LAS VEGAS – If you ask Justin McDaniel, he’ll gladly tell you he likes to ride the toughest bucking horses in the business.
No, it’s not a disease. It’s a passion. It’s what defines a champion.
On Saturday night during the third go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, McDaniel, the 2008 world champion bareback rider from Porum, Okla., spurred Outlawbuckers Rodeo’s Ols Tubs Ross River for 84.5 points to finish in a tie for second place. He added $12,145, marking his NFR earnings at $21,043 – in three nights in Sin City, McDaniel has moved his season earnings to $102,893.
“That’s the kind of pen I like,” said McDaniel, 24, referring to the “eliminator” bareback horses. “I think the ranker the horses, the better chance I have. I seem to win more on those kinds of horses. Everyone gets nervous, but really, those are just the best horses in the world that we win on all year.”
Obviously that’s true. McDaniel shared the third-round win a year ago on the back of another eliminator, and Olds Tubs Ross River’s stumble might have cost McDaniel the round victory Saturday night – on the 100-point scale, judges mark half the score on the horse and half on how well the cowboy rides and spurs in time with the animal; the bronc’s stagger might’ve meant a point or two less from the judges.
“I’ve had him before at Puyallup and won second on him in the four-man round,” McDaniel said. “He’s a strong horse. He didn’t have his day because he slipped there, but he got really strong when we got over off the wall.
“I like the ones that test you. Those are the horses that separate the men from the boys.”
McDaniel has ridden three horses for a cumulative total of 250 points, which puts him in a four-way tie for second place in the all-important average race – at the end of the 10-day event, the contestant in each event with the best cumulative time or score will win nearly $45,000.
And while some contestants took a more conservative approach to riding the rankest horses in the business on Saturday night, McDaniel showed off the form that helped him win the coveted gold buckle two seasons ago.
“That’s just my spur lick,” he said, referring to the spurring motion from the horses’ neck to the handle of his rigging. “I’m not looking to just get by one; I’m trying to win the round every time I go out there.”
That’s just the way cowboys do it.