LAS VEGAS – Tanner Brunner has made 20 runs inside the Thomas & Mack Center, but he’s capitalized just three times over the course of his two straight National Finals Rodeo qualifications.
It’s been a struggle, and there were some frustrations that came into play over the last 10 days in the Nevada desert. But each missed opportunity was a learning opportunity, and the lessons started to come full circle by Saturday night’s 10th go-round.
“I’m just going to try to build on that and take it into next year,” Brunner said after posting his fastest run of the rodeo, a 3.8-second marking that resulted in a tie for second place. “Hopefully I can get back here again and show what I’ve learned. I just hope to use the momentum of that run to keep rolling into next year.”
It also was his biggest paycheck: $18,192. He left Las Vegas with $34,962 and placed in two rounds; he also finished fifth in Thursday’s eighth round.
“There are a lot of little things that go into making good runs every night,” said Brunner, 26, of Ramona, Kansas. “I hope to come back next year and put them all together.”
He finished 2019 with the best campaign of his young career with $109,912, nearly $12,000 more than he earned a year ago. He had a lot of help, especially from his hazer, NFR veteran Sean Mulligan. The two would talk before every go-round and formulate a game plan, and it finally paid off in the final three nights of the season.
“He has been here for 15-plus years consecutively,” Brunner said of Mulligan. “He has about as much experience as anybody in this building, and I trust his opinion. We come together with a plan according to the steer every night and go from there.
“It takes a lot to know what either is feeling on either side of the (timed-event) box, so we have to combine it so that we have a plan that works.”
The NFR is a tough place to play. The stakes are high, and the pressure that builds inside those yellow chutes can be intense. Each run he makes allows Brunner the opportunity to learn more about the game and about how to play it at an elite level.
“The biggest thing I learned was persistency,” he said. “You just have to keep your head down and keep going at them every night. I want to take everything I’ve learned and just use it to better myself next year.”