in $52,454 ahead of the field. Cody Teel has made a good run at that. So far, Teel has won $114,231 so far and is in the overall lead in the Thomas & Mack Center. During the ninth round Kimzey placed second adding $23,731 to his earnings here and bringing his total in Las Vegas to $77,000.

That $23,000 was enough to bring Kimzey’s total earnings to $261,601 and a $54,362 lead. Kimzey is second in the average and when the statisticians did the math, no one can move ahead of him.

A pile of money will be paid at Saturday night’s 10th round of competition. Each round has rewarded contestants with $84,615, divided amongst the top six. Scores and times are added together for the very important NFR standings known in the rodeo world as the average. Ten nights of bumps and bruises, pain and adrenalin will be paid off to the tune of $253,846 in each event.

The biggest check goes to the second most prestigious award in rodeo, the NFR champion. Each of them will win $67,269 tonight, and for many that is nearly as much as their regular season total. The average pays eight places in each event, so more than half of the contestants will get a piece of the $2,030,769 in that category.

While we are breaking and setting new records at the Thomas & Mack Center, events have been going on around town that celebrate rodeo’s heritage and history. One of those, the Gold Card Roundup, was held at the Palms Hotel on Friday afternoon for the third year. More than 600 people were in attendance with representatives from the PRCA, WPRA, Las Vegas Events along with many former world champions visiting.gold card

Among those champions were five-time world champion saddle bronc rider Billy Etbauer, and the legendary 7-time world champion all-around Larry Mahan, who still holds the record for NFR qualifications in rough-stock events.

“It’s just great to be here and meet everybody,” Etbauer said. “I just wish that I could remember everybody that I’ve met through the years. It’s great to see everybody and watch these old videos. That’s not something you get to do every day. It shows us how times have changed and how tough those contestants used to be just to get to the NFR.”

I only wish that I had the opportunity to sit down at every table and share the stories that are told at these events. Moving the NFR to Las Vegas 30 years ago changed the dynamics of the NFR and given those of us in the media more stories to tell.

Charlie Daniels & Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund – It Don’t Get No Better Than That

There are several reasons that rodeo is so special – but in my book the biggest one is the people that are involved. I got involved in rodeo because I wanted to have a career centered around livestock, I stayed involved because of the people.

As a family, a lifestyle and a sport, I think anyone would be hard pressed to find a better group anywhere, not just in the U.S, or North America, but on the entire planet. It’s because of those people that the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) has found a home here in Las Vegas and is the most successful and lucrative rodeo in the world.

One of those individuals that has been a mainstay in rodeo has been Grammy Award winning country musician Charlie Daniels. Charlie has performed in many openings at the NFR, including the eighth round on Thursday night this year. Amid smoke, fireworks and dancing girls, he stood in front of the bucking chutes and played his new song written especially for the NFR, “It Don’t Get No Better Than That.”DSC_1117

The song was the brainchild of Las Vegas Events and the PRCA and depicts the glory of the NFR with all of the grit and determination it takes for rodeo contestants to get here. What a lot of people may not know is that Charlie Daniels is a rodeo fan, a true cowboy, and is very involved in the sport. He is a board member for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund (JCCF), which provides living expenses for contestants who have been injured and can’t compete. Proceeds from “It Don’t Get No Better Than That” will benefit the JCCF as well as other charities.

“JCCF is a wonderful outfit,” Daniels said. “I don’t think any of us realize the extent that some of our cowboys get hurt. We see them injured in the arena and that’s the last we know about it. A lof of these injuries go on and on. For a lot of them, rodeo is their only source or their main source of income. We try to help them get over the rough spots.CV1cAx5W4AIt1cw.jpg_large

“It’s amazing what these kids go through just to be a part of rodeo,” he continued. They sacrifice so much, not just physically, but family life. I’m honored to be on the board.”

While Daniels was promoting the song at Cowboy Christmas at Outside the Barrel with Flint Rasmussen, the Pro Rodeo League of Women’s annual luncheon was going on at the South Point Hotel & Casino. That event has been held in conjunction with the NFR for 28 years and has raised nearly $1.6 million for the JCCF. The event includes a style show, silent auction, live auction and raffle. This year’s event, organized again by Tracy Hedeman and Stacey Custer, raised $90,000 for the fund. Contestant’s wives, family members and NFR barrel racers model and many other volunteer.

