LAS VEGAS – Justin McDaniel hasn’t had his best run at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but it’s getting better.
“I’m just glad I’m finally feeling good,” said McDaniel, a two-time NFR bareback riding average winner and the 2008 world champion.
McDaniel placed for the fourth time at this year’s finale with an 83.5-point ride atop J Bar J Inc.’s Dirty Rags, earning $7,754 in the process. That pushed his NFR earnings to $23,067; he has earned more than $83,000 this season.
But it’s come with a price. McDaniel, 26, of Porum, Okla., has struggled with back and shoulder issues at this year’s championship. Riding the toughest bucking horses in the world is tough; doing so with a bad back and a wrecked shoulder is even tougher.
“My back has finally stayed in for two days now,” he said. “It feels strong, and I feel like I can do my job now. I’m looking forward to the rank pen tomorrow night.”
The NFR features the top 100 bucking horses in the world, as selected by the bareback riders who try to tame them. The 10th-round horses are the cream of the crop. It’s a powerful to put a close to the 10-round slugfest that is ProRodeo’s grand championship.
“Even when you get here, it’s still a drawing contest,” McDaniel said of the blind draw that pits cowboy vs. animal that is still a vital part of the sport. “The horses have been outstanding this week, especially the ranker pen of horses.”
The first time this grouping of horses was bucked in the fifth go-round, five cowboys failed to register a score. McDaniel was 80.5 and just missed out on placing Monday night. He had a little better pony on Friday.
“It was good to break the ice a little bit and finally spur one,” said McDaniel, who is fourth in the average with a cumulative score of 722.5 points on nine rides – if he remains in that position, he’ll earn a bonus of $22,085 after the NFR concludes Saturday night. “That horse was just nice, and it was one you could really spur. I changed gloves tonight where I could squeeze a little better. I took my shoulder brace off and tried to loosen up and just have fun.”