The 65th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) is scheduled to return to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas from December 7-16, 2023. The 10 nights of competition will feature the best 120 cowboys and cowgirls vying for a coveted PRCA World Championship. They will also be competing for their share of the $10.9 million purse, which set a record in 2022. With such high stakes on the line, you can be sure that this will be an event you won’t want to miss!
A new year brings new opportunities.
For Sage Newman, it’s about the path back to the National Finals Rodeo. He dreams of one day bringing home a world title. The Montana native kicked off 2023 on the right foot, claiming an average title at the New Year’s Eve Buck & Ball in Gillette, Wyo.
Newman started his party with an 87-point ride on Korkow Rodeos’ Onion Ring. The 2021 “Pendleton Whisky’s Let ‘er Buck Bucking Stock of the Year” award winner was a matchup Newman has been itching for.
“I’ve never drawn that horse before so I was pretty excited to see her name next to mine. I’ve been waiting a long time to get on that horse,” the 24-year old said. “Yeah, she had a good night and we matched up pretty good.”
Newman brought home the win with a 90.5-point trip on Powder River Rodeo’s Miss Valley in the finals. He finished with 177.5 points on two head, claiming the $2,394 winning check. The cowboy echoed excitement for his stop in Gillette, speaking highly of the unique opportunity.
“It’s a good time in rodeo. Everybody comes here to have a good time, ring in the new year, and have no worries doing it,” Newman said. “We’re just having fun riding some great horses.”
The saddle bronc rider emerged victorious from a strong field that included recent 2022 NFR qualifiers. Newman never takes winning for granted, knowing his event is loaded with talent.
“It’s awesome to compete against those guys. There’s a lot of great saddle bronc riders right now. In the top 30, any guy could jump out and win a rodeo on the right horse,” said the two-time NFR qualifier. “To be able to come out on top, it’s a pretty good feeling. I’m honored to be riding with them.”
After finishing fifth in the 2022 RAM | World Standings, Newman feels more motivated than ever for a gold buckle. He craves a chance at redemption in Las Vegas.
“It definitely made me hungry and coming back from that, it lit a fire in me for sure,” said Newman, who entered the 2022 NFR as the season leader. “I wasn’t super happy with how I ended up down there but I’m grateful to be down there… I’m ready to go back this year and redeem myself, that’s for sure.”
Newman doesn’t have plans on making big changes in 2023. Well, except for one thing.
“We’re not stashin’ and bashin’ anymore so now I guess we’re just straight bashin’,” he said.
Courtesy of PRCA
Members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Associations are coming together during a time of need to lend a helping hand to bull rider Reid Oftedahl.
Oftedahl was injured during Round of 2 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge. The Raymond, Minn., cowboy, was thrown forward and hit the bull’s head and was tossed to the arena dirt. He suffered a head injury and neck injury.
Oftedahl was admitted to the ICU at UMC Trauma Center on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. He provided the following update on his condition on Dec. 15 to the ProRodeo Sports News.
Via text, Oftedahl said he was diagnosed with a Grade 3 Diffuse Axonal Injury, which is the shearing (tearing) of the brain’s long connecting nerve fibers (axons).
He also said he suffered a C7 cervical vertebrae fracture in his neck. As of Dec. 15, Oftedahl said he’s now at a rehabilitation center in Mesa, Ariz., but added he expects to make a full recovery.
ProRodeo cowboys have stepped up to the plate to help Reid and his family with the growing medical and rehabilitation costs. Since the Finals have ended, multiple contestants and contract personnel have donated rodeo memorabilia to be put up for auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to Oftedahl.
The latest item donated for auction is an NFR All-Around Average Champion Saddle by seven-time PRCA World Champion Stetson Wright from the 2022 Wrangler NFR. The ongoing fundraising efforts are being spearheaded by the stock contracting firm Phenom Genetics Inc. You can bid on the items to support Oftedahl and his family on their Facebook page.