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Pro Rodeo League Of Women Luncheon at the South Point Hotel and Casino.

And again, it’s about the people. Cowboys have a history of taking care of their own. Most of the funds raised for the JCCF come from contestants and their families, friends and fans. The program celebrated their 25th anniversary this year and has given $7.2 million in contributions. A unique element of the fund is that 100% of all contributions are given back. All of the administration is underwritten by the Justin Boot Company with cooperation from the PRCA.

It’s awesome to see people like Charlie Daniels so generously giving of his time and talent to help rodeo contestants in need. It’s even better to see him performing at the Thomas and Mack at 79-years-young and rocking the house. Because of his dedication and down-to-earth talent and loyalty, the City of Las Vegas proclaimed Thursday, Dec. 10th Charlie Daniels Day. Mayor Carolyn Goodman was also on Flint Rasmussen’s show and surprised Charlie with the official proclamation.DSC_1102

“For Charlie, it’s an honor for the City to have him here,” Mayor Goodman said. “We are so excited that he is here and that he’s done this wonderful new song, ‘It Don’t Get No Better Than That.’ We are all about celebrating greatness, so we couldn’t be prouder to have Charlie Daniels Day here in Las Vegas.”

I think it is very fitting that the City of Las Vegas recognized Charlie Daniels with his own day here. Just after receiving the proclamation, he had a line of fans just waiting for autographs and photo ops at Cowboy Christmas. Always gracious, having Charlie Daniels Day in Las Vegas meant a lot to him.

“I’m so humbled and honored,” he said when receiving the proclamation. “I thank you. If someone would have told me I was going to have a Day in Las Vegas when I came here the first time in 1959, I’d have run from them.”

Charlie is part of the rodeo family, through his cowboy lifestyle, his spirit, his contributions to the JCCF and now directly through his music. It Don’t Get No Better Than That.

 

 

BLING it on Vegas

What a ride it has been for Sarah Rose McDonald and her great horse Fame Fling N Bling.

We’ve been following her journey to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo here at the NFR Insider and I am grateful for the opportunity to share the story of this talented young woman and her amazing horse.

With just three more rounds to go, Sarah and Bling have made it to the South Point Hotel & Casino for the buckle presentations three times and have won a total of $112,596. There are 25 first-time NFR qualifiers in all of the events here. So far, Sarah has been the most successful.

Sarah likes being prepared and for her that means getting to the rodeo grounds early. That was definitely true here as she and her boyfriend Wade Whatley started the 2,200 mile trip from Brunswick, Ga., well before Thanksgiving.

They had a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner  in Las Vegas at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and did some Black Friday shopping at Caesars Palace. As they were anticipating the upcoming NFR, they took every route they could to the Thomas & Mack Center and picked the best one.

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Sarah Rose Mcdonald and Bling won the seventh round with a 13.67-second run. — photo by Dan Hubbell. 

Knowing that sponsor appearances were going to be part of her daily schedule here, they mapped out a schedule and the best way to get places. Their map also included the South Point knowing that she would go there to get her back number at the Welcome Reception and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Star Celebration where each of the competitors would get special recognition and a saddle for qualifying for rodeo’s Super Bowl.

Sarah and Bling also received the Scoti Flit Bar Rising Star Award, given to a first-time NFR qualifier. Lana Merrick created the award in memory of Scoti Flit Bar who she competed on here twice in 1987 and 1989 before he died from a rare blood disease. The barrel racers all vote to see who wins the award giving it extra special meaning as it carries the respect of one’s peers with it.

Soon after receiving that award, Sarah and Bling were on their calculated trip to the Thomas & Mack for the first performance of the rodeo. A downed barrel and five-second penalty took them out of the money but made them more determined than ever to get to the pay window.

In the second round they weren’t taking any chances on penalties. They took a wide path around the first barrel, placed third and have placed or won every time since then.

“Bling is feeling awesome. I have a lot of help keeping her that way,” Sarah said. “Wade’s with her all day, making sure she’s okay, icing her legs, turning her out. When I get here, Jess Harper is doing therapy on her, keeping her muscles feeling great. Dr. Tanner is here, checking on her too. It takes a lot of help here. Luckily I have a great team even though it’s my first time here.”

