“In 2018, after 11 years of trying, I finally made the NFR — in two events”
At the 2018 National Finals Rodeo, I was the only guy competing in two events — the tie-down roping and the team roping. I entered the NFR third in the All-Around standings. I was about a hundred grand behind Tuf Cooper and even further behind Trevor Brazile, one of my rodeo idols.
It had been a long time coming.
In 2008, my rookie year, I nearly qualified for the NFR. The next year, I finished in the top twenty. I finished on the bubble again and again and again. I rodeoed for more than ten years before I finally made it to Vegas.
And then, I found myself with a chance to win the All-Around. But it was a slim chance. I knew I had to place high in the average in both of my events.
Going into Round Ten, I was winning second in the average in the tie-down roping and third in the average in the team roping.
Still, that wasn’t enough. To win enough to beat Tuf and Trevor, I also needed to place in the round.
The night before, during Round Nine, the NFR gave Trevor a big sendoff. He was retiring. I figured this was my only chance to beat the King of the Cowboys in the All-Around.
Around midday, I went to see Quinn Kessler, my team-roping partner.
“I know we’re winning third in the average,” I said. “I can go catch the steer, and we can hold our spot, but if I want a chance to win the gold buckle, I need to win third or better in the round.”
“What do you think about me taking a real aggressive shot right out of the box, no matter what?” I asked.
Rhen Richard competed in the 2018 National Finals Rodeo in two events.
I was born and raised in Roosevelt, Utah, about 60 miles west of the Colorado border. That’s where my mom’s family is from. My dad’s family comes from Louisiana, which explains our last name, pronounced ree-SHARD. My grandpa was an oilfield worker in the Gulf. During the late 1970s, he and a partner came out to Utah to work for a guy who had an oil business. They eventually bought the guy out. My dad went to work for our family oil business as soon as he left college.
Dad started a cattle business on the side. It was small at first but grew. At one time, we had up to 750 head of momma cows. These days, we run the majority of our cows on BLM land. We drive them on horseback twenty miles up the mountain in summer and twenty miles back home in October. In the fall, all we do is gather and doctor cows to get ready to ship.
Dad started team roping in college. He amateur-rodeoed and competed in the circuit rodeos. He was busy with his job, but he dang sure had a passion for it.
That passion rubbed off on me. I’ve been riding and roping since I was a little bitty guy. Shoot, I learned to rope without stirrups.
Growing up, we mostly team roped. I didn’t rope a calf until eighth grade. But I picked it up pretty quick. I won the state title in the tie-down roping during my first year of high school. My sophomore year, I was high callback at the National High School Finals but missed my calf in the short round. I came back and won Nationals the next year. That same year at Nationals, I was high call in the team roping, but me and my partner drew a steer that stopped every round. He was pretty much an eliminator.
I was a senior in high school during my rookie year in the PRCA. I partnered with header Nick Sartain. I was heeling back then. Our plan was to win enough to get into the winter rodeos the next year. We started roping together in June, and we freaking killed it! We won the Reno Rodeo and the rodeo in Livingston, Montana. We were co-champions at the Cody Stampede. By mid-July, I had around $37,000 won. I remember going to the National High School Finals Rodeo in Farmington, New Mexico, and I was tenth in the world in heeling.
As a high-schooler, I was obviously green. Our horses got tired. I just couldn’t hang on to a spot in the top fifteen.
The next year, I finished nineteenth. I kept at it for a decade. I don’t think there was one year when I wasn’t up there in the top fifteen at some point, battling for a spot at the National Finals Rodeo. I always came close, but I never made it.
During all those years, I never considered rodeoing a grind. I love horses and roping too much. I was doing what I wanted to do. But finishing on the bubble started getting to me mentally. I was putting in the time and knew I was good enough. Shouldn’t I get my chance to compete at the National Finals? It became this monkey on my back that I couldn’t shake off.
Don’t quit. That’s always been my mindset, even though there were times when quitting entered my head. But I have goals — make the NFR, win the All-Around gold buckle — and I wasn’t done trying achieve them.
Then, 2018 happened.
I was on the bubble again — again — when the end of the regular season rolled around. I was on the bubble in two events — the tie-down roping and the team roping.
In tie-down roping, I sealed the deal a few days before the end of the season by winning fourth at the River City Rodeo in Omaha, Nebraska.
I had finally earned a spot at the NFR.
The team roping came down to the last day of regular-season competition and the very last rodeo of the year — in Stephenville, Texas, which is pretty much the team-roping capital of the world.
I was fifteenth in the standings, but Coleman Proctor was behind me and knocking on the door. The day before, he won San Bernardino, adding another $2,600 to his total.
That last day was pretty stressful. We showed up at Stephenville, and, frick, the competition was tough. I mean, 4.5 was winning seventh! It wasn’t like you could just go catch one. You had to back in the box and make one of best runs you’d ever made in your life.
That’s not what we did. We missed our steer.
Coleman and his partner went out and were 4.7. There were fifteen teams that day, and by the end of the rodeo he got pushed down to ninth in the standings — not good enough to pass me.
After eleven years of trying, I finally made the NFR — twice.
Rhen Richard with his wife Chalis and their daughters Lyla and Ruby.
Rhen Richard competed in Tie-Down Roping and Team Roping at the 2018 National Finals Rodeo.
I’ll never forget my first night — Round One — at the NFR. I wasn’t terribly nervous, but I was fighting off the doubts creeping in. I had plenty of reasons to doubt. This was all new to me. And I was riding a new calf-roping horse.
