CLEMENTS, Calif. – Cowboy is all Clayton Biglow has wanted to be, what he aspires to be.
“Ever since I hit the ground, I wanted to be a cowboy,” said Biglow, 21, of Clements. “I never went a day without thinking about it.”
That’s a good thing, since he’s pretty good at it. Biglow is a bareback rider, and he’s one of the best. He is about to embark on his second straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.
He earned the right to compete with the best in ProRodeo by having a tremendous 2017 regular season; he pocketed $128,153 and sits third in the world standings. Most importantly, he’s living his dreams on the rodeo trail.
“I played football, basketball and baseball growing up, and I thought I was going to play baseball because I loved it so much,” he said. “But I was always upset with practice because I didn’t have time to rope or ride steers. I guess that’s a ‘Here’s Your Sign’ moment.”
It comes naturally to Biglow. His father, Russ, is a team roper who used to ride bareback horses, and his mom, Jessie, trains jumping horses; his older sister, Taylor, is a barrel racer and breakaway roper, and younger sister, Maddie, competes in jumping and virtually all girls rodeo events.
That’s what happens for children who are ranch-raised. It doesn’t hurt that his father also understands Biglow’s trade.
“I wanted to try all the events,” he said. “My dad made me quit riding bulls because I was so little; I didn’t grow until the end of my sophomore year of high school. The first bareback horse I ever got on, I just fell in love with it. I got off, and I knew right that that it was the event I wanted to pursue.
“My dad was the biggest and still is the biggest influence in my career. Before I got on my first bareback horse, I already knew what to do. My dad was tremendously helpful.”
Dad wasn’t the only trainer. Having a mother who showed jumping horses came into play. Not only could he ride the jumpers, but he oftentimes rode them bareback, even setting up jumps. As the horse would clear the jump, Biglow would hold his heels above the animal’s shoulders. That’s the markout, the starting point for all bareback riders and an integral part of every ride.
It was just another level of training that has been so beneficial to the talented, young cowboy. It’s why he’s propelled himself to the top of the game in just his second year competing in ProRodeo. He finished his first campaign with $171,000 and was crowned the rookie of the year – $94,000 came at last year’s NFR.
“Making the NFR last year was just a goal,” Biglow said. “I’m not going to say it was a surprise, because this is how I wanted to do it. I wanted things to happen now. I didn’t expect anything less.
“There’s a huge difference between confidence and cockiness. It’s another thing to be humble, too, and that’s what I strive for most. Don’t get caught up in what you’ve done. You learn something from every single horse you get on.”
He picked up some big wins this season, from Puyallup, Wash., to Sikeston, Mo., and numerous points between. In all, he earned at least a share of the title at 12 rodeos. That was critical to his season in ProRodeo, where dollars equal points; the contestants in each event with the most money earned at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions.
“That’s the goal, and that’s been the goal since I started riding bareback horses,” he said. “If you don’t have your mind on the gold buckle, then you might as well not even ride.”
As he heads into ProRodeo’s grand championship, Biglow understands what it’s going to take to earn that coveted gold. He trails the leader, Tim O’Connell, by nearly $74,000, but he can make up ground in a hurry. The NFR is the world’s richest rodeo, featuring an $8 million purse. Go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 per round for 10 nights.
If things went just right, Biglow could catch up to O’Connell in three nights. But just as importantly, the trip to Vegas is all about the business of making money while riding bucking horses. It’s something he’s battled to do all season while traveling with his good friends Cash Wilson and Wyatt Denny, the 2015 rookie of the year.
It’s a tough business. Besides getting on nearly 100 bucking horses a year, the three men travel tens of thousands of miles in order to compete in the sport they love. It takes a toll on their bodies. But he has an ace in the hole in Dr. Brett Lemire at Universal Chiropractic Spine & Sport in Elk Grove, Calif.
“I go to Dr. Brett every time I’m home,” said Biglow, who credits sponsors Barstow, Resistol and Wrangler with helping him get down the rodeo trail, along with his grandmother, Carol Atkinson, who pays for his diesel. “I get massages, and he pretty much puts me back together. I started going to him last year when I got hurt, and I know it’s done a huge part with my riding. I feel great when I get on; I didn’t realize how important that is.”
In fact, Lemire is also planning to be in Vegas for part of Biglow’s team at the NFR. Besides that aspect of his wellness, the northern California cowboy also works diligently on building his body.
“I always go to the gym, and I rope and ride a lot when I’m home,” he said. “I like to ride my horses bareback quite a bit. I’ve got a couple of head horses that I’m trying to get in shape, so I ride them bareback. It’s good for your balance, and it keeps your groins in shape.”
He’ll need every advantage he can get in the City of Lights. The bareback riders will test their skills against the 100 best horses in the game in 2017. It’s a rugged test that happens over 10 straight nights.
From his first foray into ProRodeo four seasons ago to this year’s run for the gold buckle, things are lining up for Biglow.
“I think my riding has come around a lot since 2014,” he said. “What I like now is that I know what’s going on when I’m riding. I can feel the horses better, and I can pick up my timing better. I’ve got a lot more control.”
Now he hopes to control his own fortunes, and Las Vegas is the best place to make that happen.