Courtesy of PRCA
Wright set the single-season PRCA earnings record ($927,940), all-around single-season record ($758,829), bull riding single-season record at $592,144 and bull riding earnings at the NFR at $271,545, counting ground money before 17,788 spectators at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge.
“This year has been the best and the hardest year I have had in the PRCA,” said Wright, 23. “It started off really hot, moving to No. 1 in the world in broncs and bulls. And it kind of didn’t slow down from that point on. But I had a few injuries where I had to have surgery, sit out and miss some rodeos. When you are missing stuff like that, you don’t feel like you are doing your best. I had to learn a lot of patience. I had to trust everything my mom and dad said when I needed to sit out. I learned that if you wait and get healthy, you will do a lot better.”
The Milford Utah, cowboy now has seven career world championships – four in all-around (2019-22); two in bulls (2020 and 2022) and saddle bronc riding (2021).
Wright also placed in 15 out of the combined 20 rounds he competed in saddle bronc riding (seven) and bull riding (eight) at the Thomas & Mack Center. Wright finished fourth in the saddle bronc riding PRCA | RAM World Standings with $335,797.
“I didn’t think it was,” said Wright when asked about winning more than $900,000 in one season. “I feel like I have shocked myself a lot this year. It came with patience and trusting that everything would be all right. That was what this year was about.”
Wright was quick to point out he has no plans of taking his foot off the gas pedal.
“I love breaking my own records because that means I did better than I did the year before,” Wright said. “That’s my goal to be better. I feel like what I have done this year, I feel like I can do even better if I stay healthy and don’t miss anything. I really feel like I can do better and break more records.”
Tie-down roper Caleb Smidt collects fourth world and average titles
Caleb Smidt doubled his pleasure at the 2022 Wrangler NFR. The Bellville, Texas, cowboy won his fourth world title and fourth NFR average honor.
Smidt, a model of consistency, earned a PRCA tie-down roping single-season record $374,737. He also earned an NFR tie-down roping record of $225,221.
“It’s unbelievable. Just what I have accomplished is beyond my imagination,” Smidt said. “My belief in God and the horse I have, and my family pushed me to be better every day. It’s a tough sport to even do this. To leave your family in the summer to make it here is hard, and it’s a long 10 days here. It’s an unbelievable blessing to do this. And to have the success I have had and great friends I rope against every day who encourage me to be who I am, it’s amazing. I am happy for my family. They have been supporting me all week. I do it for them, for the fans and I give all the glory to God.”
Smidt won the average with an 82.5-second time on 10 head. He also won world and average titles in 2015, 2018, 2021-22. Smidt is tied with tie-down ropers Olin Young (1959, 1962-63, 1971); Roy Cooper (1976, 1979, 1983, 1995); and Fred Whitfield (1991, 1997, 1999, 2002) for most NFR average wins.
“I don’t even think I would have a gold buckle without him,” said Smidt of his star horse Pockets. “That’s how good he is. The consistency he gives me every time I nod my head. It’s unbelievable. When I am back in there, and I know it’s all on me to win something, it’s pretty easy. I don’t have to worry about my horse. A lot of guys this week were switching horses to try to find something that works. When I ride on him, I know I have a chance. When you have a horse that does the exact same thing every time it gives you a chance. He’s going to do his job.”
Steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack claims fourth world crown
Tyler Waguespack is no stranger to winning world championships – but his fourth world title on Saturday night was a bit improbable.
The favorites to win the world – Stetson Jorgensen and Will Lummus – stumbled. Jorgensen received a no time in Round 10 and Lummus broke the barrier. In came Waguespack to win his fourth world title. Waguespack also was the world champ in 2016, 2018 and 2021 and 2022.
Waguespack finished atop the world standings with $268,881. He narrowly defeated Lummus who finished with $266,188. Waguespack split fourth in Round 10 (4.0 seconds) and was third in the average with a 57.1-second time on 10 head.
“I feel undeserving of this world title,” Waguespack said. “That was the craziest round of steer wrestling I have ever seen. Will Lummus bulldogged great all week long. The steer he had tonight actually took me out of the average earlier in the week that’s the steer I got the barrier on. I would have never thought that would happen. Will should be sitting here instead of me. I was the lucky one who came out on top at the end. That was one of the craziest rounds I have ever watched.”
