The Natural Horseman – NFR Bound


By Steve Stevens

With the National Finals Rodeo upon us, I can’t tell you how excited I am. “My heroes have always been Cowboys,” as Willie always sang. I have been blessed over the years to get to become friends with some of the all-time great legends of rodeo. I hate to be so obnoxious as to throw names around but what the heck. I have been blessed to spend time with the great Casey Tibbs, Larry Mahan and my mentor, World Champion Steer Roper Kenny Call.

When I started rodeoing I’m not sure what aspirations I had. I just knew I wanted to be like them. Man, oh man, I wanted to be a cowboy so bad. Not from watching westerns, but from watching the guys in the arena. I couldn’t imagine a cooler occupation than riding bucking horses and chasing steers. I never imagined that twenty something years later, I would live a full time life of a cowboy and be able to instill those values I have learned in my children. The men above and others (including my dad who forced me into a cowboy hat every chance he got since I was a baby), these men acted as guides through my cowboy/rodeo journey.

I got on my first real bucking horse at a rodeo at the age of nineteen, (which is a late start, especially for someone who didn’t grow up riding horses), and I was addicted. I filled my PRCA card four years later. I dedicated the better part of twelve years to riding saddle broncs. I was sure one day I would have my chance to compete at The National Finals. Some may have called it a fairy tale, but to me there couldn’t have been a bigger highlight in my life to qualify for something so grand. Obviously now years later… Getting married, having kids and earning friendships have topped that long ago dream ten times over.

This was me on NFR bronc, Candyman owned by Benny Butler at Burwell, Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Steve Stevens)
This was me on NFR bronc, Candyman owned by Benny Butler at Burwell, Nebraska.              (Photo courtesy of Steve Stevens)

There was one big problem with my Finals dream and that was that I wasn’t a very good bronc rider. Oh sure, after years of doing it I covered my fair share of broncs and the values I learned going down the road taught me more than I could have ever imagined. At best I was ok on a good day. But I loved it. The different towns, the camaraderie between the guys, the constant hustle from rodeo to rodeo, the trying times, the friends. The friends. There is a certain bond you make with guys when you are going down the road.

On NFR bronc, Rock n' Ronnie, owned by Western Rodeos in Sonora, California. (Photo courtesy of Steve Stevens)
On NFR bronc, Rock n’ Ronnie owned by Western Rodeos in Sonora, California.                    (Photo courtesy of Steve Stevens)

Rodeo gave me the confidence to do what I do today training horses. It taught me how to try; to never give up, how to get dirty. To get up and stand tall and above all, it gave me such an appreciation for the athletic ability and power of the horse. I got to ride all those horses…. Well I should say, I got on all those horses, I didn’t ride all of them. But they all had so much to teach me.

I could have never dreamed that eleven years after entering my last rodeo I would find myself  invited to go compete during the National Finals Rodeo. It’s not the big show, but for me—what an opportunity. From December 6th to the 9th I get to compete at The Colt Starting Challenge U.S.A championships being held in Vegas during the NFR at the Cowboy Christmas at The Convention Center. I finished third overall this year in the colt starting standings and now I get my chance to compete for a World Championship where all my heroes have ridden before.

Oh, I know I’m just starting a colt. It sure isn’t getting on ten of the best bucking horses in the world, but for me, in its own strange way, my dream has come true. Except now I get to experience it with my beautiful wife and my two amazing children who weren’t in the picture when I was chasing broncs.

Maybe because of my age and experience I can tell you I don’t take this opportunity lightly and will do my best to take in every moment. I always dreamed of being able to say I was NFR bound so here it goes: “I am NFR bound!”