LAS VEGAS – When the 2012 ProRodeo season began, Bray Armes promised himself he was going to try to make it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this season.
Armes is a man of his word.
The plan comes to fruition during the sport’s grand championship, set for Dec. 6-15 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The Gruver, Texas, cowboy finished the regular season 15th in the steer wrestling world standings, just earning the qualification to the NFR – only the top 15 contestants in each event get to play for the biggest pay in ProRodeo.
“It means the world to me,” said Armes, a four-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier while attending Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. “It’s been a goal for me for a very long time.”
The NFR is the dream of every young cowboy and cowgirl who has world championship aspirations. It’s the year-end championship boasting a purse of $6.5 million. Go-rounds pay winners $18,000 in each event for 10 straight nights.
“I just made up my mind that I was going to try to make the finals, so I went outside the circuit and rodeoed full time instead of just weekends like I did in 2004,” he said, referring to the season in which Armes won the Texas Circuit title and the average championship at the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo.
That feat is nothing to sneeze about. It’s proof that he has had the ability to be one of the best for a long time. But he took time away from the game, just returning to the rigors of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association this year. But he didn’t just return to ProRodeo – he matched his will to win with a proven winner, Dean Gorsuch, a two-time world champion from Gering, Neb.
“He deserves to be there because he bulldogs outstanding,” said Gorsuch, who has qualified seven times for the NFR. “That guy will make the finals as many times as he wants to.
“He’s a great guy to be around, fun to travel with. He’s got a great family, and we both want the same things. He’s a winner. He’s got a great attitude, and there ain’t a steer he can’t throw down.”
He even threw ones when he had to at the end of the season. Armes won four rodeo titles this season, two of which came in September just as the 2012 campaign was coming to a close: The New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo in Albuquerque and the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo. The latter was on the last weekend of the season and Armes’ final run of the season – steer wrestlers are allowed to enter 70 rodeos each year, and Kansas City was Armes’ 70th.
“I was pretty nervous, but it was pretty easy,” said Armes, whose father, David, wrestled steers when he was younger. “I either made a good run and made the finals or I didn’t.”
He did. Armes threw the steer down in 3.6 seconds to share the American Royal title with NFR veteran Todd Suhn. The $2,326 he earned propelled Armes into the NFR field by just $55 over Jason Miller, the 2007 world champion.
“I was plumb full of emotion when I found out I got into the NFR,” he said. “My wife and I sat in the front yard just hugging and in tears. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. It was something I’d dreamed about for a long time, and it was finally coming true.”
Yes, it is.
But he’s earned the right to dream big, and he has a big support system behind him, including his wife, Neelley, and their two children, son Drake and daughter Breely.
“To me, family’s first,” Armes said. “If it was a choice of doing something different for my family, then that’s what I’d choose. Probably the hardest part for me is being away from my family so much while I’m out rodeoing. I wish my family could be there with me every step of the way.
“My family’s behind me 150 percent in this deal. Without them, I don’t know if I’d be in this position right now. My wife has made lots of sacrifices so I can do this. I’m very proud to have her as my wife. I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful woman and two great kids that love watching their daddy rodeo.”
If that’s not a motivating factor, what is? But he gets that from many angles, whether it’s family or his traveling partner or the animal he uses in competition, primarily Gorsuch’s horse, Skip.
“He gets a lot of credit,” Armes said of the horse. “He gave me a chance to win every time. He scores great. I’m just very fortunate to be able to ride him.”
It all gives him the opportunity to chase his gold buckle dreams.
“Traveling with Dean Gorsuch was probably one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me,” Armes said. “He’s been there and done that, and he knows the ways to get it done. He helped me tremendously throughout the year. Having Dean there to help build me up was a pretty great experience.”