Callie DuPerier took the ever-important lead in the average standings after Lisa Lockhart had the misfortune of a knocked over barrel in the seventh round. In fact, Callie and Rookie of the Year contender Jackie Ganter are the only two to have seven clean runs. The average pays a whopping $67,269 and will be a big deciding factor in the world-title race.

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Sarah Rose McDonald rode her horse Jerry that she learned to barrel race on in the grand entry.

Sarah and Bling are definitely in contention in spite of that first round run. They have been rock solid since then and Bling is getting better with every run.

“It amazes me and Bling amazes me,” she said. “At a normal rodeo we might have two runs and a short-go. Here we ask them to run 10 of their very best runs of the year, back to back to back. It’s a lot. It’s amazing for any horse to do that. They have to really like their job and Bling definitely loves her job.”

Sarah loves her job too and has embraced everything that goes along with the NFR. She always gives credit to her family, friends, fans, sponsors and the team that keeps Bling healthy. And, being that kind of woman, she also brought the horse that she learned to barrel race on to be part of the festivities.

She won the National Barrel Horse Association 10 years ago when she was 13 on a horse named Jerry. As the lone representative from the state of Georgia, the responsibility of carrying the state flag in the grand entry fell to her. She brought Jerry, her first barrel racing horse here to ride in the grand entry and carry the flag. After the third performance, Jerry, who is 18-years-old thought he should be running barrels instead of carrying a flag so she switched horses.

Three rounds to go and lots of excitement left in all of the events at this year’s NFR. Whatever happens, it’s been a thrill to watch Sarah and Bling in their first trip here. They both love what they are doing and I’m sure this won’t be their last.

Insights and surprises after Round 6

What an amazing Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) we have had. Six rounds of competition and we have had dominance in the team roping, but in most of the other events they are really spreading the money around.

That always keeps it interesting and we love seeing fresh faces in the media room. When the same people win night after night, it seems like we are asking the same questions over and over. So, we like having different people winning rounds and coming to see us.

Steven Peebles has dominated the bareback riding so far with two round wins and a tie for first in another. The guy he tied with, Kaycee Feild came back and won the next round. The sixth round was the first that Steven didn’t get a check in, but he is one spot ahead of Kaycee in the overall standings. It looks like the bareback riding will be a dog fight between these two until the end.

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(c)Tom Donoghue

Steer wrestling had the closest spread coming in and is still nearly anyone’s game. The lead in the world standings has changed nearly every night. Clayton Hass and K.C. Jones have each won two rounds, but also have come up empty and are out of the average. Ty Erickson was in the driver’s seat until Tuesday night, but a broken barrier and 10-second penalty changed that once again. Hunter Cure leads the world by just $103 over Clayton.

It’s a really good time to be part of Team Navajo Nation in the team roping. A portion of each round win has gone to headers Aaron Tsinigine or Derrick Begay. Aaron is roping with Ryan Motes and they are also second overall. Derrick and Clay O’Brien Cooper had their second no-time in the sixth round and are seeing their dreams of a gold buckle slip away, but are still going to go home with lots of money. The other representative on the team, Erich Rogers and his heeler Cory Petska lead the overall (average) by 1.2 seconds. Derrick and Clay are first place in the world standings, but with their two-no times that isn’t likely to last. Derrick and Aaron are tied in the earnings here with $75, 942. Erich has won $45,269 bringing the total to $197,153 for Team Navajo Nation.

Saddle bronc riding has seen five different men make victory laps with round wins. Rookie contender CoBurn Bradshaw won rounds two and five and is third overall. Wade Sundell won the first round and has placed in three others. He leads the overall standings. Other round winners include Cody DeMoss (three); Rusty Wright (four); and Isaac Diaz (six). Jacobs Crawley is second in the overall standings and has taken over first place in the world standings.

Tie-down roping has seen the biggest upsets and surprises. Tuf Cooper is currently at the bottom of the pack in the overall standings. He is still first in the world standings, but his brother-in-law Trevor Brazile has made a big move winning two rounds and being fourth in the overall standings. Trevor is now second in the world standings.

