For the past 35 years, pro rodeo’s big belt buckles have been handed out at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
But because of coronavirus restrictions in Nevada, this year’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/Women’s Professional Rodeo Association championship event was moved to Arlington.
The 62nd Wrangler NFR, which was Dec. 3-12, was conducted at spacious Globe Life Field.
In Las Vegas, the NFR has been conducted in Thomas & Mack Center, which is known for hosting UNLV’s renowned men’s basketball program.
The differences between Globe Life Field and the Thomas & Mack Center are stark.
The Thomas & Mack arena is oval/rectangular shaped and much smaller than Globe Life Field as the crowd is in the faces of competitors. But at Arlington’s Globe Life Field, the home of Texas Rangers baseball, the dirt arena was a much larger triangular shaped configuration with a more distant crowd.
“The difference to me is the Thomas & Mack is really small and compact,” reigning world all-around champion Stetson Wright, a Utah cowboy, said during an interview at the 2020 National Finals. “But (Globe Life Field) feels more like The American (at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium) or Houston (at NRG Stadium). I love both of them. Regardless of where the NFR is at, it’s the Super Bowl of rodeo. I’ll be happy where they hold it.”
At The American and the Houston Livestock Show Rodeo, the rodeo performances are conducted in larger venues and part of the crowd is in nosebleed sections. At the Arlington NFR, many fans watched from the upper decks.
“You ride in there at the NFR (in Las Vegas) and the fans are right on top of you—you’re riding in there in a dark tunnel and you don’t get to swing your rope, but (at Globe Life Field), you’re riding around and fans can see you,” said Marty Yates of Stephenville who won the first two rounds of tie-down roping at the Arlington-based NFR and finished second in the 2020 tie-down world title race. “It’s more of a laid back feeling. But it’s still the NFR. I still have the NFR pit in the bottom of my stomach.”
Barrel racer Emily Miller-Beisel, an Oklahoma cowgirl who won the sixth and seventh rounds at the Arlington-based National Finals, said the NFR at Globe Life Field is much different than the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I don’t know that there’s anything similar besides there’s three trash cans out there,” she said jokingly. “It’s a whole different ball game. When you run in Thomas & Mack, you feel like you’re running into a trap. It’s so enclosed. During the grand entry, you circle around and look up, it’s just a straight wall of people right there, they’re right on top of you, versus (Globe Life Field), it’s so open.”
At the Thomas & Mack Center, the cloverleaf, barrel racing pattern was smaller than Globe Life Field and times were faster.
“The wing span of (Globe Life Field) is really wide,” Miller-Beisel said. “It’s hard for people to see on TV how much space they really have."
At Globe Life Field, the bronc and bull riders exited from 12 bucking chutes instead of seven. There were two roping boxes instead of one and there was way more space for a calf or steer to run once it exploded into the arena.
The roping chutes were near the yellow foul ball poles and the string of yellow bucking chutes stood in between.
There also was a warm-up riding pen for competitors and livestock pens behind the bucking chutes, which has been nonexistent under the roof of the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It’s hard to compare the two (venues),” said NFR bareback rider Tilden Hooper, who lives in the Fort Worth area. “I really like riding in Vegas, but I love riding in Texas. I’m partial to it because it’s my home state. The facilities are super nice (at Globe Life Field), the locker rooms, just everything leading up to the rodeo. It’s a lot easier to get your horse saddled to do all that. It flows way better. I think it gives those horses a little more room to really get up and kind of show out."
Hooper said it appears that the move to Globe Life Field was a big hit with fans.
“Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas, this is Cowboy Town--it’s Cowboy Country,” he said. “I love what Vegas has done for us. No shade on them. But I really love it (at Arlington).”
The NFR is scheduled to return to Las Vegas in 2021. The world’s premier rodeo is in a contract to be in Las Vegas through 2025.
Cutting’s big prize
On the National Cutting Horse Association circuit, Adan Banuelos of Granbury and a filly named All Spice clinched the NCHA World Championship Futurity open division title with a finals round score of 224 on Dec. 13 at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth.
Banuelos praised All Spice for her athleticism and intelligence.
“She’s a big strong smart mare, who is very smart about a cow,” he said. “She can do it all. I really feel like she really cares about how I do.”
The victory earned All Spice’s owners, the Holmes/Hill Partnership of Glen Rose, the coveted $246,880 prize.
The Futurity open division traditionally is the first jewel of the cutting horse industry’s Triple Crown Series. The other two jewels are the March/April Super Stakes and the July/August Summer Spectacular. All three jewels are in Fort Worth.
The Futurity, which traditionally runs in late November and early December, features debuting 3-year-old horses.
A field of 23 horses advanced to the Dec. 13 Futurity open finals. Throughout the first bunch of cattle, it was slow going with no horse-and-rider cracking the 220s. Former NCHA Futurity open division champion rider Beau Galyean and Hottish In Havana took the lead in the first bunch (11 horses) with a 219.
But the action picked up dramatically during the second set of cattle (12 horses). Only two horses deep in the second bunch, Wesley Galyean, another former Futurity champion rider, and Bugattii took a commanding lead with a 223.
Galyean and Bugattii finished as the reserve champion.
Four slots after Galyean and Bugattii made their 2 ½ minute run, Banuelos and All Spice turned in the 224.
Banuelos clinched the 2020 Futurity open division title after finishing as the Futurity’s reserve champion rider the past two years.
Banuelos, 32, is the son of renowned trainer/rider, Ascencion Banuelos, 63, who also is from Granbury.
“Since he was little, he was very talented,” Ascencion said of his son. “He discovered he can do it and he’s been close to winning it (the Futurity). This year, I guess was his time.”
Buster Welch bronze
When cutting horse fans enter the Will Rogers Memorial Center’s south gate in Fort Worth, they meet a larger-than-life bronze statue of the legendary Buster Welch working a cow from atop a cutting horse. Welch won the inaugural Futurity title when the show had its humble beginnings in 1962 in Sweetwater. Welch has clinched the Futurity open title a record five times (1962, 1963, 1966, 1971 and 1977). The bronze statue was developed by sculptor Kelly Graham of Weatherford who has turned out numerous statues of high-profile western sport’s competitors.
Brett Hoffman, a Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame member, has covered rodeos and horse show events for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than 35 years. Email his at email@example.com.