Injuries may have slowed cowboy a little, but he’s building toward his future
Injured reserve is no place for a cowboy.
Rodeo athletes have no guaranteed contracts. They don’t have million-dollar signing bonuses. Money only comes by winning it, and there’s no chance at winning a paycheck if they’re not in the competition.
Bareback rider R.C. Landingham had missed two ProRodeo seasons over the last four years. He was looking at a partial third year in 2021. He’d earned $6,000 from Jan. 1 to June, and finances were tight at home in Hat Creek, a tiny community near the Lassen National Forest in northern California. It’s a home he shares with his wife of two years, Bliss, and their 7-month-old son, Wynn.
“I got in the rig in June, and I told my traveling partner, Clayton (Biglow, the 2019 world champion), that I was going to have to make some money in a hurry,” said Landingham, 31. “ ‘If things don’t turn around over the Fourth of July, I’ll have to go home and get a job.’ If you’ve been around Clayton any, you realize that’s not in his mindset.
“We made a joke out of it, and things finally turned around. It’s crazy, even for rodeo. For six months, I couldn’t win a dime, then I couldn’t not win. Maybe I picked up on things, fixed some things by just working on it at home that made a big difference. It saved my year. I was about to go home and ended up having a really good year.”
Yes, he did. He earned his third National Finals Rodeo qualification, finishing the regular season with a little more than $72,000. That put him in the No. 13 position in the world standings heading into the 10-day championship in Las Vegas, where he placed in seven go-rounds. He shared the Round 4 victory with eventual world champion Kaycee Feild and earned just shy of $109,000 over that special 10 nights.
“That was the best finals I’ve ever had,” said Landingham, who also played on the sport’s biggest stage in 2016 and 2017.
It was actually during the 2017 season that things started going downhill for the California-born cowboy. He suffered a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, which is his free arm. He rode through the end of the season and at the NFR, then opted for surgery. There went the 2018 campaign.
He hit the rodeo trail again in 2019, but that didn’t last long. He went back under the knife.
“I don’t know if I came back too soon or what, but I never really felt 100 percent,” he said. “It got torn apart again, and I had the laterjet surgery.”
That procedure was done to restore stability in his left shoulder joint, but that, too, didn’t hold together.
“It ended up breaking,” said Landingham, who didn’t ride in 2020 after having surgery in November 2019. “I think I came back too soon, maybe did too much therapy. I broke the bone and the screw in half. They came back in and did another surgery and made sure I took it really easy. It was a slower healing process, but thankfully I came back stronger.
“Throughout those three years, I rode hurt the entire time. I had that thought in that back of my head that it was hurt. Now, to be able to get on and not have it cross my mind is a blessing.”
His pain-free approach showed inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It was a shining moment in a time he needed it, and much has changed in his life and his livelihood since Landingham started competing in ProRodeo 13 seasons ago, and a great deal of that has happened over the last five years.
“My rodeo life has completely changed,” he said. “I used to be a kid that rodeoed for the fun of it, the adrenaline side of it. I never took it into perspective that it was my job, that I was doing it for a living. It was how I made my money, but I didn’t take it as serious as I should have back then.
“I was with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, when I got hurt the first time. Being hurt and at home and seeing her worry about the future and what life was going to be in store for us … it gave me a perspective on what I was going to make of this career.”
It was a flip of the switch. He went from a kid in a candy store to a grown man with a plan to build on what he’d learned and what he could do with a better diet and being in better shape. Bareback riding isn’t for the timid; it’s the most physically challenging event in rodeo.
“I finally got my shoulder fixed, but at that point, we still didn’t know what was going to be come of it,” he said. “I knew I was going to have a chance to ride again, but we didn’t know at what level. I wanted to build my body the best I could to ride at a top level.
“We’re not just cowboys anymore; we’re a bunch of athletes now. Everybody works really hard at this job. You have to be at the top of your game and in the best possible shape.”
His adjustment came when Landingham realized he was riding for more than himself. He now has a wife and son that depend on him, and his purpose shows with his flashy long legs spurring bucking horses. He and Bliss have known each other for several years, dating back to high school. They began seeing each other in earnest in 2015.
From losing his mom to cancer to battling through the injuries, she’s weathered the storm by his side.
“She’s been through all the ups and downs, between rodeo and family and the loss of familys,” Landingham said of his wife. “She’s seen all the low of lows and the high of highs. I want to do better and make a living at this while I can. A lot of it is for her and for us, now that we’ve had a little boy.
“Having them around makes me push myself harder to be successful and make the most of what I can. It takes a crazy kind of support to be part of this lifestyle. We’re on the road three-fourths of the year; it’s hard, then you throw a baby in the mix. She’s a first-time mom and has to raise our son pretty much by herself.”
He tries to help when he can, and he definitely enjoys those moments when the three of them can share this rodeo life together.
“He’s pretty awesome,” he said, the sense of pride coming through every word. “He’s been a blast for us; he always puts a smile on our faces. Having him at the finals was a lot of fun. He was the hit of the NFR for us.”
R.C. Landingham earned more than $100,000 in 10 nights in the Nevada desert, but there were bigger things happening after each ride: Heart-swelling moments with his young son and lovely wife are the memories he will carry with him long after the money is spent.
Rodeo isn’t the ideal life for a lot of people, but it is for the Landhinghams. That’s really all that matters.