LAS VEGAS – Thursday night in Sin City, nobody breathed a bigger sigh of relief than steer wrestler Tanner Brunner.
He started off the National Finals Rodeo on a rough note, settling for a no-time in the opening round on Dec. 5. He followed that with four more tough nights, three slow runs and another no-time. It all changed after the fifth night.
But he didn’t earn his first check in Las Vegas until he stopped the clock in 4.7 seconds to finish fifth in Thursday’s eighth go-round, worth $6,769.
“It was a big relief,” said Brunner, 26, of Ramona, Kansas. “Just being able to place and win a little money, it gets the monkey off your back. I’ll just go out in the next two rounds and see how much I can win and don’t hold back.”
Was it the most satisfying check of his career?
“I know it is,” he said with a laugh. “This is a tough field. There are a lot of tough guys that, on any given night, can really do good.”
He had to make a few changes to his mental approach, and that’s been a big help. After a backbreaking first five rounds, he started to settle into a groove. In fact, his eighth-round run was his third fastest of the week, just the first to pay off.
He was 4.3 in the sixth round and 4.1 on Wednesday, both times finishing seventh. At the NFR, only the top six get paid.
“For me, I had to remind myself that even though I was at the NFR, I had to go back to what got me here: Have more patience and let things happen instead of trying to make things happen,” Brunner said. “After the first couple of rounds, I tried to do that, but it didn’t kick in until after the fifth round.
“I changed some things and watched some runs I’d made through the year. I focused on letting my feet lay out there further, getting strong head catches, and the rest came back to itself.”
The NFR is a grind. Ten days, 10 rounds and $26,231 paid out to the winners of each round. It’s stressful and hectic, but it’s also the greatest week and a half in the sport.
“I just made sure I stayed up on my rest and went through all my routines to keep myself and my body the best,” he said. “I just tried to enjoy being here a little more. It’s hard, but what really helps is all these guys that you’re competing against that are cheering for you. They’re keeping your spirits up every night.”