LAS VEGAS – Nine times in his career, Craig Latham wrapped his saddle on the best horses in the game and nodded his head in the fight for world championships inside the Thomas & Mack Center, home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
He’s seen just about everything and anything in saddle bronc riding, especially at ProRodeo’s championship.
This week Latham is watching the action from the comfort of his home near Goodwell, Okla., where he is the rodeo coach at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He likes what he sees in all his former students, and he’s really tickled about seeing first-time NFR qualifier Cort Scheer succeed on the biggest stage in the sport.
“He’s riding so well out there,” Latham said. “He’s just flawless. It’s neat to see.”
On Thursday night, Scheer, of Elsmere, Neb., matched moves with the Flying 5 Rodeo bronc Sundance for 84 points. That earned the 24-year-old cowboy a third-place round check worth $10,451. It also moved his NFR earnings past $34,000 through eight rounds; his season earnings have ballooned to $116,680.
“It’s just the way he’s riding,” said Latham, who is watching five other former Panhandle State athletes compete in the championship: bronc riders Taos Muncy and Jeffrey Willert, both past world champions; barrel racer Tana Poppino; and bull riders Seth Glause and Ardie Maier.
“As solid as Cort’s riding is right now, it doesn’t matter what he draws. He’s been making some outstanding rides.”
Scheer has placed in five go-rounds and is sixth in the average with a cumulative score of 573.5 points on seven qualified rides – he was bucked off in the third go-round, but so have many others; only four bronc riders have ridden all eight horses so far.
“When you mark a horse out, you expose yourself to that,” Latham said, referring to the rule that cowboys must start their ride with their feet over the breaks of the horse’s front shoulders; it’s a head-start for the animal, but it also sets up the bronc rider’s spur-riding rhythm. “That kind of stuff is going to happen any time you get on.”
Scheer has yet to win a go-round, which not only serves as a great accomplishment but also pays contestants $17,512. The Nebraska cowboy – he was part of rodeo teams at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Montana State University and Panhandle State – has seen plenty of room for improvement in his riding, although most of the contestants in the field would love to change places.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Latham said of Scheer. “If you’re critical about yourself and you expect the best from yourself, then you’re going to do pretty well.”