We had a different round winner each night through the first five rounds of barrel racing. Round six saw two repeat winners at the top of the board. Taylor Jacob won round three. Round four saw Sarah Rose McDonald in first place. These two ladies tied for the win on Tuesday night with 13.91 second runs. Lisa Lockhart hasn’t gotten a go-round buckle yet this year, but is at the top of the world standings. It’s no surprise that the consistent duo of Lisa and Louie (An Oakie With Cash) lead the average race as well. They have placed in every round and have already won $85,462 bringing their total earnings to $246,982. McDonald is currently second with $220,965, but a five-second penalty in the first round has put her in fifth in the average.

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(c)Tom Donoghue

Bull riding may have been full of the most surprises of all the events here. Not only has Sage Kimzey not won a round yet, there have been six different round winners. Parker Breding came into the competition in second place, won the first round and has been nursing injured ribs since then. The second round went to Clayton Foltyn who was the only bull rider to ride eight seconds. 2012 world champion Cody Teel has ridden five out of six bulls so far, is leading the overall standings, and is putting pressure on Sage. Other round winners include Joe Frost, Wesley Silcox and Bret Stall.

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(c)Tom Donoghue

The 2015 All-Around World Champion is officially Trevor Brazile for the 13th time in his career. He clinched the title with his tie-down roping win in the sixth round. This moves his gold buckle count up to 23. Big news right? No one expected Trevor to not win this title.

Trevor Brazile, always gracious, expects more of himself than anyone else ever could. He works at success, plans for it and when it happens remembers all of the people that have helped him along the way and gives credit to them as well as to God.

“The greatest thing about rodeo and sports in general is the family and bonds you make along the way,” Trever said. “What motivates me now is I don’t want (the all-around title) to go to anybody else. I don’t want my fairy tale to end like that. I want to be as good as I can for as long as I can. I want to be a good steward of the talents that God has given me and I want to leave the sport better than when I found it.”

There have been some other big surprises at this year’s NFR, like Sage Kimzey  bucking off his first bull and slapping his second for a two-round shut out. Sage has ridden four and is second in the average and leads the world standings. I find it hard to believe that we are be heading into the seventh round and that the standings leaders in team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding haven’t won a round yet.

There have been some contestants that have had extreme misfortune here and have yet to get a paycheck. Sixty-year-old Rookie of the Year contender in the barrel race, Vickie Carter is one of those. Her story is so amazing. Her journey to get to the NFR started with a horse that belonged to a young woman, Rachel Hendrix, who tragically lost her life in an auto accident. So Vickie and the horse, Blazin Ta Fame, have been “Riding for Rach” all year long. Tragedy struck again last month when Blaze Man had to have colic surgery. He was having a rough time, so at 7 o’clock Sunday morning, Vickie got on an airplane and headed to Utah.

Vickie Carter made a flying trip to Utah to visit Blaze, the horse she rode to get to the NFR, that is recovering from surgery.
Vickie Carter made a flying trip to Utah to visit Blaze, the horse she rode to get to the NFR, that is recovering from surgery.

She went to the vet clinic, spent some time with Blaze Man, got back on the plane and was ready to run in the fourth round of the rodeo. It was reported that the horse perked up and is expected to make a full recovery. I hope he does and that he and Vickie are here again next year so the story will continue!

I always tell people that once the rodeo starts it all goes by so fast. It truly is a whirlwind for everyone out here, but one that we are all blessed to be part of.

Exceptional Rodeo

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a smile must be worth a million. The memories behind the smiles at the Exceptional Rodeo held on Monday were priceless.

Held in conjunction with Cowboy Christmas at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena, Exceptional Rodeo brings together rodeo athletes and local children with special needs. This year’s event was presented by NV Energy and gave 25 children from Clark County schools an opportunity to play cowboy and cowgirl for 45-minutes out of their day.

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Participants are given hats, ropes and everything they need to be a cowboy or cowgirl for a day.

Every child got a new hat, a t-shirt, trophy, rope and bandana, but most importantly of all, they got individual attention from rodeo contestants and smiles and memories to last a lifetime. Children rode bucking horse and bucking bull dummies, got to rope and take a stick horse around a barrel racing pattern and they got to do it all on the dirt, just like rodeo competitors do every day.

