CLARENDON, Texas – Cole Franks made an impressive statement in 2021 during his inaugural season in ProRodeo:
- He’d claimed the collegiate all-around and bareback riding titles.
- He was named the Bareback Riding Resistol Rookie of the Year.
- He qualified for his first National Finals Rodeo and finished third in the world standings.
It was a remarkable beginning for the second-generation cowboy from Clarendon, and he bounded into his sophomore campaign during the 2022 season with plenty of confidence and talent. With that, he’ll make his return to the sport’s biggest stage, the NFR, set for Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas.
“This year was a little more challenging in a way,” said Franks, 21, who won the intercollegiate title while competing for Clarendon Colleges. “It was a lot different. They changed the rule to where we couldn’t double up on rodeos on the same day. It was easier in that sense, because we didn’t have to decide between two rodeos, but it made it a little harder.
“When we were rodeoing, because of that rule, everyone else was in the same places we were. It made it to where sometimes it was so crammed full of people that it was a lot harder to win.”
He found his way to the winner’s circle anyway, proving talent and a powerful mindset can go a long way. Through the course of the campaign, he picked up 10 victories and earned $116,426; he heads to Las Vegas No. 10 in the world standings and will have a chance to battle for the coveted world championship.
“I honestly think the key was staying at it, making every horse count,” said Franks, who credits much of his success to his sponsors, Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, Cinch, Western Legacy Co. and 287 Ag. “You want to do the best you can with what horse you’ve drawn. If you don’t have one you can typically win on, then you’ve got to flash it up and do what you can.”
It takes a combination of key victories and making the most of one’s rides count in order to qualify for the NFR. He is $45,500 behind the leader, Wyoming cowboy Cole Reiner, but that deficit can be surpassed in just two rounds in Vegas, where go-round winners pocket just shy of $29,000 each night.
Just a few years ago, round winners were making $10,000 less. It’s a good trend in a sport where there are no guarantees. Unlike other professional sports where athletes have surefire contracts that pay them whether they’re in the game or not, rodeo cowboys make their livings eight seconds at a time. They don’t get paid unless they score better than most others in the field.
The rise in payouts is a boon for the men and women who are part of the rodeo trail as a business.
“We do this because we love it, but it does make it a lot more fun to have a shot at that much more money every day,” he said. “Every rodeo I went to this past year, they just keep raising the stakes. That’s what keeps you wanting to go more.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been ready to go home; I like staying out on the road. You may get worn out a little bit, but you know there’s all that money out there you can get.”
Money is vital in rodeo. It’s not only how the contestants pay their bills, but it’s also how points are tallied. Only the top 15 on the money list in each event advance to the NFR. The contestants in each event who conclude the season with the most earnings will be crowned world champions.
Last year, Franks earned more than $150,000 over 10 December nights in the Nevada desert, finishing the season with more than $225,000. He’ll need a similar showing this season if he hopes to earn the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
“I’d say I improved quite a bit,” said Franks, whose father, Bret, was a three-time NFR qualifier in saddle bronc riding and whose brother, Clint, is a PRCA bronc rider. “Mainly, I’d say, I’ve gotten better at being able to handle those big, strong bucking horses, the ones that everybody wants and the ones you can win on.
“Last year, I dropped the ball sometimes on those kinds of horses. I feel like I’ve gotten better at keeping the ball in my court on those horses while being able to flash up on the weaker end of horses and making them look better.”
It’s a formula that has worked quite well. He made his second straight NFR even though a broken wrist in May and a damaged finger on free hand in July put him on injured reserve for nearly two months. The latter injury was actually scarier and happened at one of the largest regular-season rodeos in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
“One thing I realized was that you don’t take your good draw as a sure sign you’ll win,” he said. “At Cheyenne, I knew I had it in the bag based on paper. That went out the window a bit during the short round. The horse flipped all the way upside down on top of me, and I was laying in the bottom of the chute. I don’t know for sure what happened, but it ripped my finger open.”
He rebounded well, built up some style points and closed out his campaign in fine fashion by winning his last rodeo of the regular season in Stephenville, Texas. A week later, he won the first rodeo of the 2023 season in Hempstead, Texas.
He’s been doing the things he needs to stay in shape. He’s been riding some practice horses to prepare his body for the rigorous week and a half in Las Vegas, which will pit the best 15 bareback riders of the year against 100 of the greatest bucking horses in 2022.
“This is why I do this,” Franks said. “I love it, and to have a chance to compete at that level just makes it that much better.”