MANDAN, N.D. – The year 2013 seems ages ago for bareback rider Ty Breuer.
That was the last time the Mandan cowboy qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. In the three years since, he has battled injuries and some misfortunes that come in what many consider the roughest event in rodeo. Through surgeries and rehabilitation and just taking time off the rodeo trail, he remained one of the best in the business.
Now he returns to the sport’s grand finale, which takes place Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas. It’s his chance to showcase the talents that have maintained his status as one of the top 25 bareback riders in the world standings every year since.
“It means a lot to go back to the finals,” said Breuer, the 2010 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association champion and PRCA Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year. “I was pretty disappointed that I haven’t made it the last couple of years due to injuries. I wasn’t able to rodeo the whole year in either 2014 or 2015, and I still came close.”
He finished the 2014 campaign 18th in the world standings and was 21st last year, but only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete for the biggest pay in the game at the NFR. Considering that he spent several months on the sidelines because of injury both seasons, it serves as a keen reminder of the talent Breuer possesses.
“He’s athletic, but he’s just so tough,” said Tanner Aus, one of Breuer’s traveling partners and the No. 4 bareback rider in the world standings. “He works his butt off when he’s home, because he ranches. I’ve spent enough time there to know that it’s sun up to sun down every day.”
While ranching developed a strong work ethic, there’s true athleticism that runs through his body. He credits his success to his grandfather, father and uncle with developing his character and a few other things.
“My dad taught me about bareback riding,” said Breuer, who also was trained in the finer details of the game by 1992 world champion bareback rider Wayne Herman. “Dad told me if you want something, you have to work for it.
“My first rodeo school I went to was Wayne’s. He came up to me and said, ‘When you make it to Vegas, I want a ticket.’ So when I made the finals the first time, I got him a ticket. He has helped me a lot in critiquing my riding. When I get in a slump, I can just call him, and he can guide me in the right way.”
Those are just a few things that help make Breuer one of the best in the business. In addition to his powerful work ethic and noted toughness, he found his way back to Las Vegas through key victories over the course of the season. He won seven championships during the campaign and earned more than $71,000 in the process. He will arrive in the City of Lights 12th in the world standings.
He also will have that 2013 experience in his back pocket.
“I was pretty green that first year,” said Breuer, 26. “I focused all year on making the finals, then when I made it there, I didn’t have a game plan. The first round went good, then I was trying to over-ride my horses way too much. I was trying to make more of the horse than it was, and I wasn’t finishing like I wanted to.
“This year I’m sure going to be healthier going into it and more focused.”
The NFR is the sport’s super bowl, and just like the championship football game, there are plenty of distractions that come with it. Standing on the back of the bright yellow bucking chutes not only is the thrill of a lifetime, but also it can be the most nerve-racking experience young cowboys face. Even veteran qualifiers understand the jitters that come to the game inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
The incentives are great – the purse is $8.8 million, with go-round winners earning more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds – but the pressure is just as great. Not only will Breuer be among the field of the 15 best bareback riders in the game, they will be matched with the greatest bucking horses from the season.
“His dad got him started, and Wayne taught him how to spur buckers,” Aus said. “He’s as determined as anybody. Sometimes he doesn’t have a lot to say, but he’s got his heart and soul into this.”
Some of that determination is genetic, some is through having a great support system. Aus and Breuer travel the circuit with Ty’s younger brother, Casey, who finished 20th in the world standings.
“What’s great is we get along so well,” said Ty Breuer, who also appreciates the support of his sponsors: Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse in Pierre, S.D.; Boeckel Angus Ranch in Hazen, N.D.; Rio Nutrition; Phoenix Performance Products; B. Tuff Jeans; and SweetPro Feeds. “Casey and I have worked together our whole lives on this ranch, so it’s pretty nice when you get to travel with somebody like that.”
One of the biggest changes in Ty Breuer’s year was marrying Kelli on Oct. 29. The two had dated for five years, and she has always been a constant part of his life even as he was away from her while making a living on the rodeo trail.
“She can take the pressure off you just by calling home and talking to her,” he said. “The last month of the season, Tanner had already made the finals. There were two weeks left, and I was pretty burned out. When I called her and told her I was thinking about calling a season, she stopped me.
“She told me that I had been gone this long that I needed to finish out the season. I ended up winning a rodeo in Mona, Utah. She just pushes me to get better all the time.”
No matter the miles between them, he can always count on her support. It’s the same type of love he’s received from those that have known him his whole life, those that have resided on the same property in southern North Dakota through four generations.
“I’m pretty excited for my family to be part of this,” Breuer said. “They’ve backed me the whole way. They’re just as excited as I am that I made it, if not more excited. That means the world to me to have people backing you no matter what.”