Riding to the top

Vezain snags bareback National College Championship

It’s a sport full of unknowns and even takes some luck to win, but it takes true talent to win consistently.

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JR Vezain waves his hat above his head for a victory lap after winning the barebaback bronc riding contest at the National College Finals Rodeo. Dan Hubbell photo / hubbellphotos@aol.com

It also takes hard work, practice, good teachers and help from God to win a rodeo, JR Vezain said Monday following his national championship weekend in Casper. He rode for the best average after three goes and a short round in bareback bronc riding, finishing just a point ahead of his competitors at the 2011 College National Finals June 16-20, competing for Vernon College in Vernon, Texas.

“I drew good all week, praise God I drew that good,” he said. Vezain scored 80.5 for first in the first round, 77.5 for second in the second round and 80.5 for second in the third round. A third-place score of 80.0 in the short go gave him enough to win by one point.

“A good horse is one that takes me to the lead in the round, one that bucks,” Vezain said, noting he didn’t know anything about his horses before riding. “The better the bucker, the more points it’s going to be, and I just drew good.”

Winning the average buckle was another step in Vezain’s young career, which already includes a 2010 national high school championship. This weekend’s victory was another notable milestone as Vezain sets out to conquer the world of rodeo. He will ride in the NFR circuit in the coming months, where his sites are set on a pro rodeo championship.

“[The college championship] was a big goal I set earlier this year,” Vezain said. “By the time I’m done, I want to win every big title there is. I’ll keep knocking them off and keep moving forward to NFR now.”

“I will be all-around average champion before I die, too,” he said.

Vezain said the contest was fun and the victory “felt outstanding” partly because of the tough field of competitors, including Tanner Aus of Missouri Valley College and Justin Moldashel of Casper College, who finished first and second place in the short go, respectively. Vezain’s overall average was just a point above the second-place finisher.

He has also been competitive in saddle bronc and bullriding throughout his career. Vezain won men’s all-around at the southwest regional rodeo in October, helping to lead Vernon College to first place.

After just finishing his first year of college at Vernon College this spring, Vezain is on the road again this week, traveling with former champion Kelly Timberman and others. They were on the way to Reno Monday and were heading on to Pecos, Texas, and Prescott, Ariz.

“It’s been one of my biggest dreams to ride with Kelly,” Vezain said. At the age of 16, Vezain met the rough stock pro and he has been a role model and mentor since. Traveling across the country by car and plane has been on of the best parts of the rodeo season and the summer pace won’t slow down, Vezain said.

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Vezain’s mom, step-dad, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends were there to watch him take the title, wearing custom shirts and cheering him on throughout the contest.

“He doesn’t get nervous, but I was nervous for the short go,” said mother Shilo Vezain. She said she is more nervous about safety than whether or not her son will get high scores. “I know he has what it takes to be great.”

She said Vezain’s focus hasn’t changed much over the years; he has wanted to be a bull rider since the age of 2.

“He trains hard, he’s focused, he sets his goals high and he really works hard toward his goals. He aligns himself with talented people, which pushes him and helps him pursue his goals.”

She noted how Kelly Timberman helped Vezain gain the technique that helps him to be successful. “He’s always looking to get better,” she said.

She said Vezain’s coach and other mentors have been great during competitions. She said Vernon’s president visited with the family and congratulated Vezain, who is a 4.0 student at Vernon.

She said her son is often modest, and doesn’t want to make any of his competitors, many who are his good friends, feel bad. She said experience helps her son, however, noting equipment failure or the luck of the draw can cost a rough stock rider a victory.

“He knows it could be anybody’s show any given night,” Shilo said. “He has faith in God, and that God knows how it’s going to end.”

Vezain said he rode at the Cody Night Rodeo earlier this month to “dust off his spurs” for Nationals. He said he hasn’t lost his love for rodeo.

“I love it. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Vezain said. “There’s never a dull moment.

“It’s a pretty fun way I make my living,” Vezain said. He won $3,620.20 at the CNFR, the top amount won by any competitor. He is currently ranked 12th among PRCA money winners and is a heavy favorite for the rookie of the year. “It’s a heck of a lot better than a real job, and I get to be my own boss.”

“I train hard, I work hard and it pays off, I believe,” Vezain said. “I give all the glory to God and I keep on rockin’.”

“Thank you all for the support and keep watching,” Vezain said to his Big Horn County supporters. “Hopefully I’ll see you in Vegas.”

Vernon College Rodeo Coach Bobby Scott said Vezain is “the finest young man who has done rodeo for me in my 26 years of coaching rodeo.”

Vernon College, with 27 members, took eighth place overall. The school took the national championship in 2010, and Scott said a few bad draws and bad luck kept the team from placing higher this year.

“”It’s all part of rodeoin’,” Scott said, “but I’ve never had a team I’ve taken up there that had more talent, skills and desire to win.”

With a strong returning team next year including Vezain and two other talented saddle bronc riding freshmen, Dawson Landrew and Chet Smith, Scott said the team has a good chance of taking the championship next year. He said Vezain is a great leader of the team and he will go far.

“I’m certain he’ll be world champ this year or next, and he’ll be a hall of famer some day,” Scott said. “He’s just that good.”

By Brad Devereaux

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