The program’s founder Ruth Dismuke-Blakely is like a whirling dervish during the 45-minute event, making sure that all of the props are set up correctly, children are corralled, outfitted and paired up with contestants, and then just checking in and making sure that everyone is having a good time.

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Eva, Ruth and Neita were busy with organizing the event and making sure everyone was having fun.

Dismuke-Blakely started the Exceptional Rodeo 33 years ago and the first time the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) was held in Las Vegas, they were hosts. The event was held at the Thomas & Mack Center for years, but moved to Cowboy Christmas two years ago. It gives fans a better opportunity to experience the very poignant event.

Every year at the NFR, contestants have more demands put on their time. Sponsor obligations, seeing family and friends, and preparing for the night’s competition takes the better part of each day. Monday was a little longer for those contestants that chose to participate in the Exceptional Rodeo.

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NFR bullfighter Dusty Tuckness takes a participant around the barrels.

Steer wrestler Clayton Hass, from Terrell, Texas, moved an autograph session just so he could come spend some time with a child. After the rodeo was over, he had two sessions and numerous fans to greet.

“These kids are important in this world and I just wanted to be part of this,” Hass said. “They love and enjoy it. It made my day a little bit longer but it’s definitely worth it.”

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world standings leader in the steer wrestling, Ty Erickson had a great time with his Exceptional Rodeo participant.

Putting together the children, getting them out of school and preparing them for the day, then getting them to the event is a huge task. School administrators, parents and staff all pitch in to make it work.

“Each year we try to bring different kids,” said Carol Nelsen, teacher at the John F. Miller School for Special Education. “The kids, being severely handicapped do not get exposed to cowboys or cowgirls on a regular basis. So for them, this is really exciting. It’s fun to watch them learn a little about what’s going on around them. They are having a blast right now.”

The kids weren’t the only ones having fun. Smiles abounded for contestants, spectators and family members.

“This is special,” said Vickie Carter who is making her first appearance here in the barrel racing. “It’s only a little bit of time out of our day and it means a lot to these kids. I love it and thoroughly enjoyed being part of it.”

There has been little change in the production of the Exceptional Rodeo since its inception and that is largely due to Dismuke-Blakely’s planning and understanding of the two cultures. She comes from a rodeo family and knows the ins and outs of competition. She is also a speech pathologists who has her own practice in Albuquerque, N.M.

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a stuffed horse on a teeter totter gives Exceptional Rodeo participants to pretend they are on a bucking horse.

“There’s an uncommon similarity between rodeo culture and special needs culture,” she said. “In the rodeo world, we are brought up to do the best that we can with the luck of the draw. No matter what animal you compete on, you give it your best competitive effort and do the best you can with what you have. That’s what we as therapists try to impart on children and adults with special needs – that they have to be the best they can be, do the best that they can with the luck of the draw.

“They drew cerebral palsy or they drew a genetic syndrome or a traumatic brain injury. They still have to be the best that they can be. Our rodeo contestants understand that. And so I think that is one of the reasons this program works. That’s the underlying magic – the parallels – the cowboys and barrel racers understand these kids.”

Passion for helping individuals with special needs and sharing the Western lifestyle is something that Dismuke-Blakely has passed down to the next generation. Her daughters Eva and Neita were on hand in Las Vegas to help at every stage of the event. Both of them are also speech pathologists.

“It’s a lot of fun to share the kids with the cowboys and the cowboys with the kids,” Dismuke Blakely added. “It inspires us and makes us feel good to touch peoples’ lives.”

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Each participant gets a trophy to help them remember their day.

Touching lives and being an inspiration is nothing new for three-time world champion barrel racer Sherry Cervi. Little girls dream of riding horses like her and competing at the NFR. Sherry has been to Las Vegas to compete at rodeo’s championships 18 times. Many of those she has made the effort to participate in the Exceptional Rodeo.

“I have tried to make this a top priority to attend every year I’ve been here,” she said. “It’s a very humbling experience for me. There are always a few kids that stick in my mind and you can create quite a bond in a short amount of time. This is a great thing that we can do to give back to the sport of rodeo and the community.”

Giving back, getting inspired – it’s something that Exceptional Rodeo is exceptional at – for the kids, the contestants, the spectators and everyone involved.