Casper is in the mix at the NFR

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Texas cowboy Wyatt Casper is one of nine Cinch saddle bronc riders who will be in the mix at this year’s National Finals Rodeo.

Texas cowboy is one of nine Cinch bronc riders going to Vegas

For the final three months of the ProRodeo regular season, Cinch saddle bronc rider Wyatt Casper tried to ride only a handful of horses.

He’d suffered a partially torn right hamstring and was trying to manage the injury while still plying his trade. His best chance at making a living is on the backs of wild horses, so he kept trying. He’d feel a tweak, then he’d take a couple weeks off. He’d try it again, but to no avail.

He was hoping something would give, and he could continue as he had hoped. The first week of August, the only thing that gave was the muscle he’d been hoping to nurse back to full health. His regular season was officially over.

Since that day in Utah, the Miami, Texas, cowboy has been limping along. Rehabilitation exercises and stretching were his best options, so he went to work the best he could. There was a caveat for Casper, though. His time healing was done with those he loves most, his wife, Lesley, and their two children: Cooper is now a 4-year-old little boy and the apple of his daddy’s eye, and Cheyenne will turn 3 during her December birthday.

Recovery is going well, even if he’s cheated the system a bit. His advisers suggested he stay off broncs for 60 days, and he’s done that and more. He was also supposed to stay out of any saddle for a month, but that’s just not who he is. When Casper isn’t on the rodeo trail, he’s riding colts and training horses.

“I made it about three weeks, but then I had to do something else,” he said, noting that he was a bit stir crazy while the pain and discomfort were at their worst.

He hasn’t tested it much, because he understands the importance of all leg muscles to saddle bronc riders. Not only are they trying to outride an equine earthquake, but they’re also trying to spur from in front of the bronc’s shoulders back to the cantle of the saddle in rhythm with the horse’s bucking motion.

Only the top 15 bronc riders on the money after the regular season advance to the National Finals Rodeo. Casper is a three-time qualifier and is excited about the opportunities in front of him at the richest event in ProRodeo, where go-round winners will earn about $29,000 per night for 10 days. The bronc busters will be matched with the 100 best bucking horses from the 2022 season, so this is not only a test of one’s physical game but also how well that man can face the challenges ahead.

It’s a pressure-packed situation and brings out all levels of emotions over that stretch in the Nevada desert. Casper has handled it before, as have most of the other Cinch bronc riders who will compete at this year’s NFR.

BRODY CRESS, Hillsdale, Wyoming

As Brody Cress prepares for his sixth straight trip to the National Finals Rodeo, he has a keen understanding of the greatness that can happen in Las Vegas.

He’s the only three-time NFR average champion in the mix, and it’s a title he’d love to defend. He’ll have his chance as the third-ranked bronc rider in the world standings, having earned $182,645 through the course of the regular season.

In order to have the best 10-ride aggregate in Sin City, one must first earn a trip there. Once there, he’s excelled. Take last year, for example: He finished the season third with $325,746, with nearly $184,000 coming from his performance inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

In a tough that has seen incredible amounts of money paid out, Cress has stood near the top much of the season. He had 13 event titles, including the championship at the Xtreme Broncs Finals, where he collected more than $23,000 while riding two broncs, including a 93.5-point ride on Sutton Rodeo’s South Point to win the short round.

ZEKE THURSTON, Big Valley, Alberta

In just his second year of qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo in 2016, Zeke Thurston walked away from Las Vegas with the most coveted trophy in rodeo, the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.

Only world champions earn rodeo gold, and he added a second in 2019, just one layer of the proof the Canadian cowboy possesses. He’s a second-generation NFR cowboy, following in the footsteps of his bronc riding father, Skeeter.

This year, he’ll head to his eighth straight championship as the sixth-ranked bronc buster in the game, the highest-ranked of the half-dozen Canadians in the mix. He gathered $143,838 through the rigors of the regular season, one that saw him win eight individual titles. He also won the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association title this season.

He was just 21 years old when he first competed on ProRodeo’s biggest stage and 22 when he won his first world title. At just 28 now, he’s an established veteran who brings a powerful punch to riding bucking horses.

LOGAN HAY, Wildwood, Alberta

His dad may have made a big mark in saddle bronc riding a couple of decades ago, but Logan Hay set a new standard in 2022.

In late July, the 25-year-old rode the Calgary Stampede’s Xplosive Skies for 95.5 points to set the record for highest-marked saddle bronc ride in ProRodeo to win the Hardgrass Bronc Match in Pollockville, Alberta. That day, he won both go-rounds – he was also 91 points in the first round on Calgary’s Business Girl – and dominated the aggregate to earn $14,038.

