LAS VEGAS – As a child, Casey Colletti would watch his father, Chuck, ride bareback horses.
In all the years since, the younger Colletti has worked to perfect the skills it takes to ride horses well. The work has paid off; he will compete for the second straight year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as one of the top bareback riders in the world.
“I think there were two things that changed this year,” said Colletti, 26, of Pueblo, Colo. “I was rodeoing a little smarter; I only entered 94 rodeos this year, but if I didn’t draw very well, I just didn’t go. There was no need for me to take any chances when I didn’t have a chance to win money.
“The second reason was because I was more consistent from January to October this year. I felt like I was consistently riding the best I ever have.”
That’s what it takes to be one of the elite bronc busters in the game, and qualifying for the NFR is as big as it gets in rodeo; ProRodeo’s championship event takes place Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas and will be televised live on GAC beginning at 9 p.m. Central, 8 p.m. Mountain. Only the top 15 contestants in each event qualify for the NFR, and world champions will be crowned at the conclusion of the rugged 10 days of competition.
“I’ve dreamed my whole life about making it to the NFR, so it’s hard to explain just how it feels,” said Colletti, who competed on the rodeo team at Garden City (Kan.) Community College. “To make it once is awesome, but to make it twice is icing on the cake.”
He earned the right to play for the biggest pay in the sport with some timely wins – Colletti won 10 bareback riding titles in 2012. Even when he didn’t have the best score, the Colorado cowboy was placing high.
“This year I won money at rodeos I’d never won money at before,” he said. “I’d never won much of anything at Denver before, but I did pretty well there. Then I won money at (Texas rodeos) Fort Worth, San Angelo and Austin. I’d never won any money at any of those rodeos before. It sure helps when you place at those bigger rodeos.”
It all adds up to $66,633, placing him as the 11th best bareback rider in the game heading to the 10-round slugfest that is the NFR. Last December in his first qualification to the Las Vegas spectacular, Colletti placed in seven go-rounds, including the victory in the ninth go-round. In all, he left the Nevada desert with $82,644 and finished fifth in the final world standings.
How important is the NFR for rodeo cowboys? The finale features a $6.5 million purse with go-round winners earning about $18,000 each of the 10 nights.
“I’m not going to worry about it,” Colletti said. “I’m going to go out there and ride bucking horses. I do have goals that I’ve set for the finals. I try to always set myself a couple goals. They’re realistic, but I make one that I know I can reach and one that I’d be surprised if I could reach.”
That’s a solid game plan, but that’s nothing new. He’s been setting goals and high standards for himself from the time he mounted his first bareback horse. That’s why he’s among the elite in the sport.
“Just to be mentioned in the top 15 in the PRCA is a great honor,” said Colletti, who credits C&S Farm and Cattle, Carr Pro Rodeo, B Tuff Jeans, MGM Grand, Greeley Hat Works and Golden Tiger liniment for making it possible to rodeo for a living. “There are 200 other bareback riders trying to make it to the NFR, and I’ve been there.”
While he has a great support system, none is bigger than his family – dad Chuck, mom Shelly and older sister Kristi.
“I probably couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “My mom does so many things, and if I ever need anything done while I’m on the road, she does it. I can call my dad, and he’ll just give me words of encouragement when I need them. I felt a little bit of pressure this year. To make it to the NFR a second time, it was almost harder, and Dad just said I needed to quit worrying about it.
“Without my family helping me or calling me, it would just be so hard. My grandma and grandpa call, and that’s great. I also get text messages from aunts, uncles and cousins. When you’re out on the road, you get zoned out of the world a little bit. It’s good to have them all contact you.”
It’s also good to be riding well while preparing to ride the best bucking horses in the world. Colletti won the Mountain States Circuit, powered by winning the average championship at the circuit finals in late October. Then the second week of November, he rode an NFR bucking horse, Carr Pro Rodeo’s Alberta Child, for 87 points to finish second at the Texas Stampede in Allen, Texas.
“My confidence is probably the highest I’ve ever it,” Colletti said. “I’m ready. I’m going to go in there and take care of business. This is what I do for a living, and I’m ready to take advantage of it.”