LAS VEGAS – If the cycle continues, the 2015 ProRodeo season will be golden for Taos Muncy, a two-time world champion saddle bronc rider from Corona, N.M.
He claimed his first gold buckle in 2007 during his inaugural trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Four years later, he added a second world title. Now he’s four years removed from that 2011 championship.
“My goal every year is to win the world (title),” said Muncy, who is “Riding for the Brand” of Tate Branch Auto Group, which has dealerships in the southeastern New Mexico communities of Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs. “I’d like a fighting chance when I get to the finals.”
He has one. He sits fifth in the world standings and is poised to make a run at this year’s NFR, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. That’s the richest rodeo in the world with a purse of $8.8 million; go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 for each of the 10 nights in Sin City.
Muncy has earned $98,654 this season and trails world standings leader Cody DeMoss by $20,743. That’s means the New Mexico cowboy is about a second-place go-round finish out of leading the world standings. He’s well within range.
This year marks his eighth NFR qualification in the last nine years – the one year he missed ProRodeo’s grand championship was because of an injury. What might be just as impressive as anything is that he’s just 28 years old. Of course, he’s been one of ProRodeo’s elite bronc riders since he was 19.
He won his first world title at age 20, about six months after claiming the college title while competing at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He became just the third contestant in rodeo history to have earned a collegiate championship and a world championship in the same discipline in the same calendar year, joining all-around great Ty Murray and bull rider Matt Austin.
That shows just how difficult it is. It would be akin to a Heisman Trophy winner being named the Super Bowl MVP in his rookie season; being a regular fixture at the NFR is also as telling to the cowboy’s talent. In addition to riding bucking horses at a top level, a rodeo cowboy must handle the logistics of being on the road and away from home and family for weeks – sometimes months – at a time.
“Time goes too fast, so you’ve got to enjoy your family as much as possible,” said Muncy, who lives on the ranch with his wife, Marissa, and their daughter, Marley, 3, not far from his parents, Blaine and Johnnie. “My family’s pretty tight. That’s the one good thing about rodeoing; I might be gone for 10 days tops, but when I’m home, I’m with them.
“In rodeo, we’re all one big family. It’s a great lifestyle.”
It’s even better for athletes that are winning, and Muncy won his share. Over the course of the 2015 regular season, he earned 12 titles. But in order to make nearly $100,000 in a year, he also placed pretty well along the way.
Still, that income can be misleading. Unlike other professional sports, rodeo athletes have no guaranteed contracts. They pay their own expenses and also must pay a fee in order to compete. They only collect a paycheck if they perform well and finish better than most of the field.
That’s why Muncy’s partnership with the Tate Branch Auto Group is so valuable. He is one of several cowboys with New Mexico ties who are “Riding for the Brand”: tie-down ropers Clif and Clint Cooper; team ropers Jake and Jim Ross Cooper; and steer roper Marty Jones. Muncy joins Jake Cooper of Monument, N.M., as the New Mexico contingent at the NFR this year.
“Tate is a big New Mexico rodeo fan, and that’s really neat,” Muncy said. “It’s an awesome team to be part of.”
So is Team Muncy. Starting Thursday night, he will battle toward a third gold buckle. That’s one of the many reasons he competes in rodeo for a living and why he’s part of the Tate Branch Auto Group “Riding for the Brand” team.