It was just one of the big paydays for Hay, who collected $139,440 this season and will enter his first National Finals Rodeo seventh in the world standings. His biggest earnings came with his victory at the Calgary Stampede a few weeks earlier, collecting the coveted $50,000 prize to the shootout winner; half of that counts toward the world standings.

He’ll have plenty of momentum from his best season ever when he arrives in Las Vegas.

LAYTON GREEN, Millarville, Alberta

Like many cowboys that live north of the border, Layton Green found some incredible success at events that were co-sanctioned by the PRCA and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.

He finished the regular season eighth in the world rankings with $138,993, with key victories coming at Alberta rodeos in Ponoka, Strathmore, Coleman, Olds and Wildwood; he also won the bronc riding title in Merritt, British Columbia. His win at the Ponoka Stampede came after posting a 92.25-point ride on Calgary Stampede’s Yesterday’s Delivery.

He finished fourth in the CPRA standings and is in a top 10 battle once he arrives in Las Vegas. He’ll also arrive as a new husband; he and his wife, Brooklynn, were married in early October.

Green comes from a rodeo family. His bulldogging grandfather, Lee Phillips, is enshrined in the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and his grandma, Jeri Duce Phillips, was a champion barrel racer. If that weren’t enough, Green honed his skills under the tutelage of Canadian legendary bronc rider Rod Hay.

KADE BRUNO, Challis, Idaho

One rodeo can make a big difference in a cowboy’s season. Take Kade Bruno, a 22-year-old competing in just his sophomore campaign.

He won the bronc riding title at the NFR Open, the new name for the national circuit finals rodeo. With that, he became a national champion and collected more than $20,000 in a few days on the base of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That wasn’t his only win, though.

In all, he compiled a list of 11 event victories and earned $137,726 throughout the 2022 regular season. He will go to his first National Finals Rodeo as the No. 9 man on the money list. A year ago, he finished the year ranked 28th. He also finished as the runner-up to K’s Thomson in the race for the Saddle Bronc Riding Resistol Rookie of the Year.

Bruno considered following in the footsteps of his bull-riding father, but he took to bronc riding. Now, he’s not looking back.

KOLBY WANCHUK, Sherwood Park, Alberta

From beginning to end of the 2022 regular season, Kolby Wanchuk was a winner. He earned the title at Denver in January, picked up the key victories through the summer and closed out the campaign by winning the saddle bronc riding title at the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up.

Over that course, he earned $131,136 and returns to the National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year. He finished the 2021 campaign 12th in the world standings, and already this year, he’s 10th.

He traveled the rodeo trail with three other NFR qualifiers: Sage Newman (first in the world standings), Chase Brooks (13th) and Tanner Butner (15th). Wanchuk was raised on rodeo, the son of a Canadian rodeo clown.

The runner-up to the 2018 Resistol Rookie of the Year, Wanchuk has quickly become a rodeo star of his own.

KOLE ASHBACHER, Arrowwood, Alberta

Competing at rodeos in his home country of Canada paid off quite well for Kole Ashbacher. He earned seven event titles, six of which occurred north of the 49th parallel. He even earned titles in three provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Because those events were co-sanctioned by the CPRA, he also earned a shot at the Canadian title. He earned $31,000 in Red Deer, Alberta, and finished second in the standings to fellow Cinch cowboy Zeke Thurston.

That regular-season money also helped him tally $117,543 in ProRodeo, and he will be the 12th-ranked bronc rider in the mix at his first National Finals Rodeo.

Ashbacher pocketed nearly $35,000 over the final two months of the regular season in order to clinch a trip to Las Vegas in December. It was a powerful message for the 6-foot-2 cowboy.

DAWSON HAY, Wildwood, Alberta

While the money didn’t count toward a National Finals Rodeo qualification, Dawson Hay’s biggest victory came this past spring at The American inside AT&T Stadium in Irvin, Texas.

He collected $100,000 for that victory, and he still used it to make his traveling life a little better in order to return to the NFR for the third time in four years. He is 14th in the standings after having reeled in $111,718 during the ProRodeo regular season.

He will be joined by his older brother, Logan, and both follow in the footsteps of their legendary father, Rod Hay, who had 20 trips to the NFR in his career; he is second only to five-time world champion Billy Etbauer in qualifications.

Dawson Hay had some big wins on his own this season, including a key victory at the Caldwell (Idaho) Night Rodeo. All comes in handy as he returns to Sin City.


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