PONDER, Texas – The 2013 ProRodeo season has been quite a roller coaster ride for Bray Armes.
The 31-year-old steer wrestler from Ponder has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the second straight year, finishing the regular season with $57,094 in earnings and No. 14 on the money list; only the top 15 in each event earn the right to play for the biggest pay in the sport from Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.
“Making the NFR means everything to me,” said Armes, who grew up on a farm near Gruver, Texas. “I’m just trying to achieve the next goal, and that’s the world title.”
Armes has proven his place among steer wrestling’s elite, and the only way to win a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship is to qualify for the NFR, then have a strong showing during the sport’s grand finale. Armes has accomplished step one, but it wasn’t without obstacles.
You see, Armes lost his No. 1 mount to a freak occurrence the first of August when Ricky Bobby bolted from his stall during a lightning storm, wondered onto a highway and was hit by a semi-truck. Any person who loses a close friend knows the heartache that comes from it; rodeo cowboys have those relationships with their horses.
“It took me a while to get over that,” Armes said.
The Armes family – Bray; his wife, Neelley; and their children, Breely and Drake – considered Ricky Bobby a member of the family.
“They’re like one of us,” Armes told Brad Cox with the Hobbs (N.M.) News-Sun just days after Ricky Bobby died. “We take care of them like we want to take care of ourselves. We want them to do the best they can every time, so we’re going to treat them as good as we can. You become pretty attached.”
Whether it was heartache or something else, there were struggles.
“After that happened, I didn’t win for a month,” he said in mid-November. “I was jumping around from horse to horse just trying to figure out what to ride. I was just having heck, and there, toward the end, my other horse, Sambo, just stepped up. We were running at longer scores, and I did real well with him.”
When times were tough, the Texas cowboy leaned on his faith, his family and his traveling partners, Casey Martin, Sean Mulligan and Dru Melvin. Martin, a three-time NFR qualifier from Sulphur, La., leads the world standings. Melvin and Mulligan also have competed in Vegas.
“I got to travel with a group of great guys, and we all built off each other,” Armes said. “I’ve been real fortunate to be able to rodeo with the guys I travel with, guys that have the same goals. We all have families, and we’re there to take care of business. It makes it a lot easier.”
The toughest part of being on the ProRodeo trail is spending so much time away from home, but it’s business. Armes utilizes technology to keep up to date with the goings-on at home, including video-chats.
“We talked every day, sometimes several times a day,” he said. “I was really missing them, and I wasn’t winning, and they all came to Cheyenne (Wyo.) to spend time with me. I won quite a bit at Cheyenne, then Drake got in the truck with us for a couple of weeks. I did good in (Kansas rodeos) Dodge City, Abilene and Phillipsburg, and he was right there rooting me on.”
The entire clan will be in Las Vegas rooting for Armes. He’s hoping that will be the driving force to a successful NFR, where go-round winners will earn $18,630 each night. He plans to ride Ote, a palomino horse owned by Matt Reeves, the third-ranked steer wrestler from Cross Plains, Texas.
“At the end of the year, I rode that horse everywhere,” Armes said. “Almost every time I nodded my head, I placed.
“That’s my choice I’m going to ride at the finals. I hope it all goes as planned.”
Last year’s championship went quite well. He earned more than $85,000 during the rugged 10-night NFR, moving from 15th to sixth in the final world standings. Having last December in his memory banks is an advantage heading to this year’s finale.
“Last year I was worried about the average one time, and it cost me,” he said, referring 10-round aggregate pays nearly $48,000 to the steer wrestler with the best cumulative time. “It was in the ninth round, and I just needed to make a good run. I didn’t make a very good run.
“In my opinion, you’ve got to try to win every round, and the average will take care of itself.”
It’s that kind of faith that keeps Armes among the best in the world. He hopes to prove it during that glorious 10 days in December.