Locals ready for Vegas chutes: Vezain, Breuer, Dent and Cress to represent Tri-State Livestock News area in barebacks, saddle bronc
Those bright yellow bucking chutes at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo catch the spectator’s eye. And four cowboys from the Tri-State Livestock News region, hope that their rides will just as easily grab the judges’ attention.
Ty Breuer, JR Vezain, and Steven Dent, all bareback riders, will compete at this year’s WNFR, and they’ll be joined by Brody Cress, saddle bronc rider and a first time qualifier for the Finals.
Breuer, Mandan, N.D., is making his third trip to ride under the bright lights of Vegas, after a year that’s been a little tougher than usual.
The 27-year old rode well this year, but had to rodeo harder than usual, due to tougher competition, he said. “Most of the time, I’d get to come home for a month and put up hay, but this year, I didn’t have the opportunity.”
His younger brother, Casey, suffered a broken back at a rodeo in Circle, Montana, in August, which reminded him that his occupation does have hazards. “You almost forget about what can happen when you’re going all the time.” Casey, who lives with his wife in Iowa while she attends chiropractic school, is doing much better and is up and around. But the reminder of his accident stays with Ty. “It’s in the back of a guy’s mind.”
Breuer stayed in the teens of the top fifteen of the PRCA’s world standings, finishing the rodeo season in fourteenth place. He traveled with Steven Dent the last month of the rodeo year, in September. Dent, a bareback rider from Mullen, Neb., was also on the bubble, trying to make the big show. “I jumped in with Steven, and that’s what’s helped me at the end of the year,” Breuer said. “Steven knows how to rodeo. He knows what performances to enter, he’s older and smarter, and he’s there to win.” Breuer and Dent also traveled together a few years ago, when they were both on the bubble; that year, Dent qualified but Breuer did not. “We were dang near at a rodeo every day, that last month,” Breuer said. “Lots of airplanes.”
Breuer competed at the WNFR in 2013 and 2016, but both years, his health caused him to do poorly. In ’13, he broke an elbow during the third round and toughed out the last seven rounds. Last year, he was healthy till round six, when he just didn’t feel good. “The last four rounds, I felt like I didn’t have any energy.” It wasn’t till he was home, putting chains on a tractor, when he could hardly move, that he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with mono.
He’s preparing for the WNFR with a personal trainer, one who specializes in an exercise regimen for bareback riders. It’s an hour’s drive one way to work out, but he’s committed to doing it. The exercises focus on core and balance, and he feels it’s working.
He and his wife Kelli welcomed their first child, a daughter, Kayd Lee Breuer, on Nov. 9. As long as both mother and daughter are healthy, they’ll come to Las Vegas to watch Ty ride.
Another bareback rider from the area also traveled with Steven Dent.
JR Vezain, Cowley, Wyo., jumped in the truck with Dent from June through early August.
Vezain is ranked fourth in the world as he enters his fifth WNFR. At the beginning of his rodeo season, he had a plan: “I set out with the goal to win $125,000 going into the Finals, and be in the top five there.” He didn’t reach his monetary goal, coming up short by about $11,000, but he made his second goal.
Like Breuer, Vezain has specific workouts created for his sport. A sports athletic trainer from Texas has sent him workouts since October, including strength training, higher intensity and explosive muscle movements.
While he’s home on his wife’s family ranch, Vezain has weaned heifers and steers and is getting them shipped, getting things buttoned up with fall work.
Vezain thinks this is his best year of rodeo yet. He’s gone into the Finals in fourth place before, but has never had this much money won in the pre-season. He’s ready for the yellow chutes at the Thomas and Mack. “It’s what you dream about going to all year. The first time you’re there, you’re in awe, just trying to do good. Now I want a gold buckle.”
Even though Dent is only six years older than Vezain, who is 25, Vezain has looked up to Dent since he was young. “He’s one of the guys I looked up to when I first started. He was making the Finals at a young age. I remember watching him on TV when I was high school rodeoing. He’s a veteran of the sport, for sure. That guy’s a winner.”
The two have a lot in common. “He has a pile of cows and he’s a cowboy,” Vezain said. “He’s goal oriented. He likes to have fun but he takes care of business. We’re a lot alike.”
Of the four cowboys, Brody Cress is the first timer of the bunch and also the youngest.
Cress, who hails from Hillsdale, Wyoming, qualified for the saddle bronc riding in sixth place.
A student at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, he will miss graduation on Dec. 16 while he’s at the WNFR.
