LAS VEGAS – Standing behind the golden bucking chutes, Casey Colletti’s heart raced as nervous energy coursed through his bloodstream.
“I was as nervous as you could get,” said Colletti, now competing for the third straight years at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand championship that takes place inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. “You’re here in front of everybody on TV, here in front of all your friends and your family. There’s a little bit more nerves. You’re literally here with 14 of the best bareback riders in the world, and every nigh you get on 15 of the best bareback horses in the world.
“It’s different, but it’s good.”
So is Colletti, in a matter of speaking. The Pueblo, Colo., cowboy posted an 83.5-point ride Thursday night during the NFR’s opening go-round, finishing in a three-way tie for fourth place with Ty Breuer and Kaycee Feild – each cowboy earned $5,208.
So what calmed Colletti’s nerves enough to allow him to ride at the top of his game? Caleb Bennett’s 85.5-point, round-winning ride on the Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo horse Wise Guy, which was bucking at the NFR for the 16th time.
“I was jacked up watching Caleb be a bunch of points on Wise Guy for the last time ever,” Colletti said. “Watching Caleb’s ride brought me back down, and I realized, ‘Yeah, now’s the time for me to come out and spur horses.’ ”
The NFR features the most pressure-packed 10 days in the rodeo season. It’s where world champions will be crowned and where cowboys can earn a significant living in a week and a half.
“I feel like I could come to this rodeo 100 times, but I’d still be as nervous as hell during that first round,” said Colletti, who rode Big Stone Rodeo’s Whisky Bent on Thursday. “I guess I’ve been resting, for lack of a better word. I feel good. I haven’t been on a bareback horse since the middle of October.
“The first couple of rounds, you want to make a statement. After that, I figure I’ve already got the sweet coat, the sweet ring; they can’t take that away from you, so you might as well go out there and have fun and just win some money.”
Colletti has a plan, and Las Vegas is the place to make it pay off.