Cowley native JR Vezain will be riding bareback in the $6.25 million Wrangler National Finals Rodeo competiton which begins this week in Las Vegas. Vezain is entering the competition in sixth place, based on his winnings so far of $84,729. Currently, Bobby Mote, of Culver, Ore., holds the position of first place in the bareback standings with winnings of $126,194.
For the past 28 years, Las Vegas has played host to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in the Thomas and Mack Center on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus arena that normally is used for basketball. Rodeo competition starts on Thursday, Dec. 5, and continues through Dec. 14. When it is all said and done, nine world champions will be crowned and $6.25 million in prize money will have been awarded.
Competition features the best contestants from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), along with the best animal athletes. Events in the PRCA include bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping (heading and heeling), saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping. The barrel racing is sanctioned by the WPRA. Additionally, the most prestigious title in rodeo, World Champion All-Around Cowboy, will be awarded.
To compete at the WNFR, contestants had to be among the top 15 in the world standings. They traveled across the United States paying their own entry fees and expenses hoping to earn enough money to be among the elite athletes that advance to rodeo’s championship event. The WNFR has seen continued growth in prize money and fan support since it moved to Las Vegas. Each contestant will compete in 10 individual rounds which will pay the winner $18,630. On Dec. 14, their total scores and times will be added together for overall (average) placings. First place in that category will win $47,776 and a saddle as the WNFR championship.
World champions are determined by adding a contestant’s WNFR and regular season earnings together. Those champions have the esteemed honor of wearing the traditional gold buckle signifying they are the world’s best in the sport of rodeo.