SPANISH FORK, Utah – Several years ago, Mason Clements focused on his dreams of being one of the elite cowboys in professional rodeo.
He’s earned his place as one of the top 20 bareback riders in the game each of the past five seasons, three of which feature qualifications to the National Finals Rodeo. That includes the wild and unpredictable 2020 campaign.
“Being a three-time NFR qualifier means I’ve made some big accomplishments, and I have been on the track that I started out 10 years ago,” said Clements, 28, of Spanish Fork. “Each qualification is a big accomplishment, but it’s not the end of what I’m doing.
“This is just the beginning. It’s just three years of going to the big show, and to me that means I am one of the best bareback riders going.”
In fact, he announced himself to the rodeo world in 2014 by winning the Rocky Mountain Region’s bareback riding title while attending the College of Southern Idaho. Two years later, he finished 18th in the ProRodeo world standings, just three spots out of earning a trip to the sport’s grand finale, which features only the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season.
He made back-to-back NFR appearances in 2017-18, then a knee surgery and recovery left him on the injured reserve for much of 2019; he still finished 16th in the world standings. Through pure will power and determination, he returns to the championship, set for Dec. 3-12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“The first year, I came in 15th to the NFR and finished 10th,” said Clements, who credits his sponsors – CINCH, Bex Sunglasses, Barstow Pro Rodeo, Bison Union Co. and Chaffhaye Alfalfa – with getting him up and down the rodeo trail, especially in the tumultuous, COVID-19 global pandemic.
“When I get to the NFR, I feel really comfortable. Being in Arlington, I don’t know what’s going to change other than the scenery, but I suspect it’s going to feel like being at the finals. It’ll be time to move up or get the hell out of the way.”
He’s already ahead of schedule. He finished the regular season with $58,501, good enough for ninth place in the standings. Now he wants to add to that at the richest rodeo in the sport. He’ll have 10 nights to collect as much cash as possible and chase that elusive Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
In rodeo, dollars not only pay bills, but they also serve as points. The top 15 on the money list advance to the NFR; the contestants in each event who finish with the most earnings will be crowned world champions.
“I think the key to my season was with my mindset and my goals I’ve had this year,” he said. “I’ve got a house and I’m about to start a family, so I’ve got bigger life goals and I look at that now more than I ever did before.”
That family includes his fiancé, Brianna, and the two have set a wedding date for next June. Before that can happen, though, Clements would like to stow away as much money as possible. It’s not all about the wedding; the cowboy wants to put him and his bride-to-be on the right path right off the start.
“I think before I had all this, it was more like an ego trip on how I wanted to finish,” Clements said. “I think my whys have changed for the better since I’ve gotten older. I still love to ride bucking horses, because that’s what I do, that’s what I’m good at and that’s what I was meant to do.
“But now I do it because it’s deeper than just me. It’s a good feeling.”
The 2020 campaign wasn’t without its fair share of hiccups and hesitations. He kicked off the season with two big wins in Denver and San Antonio and pocketed nearly $31,000 between those two events alone. That accounted for more than half his season earnings, but there was a reason: COVID-19.
The pandemic hit full bore in mid-March, and rodeo was shut down for two and a half months. When the sport returned, the schedule was greatly diminished; more than half the typical rodeos were canceled, including many of the largest in North America. That meant making changes to how each cowboy traveled.
“It was almost exasperating trying to rodeo through that,” he said. “You had to go to so many smaller rodeos, and while you were thankful to be rodeoing, it was harder to make money. If you weren’t making money, that made it tough. You had to be super mentally strong, because if you made a mistake or your horse had a bad day, it was ‘Thanks for coming.’ ”
There were many bright spots to the regular season, too. It was the first in several years that he’s finished without time on the injury list, and he earned his third qualification while also helping his traveling partners, young guns Leighton Berry and Cole Reiner, earn their first trips to the NFR.
“I’m so proud of those two, and it was really good for me to be traveling with them,” Clements said. “It took me back to watching myself work hard to get to where they’re at. They helped me to work out when I may have thought I was too tired. They kept me hungry.
“I found myself getting a little bit complacent, then I’d watch those guys. When they’d beat me and outright out-rode me, it was a punch in the nose that told me to keep working on my craft. I’m proud of them and grateful they wanted to travel with me.”
As the elder statesman of the trio, he had plenty to offer. He was the tutor, explaining the need to visualize and prepare. He was the example, leading the way for the rig – Berry sits 10th in the standings, while Reiner is 12th. He also has two more trips to the NFR, which can come in quite handy.
“The key thing is to stay even-keeled, not let the excitement of the event get to you,” he said. “My job is being a bareback rider, and it doesn’t need to change what I do and how I do it when I get to the NFR.”