DUNCAN, Okla. – For much of his seven-year career, Hardy Braden’s focus was on the Prairie Circuit, a regional tour made up primarily of contestants and rodeos in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.
It’s home to Braden, who lives in the northeastern Oklahoma community of Welch. He attended both Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. Riding saddle broncs in the circuit has made sense.
He returns to the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19-Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan. This marks his sixth qualification to the regional finale, and he’s excited to return.
“My goal this year was to make sure I got my rodeo count,” he said, referring to a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rule that stipulates cowboys and cowgirls compete in at least 15 Prairie Circuit rodeos in order to qualify for end-of-the-year honors. “Last year I missed my rodeo count by one, so I wasn’t eligible.”
Braden won the average championship in Duncan a year ago. Had he been eligible, he would have advanced to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla. He didn’t make the trip.
This year, though, he not only got to plenty of circuit events, he did pretty well at most of them. Of the seven bronc riding titles he won in 2017, six were in the Prairie Circuit. He has earned $19,000 in the region and owns the No. 1 spot heading into the finale.
More importantly, his lead over the No. 2 man – Colt Gordon of Comanche, Okla. – is more than $5,600. Braden still needs a solid performance in Duncan if he hopes to claim his second year-end championship.
“The circuit finals is even more important now since the money at the finals counts toward the world standings,” he said, pointing out that money earned at the 2017 Prairie Circuit Finals will count toward the race to the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“For me, it’s a celebration to the end of the year. Everybody works hard to ride good, and now the chances of you getting on a decent horse are good there. You get to show up and show off.”
Braden has shown off quite a bit this year. Nationally he has earned more than $100,000 and will compete at the NFR for the first time. He will be among an elite few that advance to ProRodeo’s grand championship, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas, which features only the top 15 from each event.
By competing in Duncan, he will have a preview of what it will be like for 10 nights inside the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus.
“For somebody that’s going to his first NFR, it’s going to be a good time for me to refresh my muscle memory in Duncan,” Braden said. “The ultimate deal at the circuit finals is to make the RAM finals in Florida, but I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
He has the right mind set as he prepares for two of the biggest rodeos of his life.