Waguespack is joining some elite company in steer wrestling world title circles. Only Homer Pettigrew (six) and Luke Branquinho (five) have won more world titles than Waguespack. The Gonzales, La., cowboy is tied with four world titles with Ote Berry, Everett Bowman and Jim Bynum.
“This is so awesome,” Waguespack said, “I grew up watching all my heroes and dreaming about having one gold buckle, you know. Ote Berry is one of my biggest role models and biggest supporters and helped me out so much. I can’t wait to see him here in a little awhile because I have got the same amount he does, and I get to rub it in that I am still going so maybe one day I will get lucky and get one more on top of him.”
Saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston nabs his third world crown
Canadian Zeke Thurston made it a hat trick on Saturday night.
Thurston won his third career gold buckle in 2022, thanks to earning a PRCA single-season saddle bronc riding record with $399,316. Thurston of Big Valley, Alberta, also won world titles in 2016 and 2019.
“This one was probably the hardest one I have ever had,” said Thurston of title No. 3. “I had to work for this one. The other 14 guys in the room are crazy talented and ride awesome. I had quite a bit of money to make up coming in here. I knew if I just made the best ride I could on every horse and kept placing in the rounds I would give myself a fighting chance. And that’s what I did. Having my family and everybody here, it is really cool. I have won a couple of others. To have them all here for this one is really special.”
Thurston earned an NFR saddle bronc riding record $256,078. He earned $74,150 for winning the average with 876.5 points on 10 head.
“I am not usually an average-kind-of guy,” Thurston said. “I darn sure didn’t come here with the mindset to win the average. When it comes down to it, it can make-or-break you. To be the guy leading it coming in, I would almost rather not have been in that position because it starts playing tricks on your mind. I just blocked it all out and went and made the best possible ride tonight.
Team ropers Driggers/Nogueira wins second straight gold buckles
Make it back-to-back for team ropers – header Kaleb Driggers and heeler Junior Nogueira – who won their second straight world championships.
Driggers/Nogueira finished atop their respective world standings with $340,708 each. They earned $112,830 each at the NFR and finished second in the average with a 71.4-second time on nine head.
“This is what we’ve always dreamed about, being here and winning a gold buckle,” Driggers said. “This week we had a lot of trials and tribulations. We had to overcome them. It didn’t go exactly as we planned. At the end of the day, we kept our faith in the Lord and our faith in each other and we persevered.”
Nogueira echoed his partner.
“It was one of the toughest finals (without winning a round), especially for me,” Nogueira said. “Kaleb did an amazing job of keeping me up. A great job. Perhaps, I just humbled myself a little bit, I guess. We had to fight through it. There’s nothing easy. We always compete against the best guys in the whole world, and they don’t make it easy on anyone. We were blessed to be good in average, and we really had to catch that last one, a tough steer. We were able to do it. And you have to give all the glory to God.”
Bareback rider Jess Pope snares his first career world crown
The wait is over for Jess Pope. After finishing third and second in the world standings in 2020 and 2021, respectively, the Waverly, Kan., cowboy is a world champion in 2022.
“This is awesome. The emotions right now, there isn’t anything like them. It is just so rewarding. I worked my whole life for this, and it finally came true.
“I knew I had it in me. It was just letting the cards fall right and drawing right where I was supposed to and doing what I was supposed to when I was. God’s plan, the way it was supposed to be I guess.”
Pope also won his third consecutive NFR average crown with 860 points on 10 head.
“Man, I was just showing up and taking it one horse at a time, being a cowboy,” he said. “When your day working or anything whatever you have in front of you, you have to do your job and that’s what I was able to do. This feels incredible.”
Barrel racer Hailey Kinsel wins her fourth world title in five years
Hailey Kinsel concluded her 2022 season with her fourth world championship in five years.
