The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas is complete and the world champions have been crowned. It was an awesome show of man and beast either working together in the timed events or challenging each other in the rough stock events. Night after night the cowboys and cowgirls would bring their “A” game going for the $30,000 that was put up each night for the round winner. The average winners received $78,747. There was $11.5 million dollars paid out at the NFR this year. The contestant payout for the year of 2023 rodeo season was $74,520,955.
The pageantry each night was captivating with the national anthem being sung as a beautiful quarter horse and rider displayed the flag. The horse’s mane in itself was unbelievable, nearly touching the ground. The patriotism and respect for the flag are very important to all in attendance. The announcer gave a heartfelt prayer thanking our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, without fear of offending anyone to a packed crowd of 24,000 people. The grand entry was even stellar, including the bull rider that lost a bet and had to ride in dressed as a pirate. The Cowboy Channel did a great job of coverage, seeing every contestant compete, and very little commercial breaks.
Despite bowing out of the finals in the middle of the second round due to a hamstring injury, Stetson Wright won the all-around cowboy title winning $479,620 on the year. The bareback world championship went to the rookie, first NFR contender, and Colorado native, Keenan Hayes. The steer wrestling saw Dalton Massey break the barrier in the tenth round to lose the world title to Tyler Waguespack. Zeke Thurston was crowned the saddle bronc world champion. Tyler Wade (header) and Wesley Thorp (heeler) took home the title proving that anything can happen in rodeo. It was thought that no one could beat Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira (2021 and 2022 world champs) until Driggers and Nogueira had a terrible finals by only placing in one round. The tie-down roping was exciting with a new arena record being set by Haven Meged, while also setting the 10-round aggregate record and winning the $78,747, but it just wasn’t enough to pass Riley Webb who placed almost every night and won second in the aggregate. The barrel racing event, which is the only event in the nightly performances that features beautiful women on fast horses, had every woman get into the money at some point. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi had a considerable lead going into the finals and rode her great horse, “Benny,” to a world championship. Ky Hamilton was the bull riding sensation that was knocked out in round 5, went to the hospital on a stretcher, and came back the next morning (round 6) to ride to a third place split, and then won round 7. He was interview on Western Sports Roundup and asked how he did it. He said, “By not being a (colorful word).” He bucked off round 8 and 9, and then chose to not get on his 10th round bull due to a broken rib and bruised lung. He was still the winner of the aggregate and declared the world champion.
My only complaint about the Wrangler National Finals is this. There is so much money on the line and world titles to be won and lost. Sponsorships are given out and taken away for performances at the WNFR. Why in God’s green earth will they not implement an “instant replay” format? They actually replay each run on the big screen above the arena. If a judge misses a super-important call, they can reverse it. I feel that the cowboys would benefit from having a challenge flag in their pocket. There was a questionable cross-fire in the team roping and a steer wrestler had a steer flat but the judge thought he had a leg back. Maybe one of these days they will implement the instant replay.
So, as the cowboys and cowgirls go back to their lives and decompress from the adrenaline of the bright lights of Vegas, the athletes and animals will take a much needed rest. It won’t be long and they will be back at it soon. Happy Trails.