HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The last month of Zach Hibler’s life has been a bit of a blur.
He’s been in a race to qualify for his first National Finals Rodeo, and it’s been one heck of a challenge. The NFR features only the top 15 contestants in each event, and Hibler’s been right around that No. 15 mark in the bareback riding standings much of the final month of the 2021 campaign.
When the regular season came to a close Thursday night, the 24-year-old Texan had clinched his spot, but not by much. Hibler finished with $65,381, just $683 ahead of the No. 16 man, Wyatt Denny. It was a flurry to the finish.
“It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s a feeling that is indescribable when it works out in your favor and makes you feel like you can conquer the world,” said Hibler, who finished 17th two seasons ago.
On Friday night, he showed what it means to be on a roll, riding Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Lady’s Man for 86 points to take the lead at the Waller County Fair and Rodeo. He has competed inside the Waller County Fairgrounds arena several times over much of the last decade, and his comfort showed.
“I think I’ve been coming to this rodeo ever since I started riding bareback horses,” he said. “I came to the Cannon’s school here in 2013, so this has always been a great rodeo for me to come and see them. This is pretty much where I got my start, so I love this rodeo.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Lady’s Man has performed at the NFR twice over his career, the first time in 2011.
“I didn’t know that horse had been to the finals,” said Hibler of Wheeler, Texas, in the state’s Panhandle region. “I just thought it was a really good horse. There is a reason it’s been to the finals.”
Even though the Hempstead rodeo started Sept. 30, it is actually the first rodeo of the 2022 season, and the money earned here will count toward next season’s standings. Rodeo is cyclical, meaning the season wraps around itself; the 2022 season begins more than two months before the 2021 world champions are crowned at the NFR in December.
“I’ve just been rodeoing so hard just trying to make the finals, I didn’t see any reason to pump the brakes any, so I entered these first few rodeos I could enter and just keep trucking on,” said Hibler, the 2018 Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year.
“The NFR is the biggest thing I’ve ever accomplished in my rodeo career. We’re just going to try to keep it simple and have fun. I deserve to be there right now, and I feel like I’m riding better than I ever have. We’re going to roll in full steam ahead and see if we can knock around with the big boys.”
If Friday night in Hempstead were any indication, the train is well on its way.
Waller County Fair and Rodeo
Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Bareback riding: 1. Zach Hibler, 86 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Lady’s Man; 2. Bill Tutor, 83.5; 3. Kade Sonnier, 82; 4. Tim Murphy, 81; 5, Zachariah Phillips, 80.5; 6. Rickey Williams, 76.5.
Steer wrestling: 1. (tie) Trey Green and Denell Henderson, 3.7 seconds; 3. Clayton Hass, 4.6; 4. Dustin Merritt, 4.7; 5. Cody Harmon, 4.9; 6. Sterling Watson,5.2; 7. Tucker Allen, 5.7; 8. Ryan Lewis, 6.2.
Team roping: 1. Tyler Wade/Blaine turner, 4.5 seconds; 2. Kreece Thompson/Chad Williams, 4.9; 3. (tie) Todd Arthur/Garrett Busby and Casey Tew/Seth Smithson, 5.1; 5. Luke Brown/Hunter Koch, 5.2; 6. (tie) Shay Carrol/Evan Arnold and Manny Equsquiza/Lane Mitchell, 5.3; 8. Jason Burson/Corey Hendrick, 5.8; 9. Tanner Tomlinson/Austin Atkinson, 6.4; 10. Cory Clark/Trevor Kirchenschlager, 7.2.
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Logan Cook, 85 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Flirt; 2. Blaise Freeman, 83; 3. Cash Wilson, 82; 4. Damo Brennan, 77; no other qualified rides.
Breakaway roping: 1. J.J. Hampton, 2.2 seconds; 2. Cassidy Boggs, 2.5; 3. (tie) Jill Tanner and Jordan Jo Fabrizio, 2.6; 5. (tie) Jordi Edens and Cadee Williams, 2.7; 7. Ashley Goforth, 2.8; 8. Jayme Marcrum, 3.0.
Tie-down roping: 1. Sherman Lasker, 8.4 seconds; 2. Blane Cox, 8.6; 3. John Douch, 9.4; 4. Ryan Thibodeaux, 10.0; 5. (tie) Sterling Smith and Marcos Costa, 10.1; 7. Clay Elliott, 10.4; 8. (tie) Garrett Busby/Tyler Prcin, 10.6; 10. Michael Otero, 10.8.
Barrel racing: 1. Ericka Nelson, 15.44 seconds; 2. Taycee Matthews, 15.78; 3. Jamie Olsen, 15.95; 4. Kyndal Schley, 15.99; 5. Tammy Fischer, 16.02; 6. Tiany Schuster, 16.08; 7. Lisa Thornton, 16.10; 8. Suzanne Brooks, 16.38; 9. Cassidy Champion, 16.41; 10. Teneille Angland, 16.47; 11. Davie King, 16.49; 12. Keyla Polizello Costa, 16.61.
Bull riding: 1. Toby Collins, 87 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Black Beauty; no other qualified rides.