SANTAQUIN, Utah – Wesley Silcox has had some pretty good seasons over the course of his 12-year ProRodeo career.
His 2015 campaign ranks right up there with the best of them.
“I gave it all I had this year, and I’m happy to complete some goals,” said Silcox, 30, of Santaquin, who earned $105,778 through the rigors of rodeo’s regular season. “I didn’t win any money in the Xtreme Bulls this year, so that was all off rodeo. It feels pretty good.”
The Xtreme Bulls Tour is part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and money won at those events also count toward the world standings. Many of the NFR bull riders have utilized Xtreme Bulls money in order to qualify for this year’s championship.
“I rodeoed hard all year and made the Canadian Finals, too,” said Silcox, who has lived much of his life around Payson, Utah. “Unfortunately I didn’t get to compete there because of an injury, but it’s still nice to know I qualified.”
Now he heads to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time. His best finish was in 2007, when the Utah cowboy won more than $117,000 in Las Vegas and was crowned the world champion. He has earned more than $200,000 in a year twice in his career – nearly $229,000 in ’07 and more than $215,000 in ’10.
To say he’s feeling rejuvenated and energized might be an understatement.
“I felt really good all season,” he said. “I stayed healthy with just a few bumps and bruises until I separated my shoulder in September. I had a pretty positive attitude and traveled with some good guys. I just tried to win everywhere I went.”
It all came together. It helps to be riding well, but having the right traveling partners was also a plus. For almost all of his career, Silcox has traveled from one rodeo to another with Steve Woolsey, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Payson.
“He’s a year behind me, and we’ve been together ever since he graduated high school,” said Silcox, who was joined by Montanan Beau Hill and Canadian Ty Pozzobon. “We just understand each other. We know what it takes to be out there on the road and be away from home. It helps to have a guy that knows what he’s doing and knows what it takes to be a rodeo cowboy.”
It’s not an easy life, but it’s one the competitors love. Being successful is one aspect of it, but the passion must drive a person to be on the rodeo trail and away from home most of the year.
“If you ride bulls and ride them successfully, you love it,” he said. “You get to travel around with your buddies and see different parts of the country. The money’s not too bad either. I think everybody needs to experience it once in their lifetime to see what it’s all about.”
Of course, he continues to be one of the best in the game. Even though he hasn’t qualified for the NFR since 2011, he has been among the top 30 bull riders in the world each of the past three seasons. Still plenty of things have happened since he last rode in Sin City.
“Jerika and I have had two kids since that NFR,” he said, referring to his wife of five years and their children: daughter River, 3, and son Ledgen, 1. “They’ve played a big factor in leaving the house.”
Even that love affair with the game doesn’t take away from the occasional heartache of being away from the ones he loves.
“Fortunately I can FaceTime them whenever I want,” Silcox said. “It’s definitely changed the game, but you’ve got to stay with it and be strong.
“Riding bulls is basically how I make money for my family. If I’m not riding very good or going to rodeos at all, it’s pretty tough to keep the family fed. It’s tough leaving the house, but once I’m out and doing my thing, it makes it a lot easier. Winning definitely helps and keeps everybody happy, especially me.”
There are no guarantees in rodeo. Not only must a cowboy pay a fee in order to compete, he must then beat most of the field in order to get paid. Silcox found himself at the pay window often this season. He won at least a share of the title at eight rodeos, so most of his earnings came from finishing just outside of the top spot.
“I think the success to the year was a combination of confidence and everything else mixed in,” he said. “At the bigger rodeos, I drew some pretty good bulls to ride and ended up winning a good amount of money at those rodeos.
“When you’re feeling good and riding good, you seem to draw good at the same time. When you have the right attitude, it seems like the possibilities are endless and anything can happen.”
He expects to keep that attitude when he arrives in Las Vegas for the biggest purse in the sport, a record $8.8 million. Go-round winners will collect more than $26,000 each of the 10 nights, and the contestant with the best 10-round cumulative time or score at the end of the championship will pocket an additional $67,000 for winning the NFR average.
“The money in rodeo has risen a tremendous amount since I first started,” Silcox said. “This is where rodeo needs to be. People see how much we can win in a year, but nobody sees how much we spend.”
That’s true. Unlike most professional athletes, whose teams cover all expenses, cowboys and cowgirls pay their own way down the rodeo trail – food, fuel, lodging. It adds up quickly.
“I’m sure happy to make it to the NFR this year where the money has changed,” he said. “I was thinking about slowing down after next year, but this money at the NFR might keep me motivated a little more.”
Rodeo is all Silcox has known. His father, Brad, rode bulls, and his older brother, Shawn, rode bulls and bareback horses. Wesley Silcox has played the game since he was a young man growing up in Utah.
“I rodeo a few calves and steers when I was pretty young but didn’t like it much,” he said. “I liked roping a lot better. I was almost 17 when I got on my first bull. I hit the ground pretty hard, but I won some money on the next one I got on. I thought it was a pretty easy way to make money. I didn’t have to haul my horse around; I could just take my gear bag and go rodeo.”
Nearly everything he knows about riding bulls he gained from his father and brother, but he also counts on his mom, Julie, and sisters, Jennifer and Ashlee, for support. Combined with his wife and children, he has a pretty enriched life on and off the rodeo trail.
“Your family is the thing that holds you together,” Silcox said. “Everybody’s very supportive of what I do. They know what it takes for me to get down the road. It definitely helps.”
Now he’ll lean on them – and his past NFR experiences – as he pursues a second world championship gold buckle.