The Magnitude of the National Finals Rodeo: Beyond the Thomas & Mack

 By Lindsay Whelchel


The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has been held in Las Vegas since 1985 and is known as the biggest rodeo of them all. Rodeo fans, vendors and competitors flock to the city every December. 

And no doubt, what takes place during each of the 10 rounds of rodeo is captivating, but the NFR expands beyond the Thomas & Mack Center to become a wave of impact on the entire world of rodeo, not least of which, CBR stock contractors, bull riders and more.  

Tanner Bothwell, CBR and PRCA bull rider, has been out in Vegas soaking up the excitement alongside his fellow bull riders, and friends, who have qualified for the finals. He’s gotten to experience the ups and downs of the 10-day whirlwind. 

Topping his list of ups has been accompanying his friend Sage Kimzey on stage at the Buckle Presentations at South Point Hotel and Casino as well as spending time with Elliot Jacoby and Aaron Pass. Another highlight has been seeing Kimzey go head to head with Bad Habit, a bull with ties to Bothwell’s grandfather. 

And though he came close to, but didn’t quite make, the Top 15 himself this year, Bothwell is well acquainted with the various opportunities surrounding the actual rodeo performances. Last year he competed in the PRCA Permit Holder of the Year Challenge and this year too had a shot at earning money riding in Benny Binion’s World Famous Bucking Horse and Bull Sale. 

“It was cool to have an option to win dollars. It counts in the world standings,” Bothwell said and added that this year the caliber of bulls and money added had both grown. CBR rider Ardie Maier won the event this year.   

“It just gives everyone a chance to compete and be around the finals and maybe catch a couple nights of the rodeo and experience Vegas,” Bothwell said of all the extras around town a bull rider can do. 

And it’s a pretty special time of year, especially as a contestant, as CBR Rider and NFR Qualifier, Brennon Eldred, will attest. 

“It’s just so overwhelming. It’s exciting, it’s what we’ve worked for our whole life and then to get to come and be the youngest kid here, it’s hard to explain,” Eldred said. 

He had never been to the NFR, or Vegas during the NFR, before and said that all the fans and the treatment he’s been given have surprised him. 

“I’ve watched the NFR every year since I was little, and I always wanted to come here. Once I got a little older and started riding a little better I knew I could if I put out the effort, and I finally made it. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.” 

Eldred added that after the NFR, he’s looking forward to the new season of CBR on The Road to Cheyenne tour now that he’s gotten involved in the organization. 

Beyond the bull riding profession, that of the stock contractors’ is also touched in many ways by the NFR. Greg Talbert, of Talbert Bucking Bulls, is bringing two of his bulls to the finals under Summit Pro Rodeo this year. A third bull of his Summit partner’s, Cross the Wyoming Line, made PRCA Bull of the Year.

Talbert explained that it’s an honor to bring stock to the NFR, as well as top-notch events like the CBRs around the country. “It’s pretty exciting to be out here. Talbert Bucking Bulls’ goal is to always provide the highest quality bulls for the highest quality of rider for the events we are involved in. This is the goal of all bull owners,” Talbert said. He’s been in the business for eight years and sees opportunity at the NFR to make connections in the business and line up events for the coming year. 

Other events include the Exclusive Genetics Bucking Bull Games, managed by CBR contractor Billy Jaynes, where Barrett and Craig Bucking Bulls showed their stock to the crowd. Their bull Gold Buckle took second place in the Wild Card event and bull Boomer won the semi-finals match Dec. 11 and will compete for $50,000 Dec. 13 at Mandalay Bay. Zach Craig explained that it’s a good opportunity for those who aren’t bucking at the finals to make money and showcase their stock. 

Talbert emphasized this idea. There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the contractors who come out for the NFR and well as the bull sale and other events, he explained and summed up the overall emotion. 

“There are a lot of great stock contractors. We’re blessed to be among them living our dream too.” 

CBR Chute Reporter, Ali Dee took advantage of the crowds in Vegas to display her singing talent and clothing line, The Ali Dee Collection. 

“The NFR is the biggest gathering in the country of everything that has to do with Western lifestyle, and we are honored that we get to sing here and present our sassy fashion line,” said Ali Dee, who added that they’ve been able to participate in fundraising for charity and giving goodie bags to the NFR barrel racers in the 10 days.

It appears, no matter what arena you’re in, or whether you’re on the bull, behind the chutes, on a stage or perched at a vendor booth selling your western-inspired wares, the NFR is a treasure trove for all who venture west.