That year, I hauled my good calf horse, Patron, to 90 percent of the rodeos. But, by October, he was sore and wore out. During the weeks before the NFR, I decided to ride him at my circuit finals as a trial. After two rounds, it was clear that he was sick.
For the last round, I rode a new dun horse I’d bought called Dundee. Dundee made a dang good run — good enough to win the round.
I was torn. I really wanted to run Patron at the NFR. I trained that horse, and he’s the one who helped me qualify. I have a real soft spot for him. But if there’s one thing all my years of experience have taught me, it’s this: Don’t be too prideful about that kind of stuff. You gotta ride the best horse you can get on. I left Patron home to rest.
Which meant that in Round One I was backing into the box on a horse I’d only run one calf on for money.
I don’t know how to explain it, but on that first night I just went at ’em. I didn’t back off at all. I was riding Dundee and my head horse, Festus. I ended up placing in tie-down roping and team roping. Winning money in both events broke the ice. Just go do your deal now, I thought. Have fun and get to winning!
I went into the NFR near the bottom of the standings in both events, so my best chance at winning a gold buckle was in the All-Around. Given how much of a lead Tuf and Trevor had on me, I knew I had to stay in the average in both events to stand a chance.
Something strange happened halfway through the ten rounds. The NFR producers put a film crew on me. They wired me with a microphone and put a big spotlight in my face. They followed me for two hours, all the way until I rode into the box.
Up to then, I had placed in one event or the other every night. I was winning second in the average in the team roping, and I was third or fourth in the average in tie-down roping.
At first, it was kind of funny having this film crew hanging around. One time I was standing there, and another contestant came up and started joking.
“Hey,” I warned him. “I’m mic’d up.”
“Are you frickin’ kidding me?” he said and ran off. I looked up, and the camera crew was laughing. They heard everything.
I’d be walking along, and guys would see me coming and just disappear.
I’m pretty calm and cool. I don’t get too jacked up mentally. But that night I was finding it hard to focus. I mean, the camera guys had to back up for me to swing my rope in the alley. Not to say I’m at all like Trevor Brazile, but I got a dose of what he must go through all the time.
That was the first night Quinn and I got a no-time. I didn’t give Quinn the best handle. He tracked the steer up the wall and curled his horse’s foot in the loop. It kicked us down in the average. I thought, Alright. I’m gonna have to start placing in the go-rounds to hold my spot in the All-Around.
After Round Six, I remember thinking, Holy cow! This is a lot of freaking work.
I was worn out mentally. As soon as I woke up in the morning, it was nonstop. I ate breakfast and went to sign autographs for three or four hours. I tried to make time to have lunch with my family. Along with my wife, Chalis, and our daughter, Ruby, who was two at the time, my parents and siblings and lots of other people were in town supporting me. After that, I would go back to the room for an hour or so, and then I was off to the Thomas & Mack. I had two guys helping me take care of five horses. Once you’re at the arena, there’s always somebody hustling you along. The whole show is a fast-paced deal.
You try to beat the best guys in the world every night. It’s no day off.
During the signings, a lot of the fans had done the math. They had everything figured out about how far back I was and what I needed to do to move up. I tried not to get distracted by that stuff. I kept telling myself I was out there trying to make as much money as I could. This is what I do for living.
I say that, but by Round Ten, it was impossible not to focus on winning the All-Around. That’s when I pulled Quinn aside and told him my plan.
“What do you think,” I asked, “about me taking a real aggressive shot right out of the box, no matter what?”
“Heck yeah,” Quinn said. “I’ll be right there behind you, bud. You be as aggressive as you want. Let’s go win the round.”
By Round Ten of the NFR, everybody’s feeling it, including the horses. They’re anticipating what’s happening. The Thomas & Mack is the fastest arena. Period. Things happen fast in your mind, too. I don’t know if it’s because of the crowd or how much the rounds pay. They don’t call that place the Pressure Cooker for nothing.
drew a steer that was probably the strongest in the herd. The steer was fighting in the chute. It took a while for me to nod. Right when I nodded, my horse moved his feet, and I ended up missing the barrier by a little bit. The steer beat me. It was the worst start I had all week. The steer was a long way off when I threw my rope, and I split the horns.
That was the only animal I missed all week. I caught all ten calves and nine steers.
I apologized to Quinn.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “We gave ’em hell. I don’t think we left anything on the field. We gave it all we had.”
We ended up winning sixth in the team roping average. I finished second in the average in tie-down roping. I didn’t have enough to move ahead of Tuf and Trevor. But I had a great Finals. I won more than $120,000 and was pretty tickled.
That last steer cost us quite a bit, but I wouldn’t do it any different. I’m not a woulda-coulda-shoulda kind of guy. It happened, and that’s part of the game.
PHOTO BY MATT COHEN
Man, I was worn out! My horses were tired. When I got home, I literally didn’t leave the couch for ten days. I’ve never done that my whole life. I didn’t even care if I rodeoed again. I was like, Holy cow! I’m done.
But of course, I wasn’t done. I had a good 2019 and qualified for the NFR in tie-down roping earning my second trip to the Thomas & Mack.
Last year, the butterflies were gone. I knew what to expect.
I’ve been working cows back home in Utah. I’m trying to make sure my horses — Dundee and a backup — are sound and always ready. I’m treating myself like a professional athlete — working out and eating right — to give myself the best chance I can at making the 2020 NFR.
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