The Texas cowgirl finished as the world standings leader with $302,172 to capture her latest world title. She also won world titles in 2018-2020.
“Oh gosh. This is so much to put into words,” Kinsel said. “(Sister) is amazing. I really don’t know how and why she loves this so much and wants to be better every time. She got stronger as the week went on. She came into the last two rounds like she could go 10 more. I felt really good that I could tell her we are quitting while we are ahead. It’s good to give her a day off as a reward when she’s done that well. She’s so special to me. She’s like family. All our horses are. It’s been an incredible time to be with these ladies. We have a wonderful group of women and amazing horses.”
Kinsel edged 2021 world champion Jordon Briggs, who finished with $274,520.
Zeke Thurston snares Top Gun Award
Zeke Thurston, the 2022 saddle bronc riding world champ, also was the RAM Top Gun Award winner. Thurston was the recipient of the honor for the first time in his career as he won the most money in a single event at the 2022 Wrangler NFR at $256,078.
Courtesy of the PRCA
LAS VEGAS – Saddle bronc rider Dawson Hay picked a good day to have a great day.
The Canadian tied the Round 9 record with a winning ride of 92 points on Beutler & Son Rodeo’s BDM Mud’s Killer Bee before 17,762 spectators Friday night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Yeah, that’s a crazy good horse,” said Hay, 24. “I remember when I first started riding broncs and I saw that horse come on through the years to become the legendary status we all know it has. I’d never had the chance to draw that horse before. I saw it on the list, and I told my wife, ‘I’m going to draw that horse at the NFR this year.’ I thought it was going to be in the first round but we got her.”
The ride was noteworthy not only because of tying the round record, but also because it was the final out of Killer Bee’s career.
“I’m not sure it’s even sunk in yet,” Hay said. “It’s such an incredible feeling. Going through that ride, I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a horse that feels quite like that. That’s a ride that’s going to stick with me forever. It’s a special moment and the kind of thing we’ve always dreamed of since we were little.”
For the performance, Killer Bee was chosen top saddle bronc horse of Round 9. In Round 4 of the 2022 NFR, Killer Bee carried Chase Brooks to an 88-point ride and was selected saddle bronc horse of the night.
At the 2020 Wrangler NFR, Killer Bee was chosen the top bareback horse. She was the 2019 PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year and voted top bareback horse of Round 3 of the 2019 NFR after bucking off Austin Foss. Killer Bee was also the top bareback horse of the 2018 NFR and top saddle bronc horse of the 2013 and 2014 NFRs.
Killer Bee, 17, weighs 1,350 pounds and is 16.3 hands.
Bareback rider Tim O’Connell snares win
Veteran Tim O’Connell, a three-time world champion – 2016-18 – won Round 8 with an 88-point ride on Stace Smith Pro Rodeos’ Star Witness on a re-ride.
“I have never been on that horse, but I have seen videos of him, and I knew what he was capable of,” O’Connell said. “You don’t anticipate coming here and getting a re-ride because you have been thinking about a horse for like 16 hours. I was thankful for getting it (the re-ride). I knew I had to take care of business. He gave me the opportunity to go out there and win and I took it.”
This was O’Connell’s first round win since Round 4 of the 2020 NFR at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. O’Connell won that round with a 90.5-point ride on Fettig Pro Rodeo’s Pop A Top.
“It feels great. It was so exciting,” O’Connell said of getting to make an NFR victory lap again. “I’m sore. I’m beat up but I love this. At the end of the day, I love being a bareback rider.”
Hunter Cure nabs third round win of 2022 NFR
Make it three round wins for steer wrestler Hunter Cure.
The Texas cowboy clocked a 3.6-second run to win Round 9. He also won Round 2 (3.7 seconds) and Round 4 (3.4 seconds).
“That was actually the steer I had in Houston to win the 50 thousand, I am sure glad I got the one I did to have such a smooth and nice run,” said Cure 39.
Cure is fourth in the world standings with $206,270. He is a two-time world champion in 2013 and 2015.
