LAS VEGAS – The National Finals Rodeo is a true test of a cowboy’s grit, determination and ability to overcome challenges over ProRodeo’s 10-day championship.
Bareback rider Winn Ratliff knows that as well as anyone. He’s placed in just two of eight go-rounds and has seen his share of struggles – he had a no-score in the second round, then posted a 66 in Round 5 and a 59 on the seventh night.
“I’d lie to you if I said I wasn’t disappointed with 59 points; it ain’t very fun being 59,” said Ratliff, a three-time NFR qualifier from Leesville, La. “I give myself a five-minute rule: Give yourself five minutes to stew over it or get off by yourself and think about it. When you come back, it’s over with. It’s a new opportunity and a new night.
“That’s what I’ve always tried to do every time. It’s about being mentally tough. Not everybody is going to have a perfect night. As long as I get to put my boots and spurs on and use the talent that God’s given me, I’m happy. There’s no point in being sour about it.”
That mental approach paid off Thursday night with a 74.5-point ride on Beutler & Son Rodeo’s Wonderland to finish fifth in Round 8, earning a check for $6,769. That, combined with his fourth-place finish in the fourth round, has earned the Louisiana cowboy $17,769.
What’s more impressive is that Ratliff’s second paycheck came in the “eliminator” pen, the toughest-to-ride bareback horses in the game.
“As an NFR qualifier, that’s why it’s the E pen,” he said, noting that most of the scores were below 80 points. “I think it should look something like that. It’s the National Finals Rodeo, and you should have some of those strong buckers in there. There’s going to be scores in the 70s and 60s. That’s just part of having buckers like that.
“That’s just part of rodeo and part of being in the eliminator pen. For one, you can’t always make the perfect ride, but you’ve got to give it your best and try hard. I can say this for everybody else that they tried hard and gave it their best.”
That also is Ratliff’s style. He earned his third trip to Vegas by battling through the season that had its share of hills and valleys. Rodeo can be fickle, because the only way to get a paycheck is to finish better than most of the field. Slumps come and go, so having a strong mental game is vital.
“It’s a blessing to get up every morning and have a new opportunity,” Ratliff said. “You know that you’ve got a new horse and a new night. You’ve just got to come out and do your best every not and not reflect on your attitude. My joy doesn’t come from the arena.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough. If you can’t, you’re in the wrong sport.”
Two nights remain in the 2015 season, so that means he has a couple more chances to cash in.
“I just want to finish strong and ride like I rode all year,” he said. “I showed signs of it (Thursday). I felt like Winn Ratliff. I’m content with that. That’s what I’d be happy with. I’m all about finishing what I started.”