He graduates with a degree in agricultural business but will be back at Tarleton next semester to work on his master’s in agricultural consumer science, which will enable him to teach school if he chooses. As a teacher, he’ll be able to coach rodeo or wrestling, his two loves.
Cress’s dad, Tommy Cress, was an ag teacher and is now a school principal, who didn’t let his sons ride bucking horses competitively until their junior years of high school. “My parents wanted to make sure we were prepared,” Cress said. He won the saddle bronc riding title at the Wyoming High School Finals his junior and senior years, and is attending Tarleton on a full rodeo scholarship. Cress competes in college rodeo as well and is currently in first place in the Southwest Region.
He was in and out of the top fifteen after his win in Salinas, California in July, but a win at Cheyenne Frontier Days cemented him in the top fifteen for the rest of the year. He also won the Pendleton, Oregon rodeo as well.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I’ve just focused on doing the same thing, whether it’s at a big rodeo or a small rodeo, and not let too much get to my head. I break it down and keep it simple and not get too overwhelmed with it all.”
Cress’ professors have worked with him with his travel absences. “That’s the awesome thing about going to school here. It’s a rodeo community, and they try to work with you.”
He knows there may be nerves when he steps behind the chutes at the WNFR. “I know it’s the biggest stage rodeo has, and it’s going to be really exciting. I’ll be nervous that first night, but I’ll just try to stay focused and keep doing what I do. It’s like any other rodeo. You still have to ride bucking horses.”
Dent, the veteran of the bunch, comes into the Finals in the bareback riding in twelfth place with $93,651 won. It wasn’t his easiest year, after a year in the Elite Rodeo Association kept him out of the top fifty in the PRCA world standings and out of the winter rodeos, but that didn’t keep him from competing. “For the most part, I felt like I did my job most of the time. Things that are out of your control, you can’t get too worried about. I got to Vegas, and that’s the main thing. You can make up a lot of ground out there.” Each round pays $84,615; first place in each round pays $26,230.”If you think about it, I’m only three go-round wins behind first. It looks like a lot, but a lot of things can happen in Vegas.”
The hardest part of the WNFR, for Dent, is the down time during the days. Even though there are appearances and autograph signings the contestants must attend, there’s too much free time. “In the summer, we’re traveling and driving, and going on no sleep. You show up (at a rodeo) and react.” Not so in Vegas. “There, you’ve got all day long, sitting around, walking through a trade show, and everybody wants to talk about how good or bad you did the night before.” Time moves slowly but the ten days goes quickly. “It seems like two weeks between performances,” Dent said. “And in the blink of an eye, you’re getting on your tenth one.”
The thirty-one year old broke a bone in the arch of his foot on Sept. 23 when a bucking horse kicked it as he got off on the pickup man. It’s hampered his walking but not his spurring. He competed at the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in October. On he and his wife Kay’s ranch north of Mullen, Neb., riding a saddle horse bothered it, so he took the stirrup off that side.
He loved traveling with both Vezain and Breuer during the regular season. “I like to surround myself with people that have a winning attitude. I won’t spend too much time in a vehicle with somebody who finds the negative in everything. It’s too long of a year for that. A guy like JR pretty much talks about nothing but riding good and winning, and it’s the same with Ty.”
This is Dent’s eighth time to qualify for the WNFR; his best finish was in 2008, when he finished as reserve world champion to Justin McDaniel. The experience is a plus, Dent said. At the age of 31, he’s the oldest bareback rider to qualify for the Finals, edging out Jake Vold, the next oldest at 30. But it’s only a number. “I feel like I’m in the prime of my life, and I’ve never ridden better.”
And he’s better equipped for handling the jitters at the WNFR. “Everybody wants to say it’s just another rodeo, but you still get chills when you walk down that tunnel. You can’t let it get out of hand, though, because it’s still a reaction sport. You can’t over think it. The biggest advantage is I know what to expect and how to prepare all day for it.”
Dent and his wife Kay are the parents of a son, who is four, and two girls, ages two and eight months. He and Breuer will be the only bareback riders at the WNFR with kids.
The WNFR runs December 7-16 at the Thomas and Mack Arena on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. It is the most sought after ticket in pro rodeo; this year’s ten performances will bring 310 consecutive sell-outs.
The top fifteen contestants in each event, based on money won throughout the regular season, qualify to compete at the “super bowl” of rodeo, as the WNFR is sometimes called.