“(My horse) is a paint mare owned by Ringo Robinson, I know it takes a little time in the box, but I am looking for a certain feel and make sure she has her weight on her front end and she is square, I know we can knock things out on a steer that runs this fast,” Cure said of his horsepower.
“Nerves don’t really play into things this late in the rodeo, just trying to get as much money as I can. I never thought I would be taking 3 firsts, but at this point in the game, that’s really what I have to do.”
Cure has earned $96,741 at the NFR.
Marty Yates wins another round in tie-down roping
Marty Yates’ late charge at the Wrangler NFR continued on Friday.
The Stephenville, Texas, cowboy clocked a 7.8-second run to win Round 9.
Yates also won Round 4 (7.4 seconds) and Round 5 (7.3 seconds).
“I’m feeling good. Wishing I had had a little more success in some of those other rounds; but it all works out,” Yates said. “I’m getting a lot of money out of here and I’ll start over again here in a couple weeks.”
Yates is sixth in the world standings $215,981. He has earned $93,710 at the NFR.
Team ropers Rhen Richard/Jeremy Buhler capture victory
Stating the obvious Rhen Richard/Jeremy Buhler have had a disappointing 2022 Wrangler NFR.
The duo received a no-time in six of the eight rounds – but Richard/Buhler bounced back in Round 9 getting the win with a 3.8-second run.
I think I got a good start and got it on the steer, everything flowed pretty good,” Richard said. “Jeremy hooked his horse’s tail – so I didn’t really see that. But he still heeled him fast and I actually faced a little bit early which probably cost us from being a little faster but I’m glad it worked out.”
Buhler was thrilled with his result.
“I don’t know, that was the first time I’ve been under 4 seconds at the Thomas & Mack,” Buhler said.
Richard is 10th in the header world standings with $155,448 and Buhler is 11th in the heeler standings with $156,386.
Bull rider Trey Holston tops Round 9
NFR newcomer Trey Holston got to experience the glory of being a round winner.
Holston recorded an 89.5-point ride on Salt River Rodeo’s Belly Dump to win Round 9.
“It’s one thing to come in feeling fresh and how we want to with all this time to prepare,” Holston said. “What they don’t teach you is when you’re in Round 8, 9, 10 and you’re sore. It’s about clearing your stuff out and giving your best effort. To come out and get a go-round win, I’m feeling blessed.”
Surviving the marathon – known as the NFR – has been quite the experience for Holston.
“I feel like I’ve been an example of the test this week puts you through,” Holston said. “It’s been tough, it’s a long week. I felt the best I could coming in here and there’s just some things you can’t experience without being out here in Las Vegas at the NFR. Being this far and healthy, I’m happy. I have my family here, my friends here and now with a go-round win and a little money in my pocket. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Holston is ninth in the world standings with $164,362.
Barrel racer Hailey Kinsel wins Round 9, takes standings lead
Hailey Kinsel is on pace to win her fourth world title in five years.
The Texas cowgirl moved into first place in the world standings with – $266,263 – after winning Round 9 at 13.34 seconds. That was the fastest run of the 2022 NFR and it also set the new Round 9 record. It was held by Kinsel at 13.40 seconds in 2018.
“My horse (Sister) was just feeling it tonight,” Kinsel said. “She was kind of doing everything fast; we even warmed-up fast. She was shaking her head in the alley thinking, ‘just let me at them.’ She nailed her first barrel and that was something we’ve been working on so once we got through that, we were flying.”
Kinsel welcomes the atmosphere of competing in the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Knowing that when you get into the arena, you hear so much,” Kinsel said. “It becomes sensory overload. It’s kind of strange that she knows when it’s coming so we’re always aware of that. Of course, when you’re at the NFR, you have to appreciate your time here. It’s about feeling appreciative and grateful for the opportunity because you’re never sure when you’re going to be back.
“Winning definitely never gets old. It’s exciting, it’s truly an honor. That’s the best way I can describe it. I’m thankful for a great horse in Sister that gives me the opportunity to win as much as I do.”
Courtesy of the PRCA