LEESVILLE, La. – Winn Ratliff takes a simple approach to competing in rodeo for a living.
“Nickels and dimes add up to a dollar, so any time you can win money at a rodeo, it adds up,” said Ratliff, a bareback rider from Leesville who is making his way to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the third time. “If you can stay healthy and be consistent, you don’t necessarily have to win rodeos to do well.
“If you can place at every rodeo, you have the opportunity to move up in the standings and qualify.”
He should know. The Louisiana cowboy earned $75,754 through the regular season. Sure he won his share of rodeos in 2015 – 11 in all, including big-money events in Nampa, Idaho, and Prescott, Ariz. – but he moved up the money list by finishing among the leaders at most events in which he competed.
That made all the difference when the regular season concluded the end of September. He finished the campaign 15th in the world standings – only the top 15 in each event advance to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which features the largest purse in the game; this year’s $8.8 million is a record.
“That type of money hasn’t changed my mindset,” he said. “My plan going in is to be aggressive and try to win every night. Hopefully we’ll draw the right horse. They’re the best horses in the world out there, and some horses are going to be better than others. Sure the stakes are high, but you can’t look at it that way.
“You can’t change what you’ve done all year. It’s just another rodeo. You just can’t think about the lights and the glitter and the purse money. If you do your best, all the other stuff will fall into place.”
That’s been Ratliff’s mantra. He craves the competition, something that was bred into him by his parents, Jim Dupree and Rebekah. They also passed that along to Winn’s siblings, brothers Ethan, Elli and Luke, and sister Emma.
“I enjoy winning,” Ratliff said. “My parents are very competitive nature, and they instilled that in all of us. They’ve always taught me that if you’re not going to give it your best, then don’t waste your time in doing it at all. To me, that’s trying to win every time you nod your head.
“I’m very thankful for that. Some people don’t understand that, but you’ve got to be competitive.”
He has been. Ratliff also loves baseball and played it all through high school in Oklahoma. When his father, a Department of Defense contractor, moved the family to Louisiana, Winn Ratliff seriously considered a career in baseball. He leaned on his faith to make a decision.
“My mom threw out the idea that McNeese (State University) has a rodeo team,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in prayer to see what doors would open and shut, and He made it clear to me that rodeo was my path.”
Faith and family are a big part of the man and the cowboy. In addition to spending as much time with his parents and siblings, Ratliff makes sure his priority is with his wife, Brittany, and their daughter, Maryclaire, who was born this past May.
“That’s given me a drive and motivation this year,” he said of his daughter’s birth. “When you’re single and you don’t feel like performing, you can kind of get by with it. When you have a family, it’s not about you anymore.
“Not only am I trying to perform at my best, but now I’ve got a wife and a little girl that depend on me. Rodeo pays most of my income for my bills. When I felt sick or tired or homesick, it gave me that incentive to step up and do my job.”
Now he’s got more work to do, and the NFR is the perfect place to showcase his abilities. Go-round winners will earn $26,231 each night for 10 rounds in the Nevada desert. The top cowboys and cowgirls in the world will have a grand opportunity to make life-changing money in just a week and a half.
“Having an opportunity to qualify for the finals and have my whole family there is what it was all about for me,” Ratliff said. “As long as my family is there watching me, it makes my sacrifice of being gone from home worth it to me. They get to enjoy the experience and ride along with me.”
That ride is likely to be a wild one. That’s what 10 days in Las Vegas is supposed to be for all 119 NFR qualifiers, but it’s especially true for roughstock cowboys – bareback riders, saddle bronc riders and bull riders.
Not only will they be trying to ride the best bucking animals in ProRodeo, there will be a few opportunities to try their skills against the nastiest and toughest to ride. It’s part of that challenge that makes the NFR such a special time.
“I got on sheep when I was little, and it didn’t kill me off, so then I tried to ride calves and started going to junior associations,” he said. “I never thought I’d be a bareback rider. I was wanting to be a PBR (Professional Bull Riders) guy, but the Lord has a different plan in my life.”
He wouldn’t change it for the world.