MIAMI, Texas – Always confident in competition, Wyatt Casper doesn’t deny the shimmers of doubts that crossed his mind a few months ago.
A nagging injury – a torn right hamstring – haunted him again July 4. He’d just gone through the same pain a year earlier but tried to come back too soon and suffered another setback. In 2023, he knew better and just stayed on injured reserve for 30 days. While his leg ached, the biggest pain he felt came from missing out on a month’s worth of big-money rodeos.
No Calgary, Alberta. No Cheyenne, Wyoming. As a saddle bronc rider who makes a living riding equine-powered dynamite, lucrative rodeos like those are vital to his business. He returned to action the first week of August, but things just weren’t clicking the way he had hoped.
“A couple of weeks went by, and I just didn’t feel completely right yet,” said Casper, 27, of Miami. “I didn’t really win a whole lot, and I was getting a little down in the dumps.”
He didn’t stay there long. In mid-August, he and all the other top bronc riders in ProRodeo converged on the Xtreme Broncs Finals in Rapid City, South Dakota. He won that event and $31,000, a turning point to his 2023 campaign that has propelled him to his fourth straight National Finals Rodeo.
“I really needed that to hep push me through to qualifying for the NFR and getting some momentum on my side,” he said. “Bronc riding is all about confidence and just having some good luck go your way. It has to be something where you think every time you get on, there’s not a chance he’s going to throw you off or that you’re going to screw up. You’re going to win some money.
“I think that plays a big part of it being in good rhythm and drawing all those good horses and making some money. It goes hand in hand, and all that helps you get some good confidence.”
He finished the regular season with $142,421, good enough for eighth place as he heads back to the NFR, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas. He has credited a consistent approach to his game for keeping him among ProRodeo’s elite saddle bronc riders. His best season to date was 2020, when he finished as the reserve world champion. He would love to improve upon that this year, and the only way to do that is to finish the finale as the No. 1 man.
“The big thing was not screwing up any good horses and capitalizing on good draws and making money when you can,” he said. “I don’t feel like I changed anything. I just stuck to the gameplan I’ve always had, and, luckily, it’s been working out good.”
He’s definitely been on a roll. He didn’t finish first at many rodeos – he won five event titles and shared the championship at another – but he placed a lot. The only way to earn money in rodeo is to beat most of the cowboys in the field, and he did that a lot through the campaign. It doesn’t hurt that rodeo features unprecedented purses in 2023.
As Casper pointed out, the 15th man on the money was Louisianan Ryder Sanford, who earned $125,388. That’s an incredible amount of earnings just to advance to the sport’s grand finale – only the top 15 contestants in the world standings in each event at the conclusion of the regular season qualify for the NFR.
“If’ you’d told me when I started that it would take that kind of money to qualify for the NFR, I would have thought you were crazy,” said Casper, who lives outside Miami with his wife, Lesley, and their two children, Cooper and Cheyenne. “It just goes to show what the PRCA is doing and what these rodeos are doing. I know everybody is trying to increase the added money and trying to pay the contestants more money, and it’s showing.”
That’s one of the positive things about rodeo; cowboys and cowgirls realize the importance of doing well in competition. Unlike other professional sports, there are no guaranteed contracts. On top of that, contestants must pay a fee in order to compete; while that money is mixed with local dollars to make up the overall purse, men and women must excel at each stop in order to get paid.
Casper knew that when he opted to become a professional rodeo cowboy. It’s a life he was meant to live. His folks, John and Amy, started roping as a hobby when they met, and he and his brothers, Ty and Clay, followed suit. Raised near Balko in the Oklahoma Panhandle, Wyatt Casper obtained a rodeo scholarship to Clarendon (Texas) College, where coach Bret Franks helped him transition from roper to bronc rider.
Casper took to it so well that he was crowned the 2016 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s national champion while at Clarendon. That opened the doors and helped the young cowboy prosper, and he returns to his roots every now and then to keep his tools sharp. In fact, he’ll utilize those relationships and others as he prepares for the rugged 10 go-rounds in Las Vegas.
“I’m going to get on some practice horses and take care of my body, get it in the best shape I can to survive 10 horses,” said Casper, who not only leans on his family but also has support from his sponsors, Cinch, Priefert, Resistol, Superior Livestock, TD Angus, MVP Exceed 6 Way, Western Hauler and Sawyer Hay & Cube.
“I’ve got two practice horses that I keep down at Clarendon all the time, and then I think I’ll go to Frontier Rodeo’s (in Freedom, Oklahoma) and get on a couple of broncs there. I just went up to (a PRCA event in) Indianapolis and broke in some new boots and a saddle, and everything seems like it’s set up pretty good. I’ll just keep getting on broncs to keep the dust knocked off and go to Vegas with some confidence.”
Even with a tough stretch that kept him out of action during the all-important summer run, he remains strong in his convictions and in his mental approach to the sport. He spent the year traveling with fellow bronc busters Jake Clark, Weston Patterson and Kade Bruno, the last of whom is also an NFR qualifier. Each offered another layer of support to Casper, which was reciprocated.
“We all lean on each other when we’re out there to keep a positive attitude, and they all help quite a bit where we like to have fun, hang out, get in a little golf and do things because we all have the same interests,” Casper said. “It’s pretty easy to stay positive out there. I’ve got a wife and kids at home to help motivate me and keep me going, and I talk to my dad every day when I’m on the road, too.
“It all helps keep me going and upbeat and know everything’s taken care of on the home front. I have a pretty good support system.”
That comes in handy. Technology allows for better communication with family, but the cowboys are still gone from home for weeks on end. Casper, though, had a month to celebrate family because of his hamstring injury. While he would have preferred to build on his fortune and give himself a better chance to win a world championship, he took the opportunity that time at home afforded him.
“For me, it’s like a double-edged sword,” he said. “You’ve got to take the good together with the bad, and you’ve got to see the positives and look for a good outcome. That’s what I try to do.”
It’s that mental approach that has been the guiding force for Casper and what has helped him capitalize when moments come.
“The mental side of bronc riding is probably more important than the physical side,” he said. “You’ve got to be mentally tough so you can get through the hard times. Being mentally tough helps no matter what you’re doing.”