SPRINGVILLE, Utah – Mason Clements takes the right approach to his everyday life: One can learn from every situation, good or bad.
That’s come in handy for the 26-year-old cowboy from Springville, who will take every lesson learned from his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification a year ago into this year’s 10-day championship, which takes place Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas.
“I know what to expect and am not just going into it blind,” said Clements, who finished the regular season with just shy of $100,000 and enters the NFR No. 10 in the bareback riding world standings. “When you go for the first time, you don’t really get the full logistics of what’s going to happen when it’s going to happen.
“This year I can regulate what’s going to happen. I know where I want to be at specific times for a performance.”
Clements was born in Las Vegas and grew up primarily in Utah. He graduated from Alta High School in Sandy, Utah, and has been on the rodeo trail ever since in some form or fashion. As a youngster, he wrestled steers and rode bulls. At age 20, he turned his attention to riding bucking horses, and he’s found a passion.
It’s also been the avenue to great success. He’s been among the top 20 bareback riders in the game for each of the past three years, but only the top 15 advance to the NFR. That’s why he returns to Las Vegas this December, and he’ll have a chance to compete for that elusive world champion’s Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
“I can train and visualize the NFR specifically now,” he said. “Being there, seeing it, smelling it, hearing it … I can visualize everything that’s going to happen. I can visualize the types of horses for the specific rounds, and I can train for those moments that ultimately make or break a world champion.”
It’s something he’s been working toward for the last six years with the support of his sponsors – Cinch, Long X Trading Co., BEX Sunglasses, Barstow and Axcess Accident Center in Provo, Utah – and his family: Mom, Tracy Pledger; dad, Doug; brothers, Tyler and Colin; and sister, Sarah.
They may not have always understood his love for the game, but they were always supportive. Meanwhile, his passion drove him to the College of Southern Idaho, where he competed on a rodeo scholarship. He won the intercollegiate Rocky Mountain Region title in 2014, just a year after taking up the sport. Of course, he had two great coaches in Kelly Wardell and Cody DeMers, both of whom rode bareback horses at the NFR.
While the similarities are there for both of his NFR qualifications, many things are different for Clements heading into the 2018 finale.
“For starters, I’m going into it with a torn ACL” in his left knee, he said. “I’m not 100 percent, but I can still do my job.”
This marks the second time he’s torn that ligament in his left knee; the first time happened three seasons ago. He also tore his right knee in 2016 and still finished 18th in the world standings. His latest injury occurred this past July, so he took a month off the rodeo trail to heal and rehabilitate his knee, then returned to competition.
Now he heads the City of Lights with a brace he’ll attach to his left knee every night and a strong mind.
“I have confidence in my training, more confidence in my riding and my ability to adapt through different horses,” Clements said. “I wanted to adjust so I could get on a bunch of easier-to-ride horses one week, then get on a bunch of hard-buckers the next and nothing would change.
“Earlier in my career, I’d overcompensate or not do enough. Being able to adapt has played a big role.”
That’s no easy task. Bareback riding is the most taxing event on the body. Clements wedges his hand – covered by a glove with binds on the outside – into a rigging that is strapped tightly to a bucking horse. Every jump, kick and twist are felt by the cowboy that is attached. Even with a bum knee, the Utahan finished out the season well.
“I feel very strong,” he said. “I competed at big rodeos the rest of the season, even after I tore the ACL, sat out a month, rehabbed and started back riding. I’ve finally gotten back to how I was before the injury. I’m confident in what’s to come.”
What’s next are 10 straight nights of bucking horses. As one of the top 15 cowboys, he will be matched with the greatest animals in the game, all chosen by the bareback riders themselves. But he’s ridden them all season, so that’s nothing new; they’re just packed into a week-and-a-half of ProRodeo’s grand finale, which features a $10 million purse.
And Clements knows just what that kind of money can do. A year ago, he left Las Vegas with more than $80,000 in his Cinch jeans. He knows he’ll have great opportunities before him when it’s time to battle for gold in the Nevada desert.
“One of the other things that changed for me this year was my finances from the NFR last year,” Clements said. “It changed my life. This year was a big eye-opener for what it could do for me and what it has done for me. IT took me out of all my debt and helped me enjoy not worrying about money.
“I’ve had amazing support from my family and my girlfriend, and that’s been huge. That’s probably made a big difference in the way I’ve performed all year. I’m not worried about things gone on at home. I’m focused 100 percent on my business.”