Odessa draws competitors from across the country
Bull rider Levi Gray’s mind is set on gold.
After finishing 16th in the 2020 PRCA | RAM World Standings, he’s determined not to miss out on the 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“I want to win the world,” said Gray, 22. “Last year, I was 16th, and one of the worst feelings you can have is being one spot out. I don’t want that. They have to take the No. 1 guy, and I’ll stay on every bull I get on and try to win a world title.”
Gray’s backing up his goals with a solid game plan, starting with the Sandhills Stock Show & Rodeo in Odessa, Texas, which has a special section for saddle bronc riding and bull riding Jan. 7, followed by the rodeo Jan. 8-16. The action each night begins at 8:30 p.m. ET.
WATCH: Odessa action will stream on the PRCA on Cowboy Channel Plus app and will air on The Cowboy Channel each night.
“I’m going to enter the best I can with the rodeos they give us,” Gray said. “I’ll enter the big ones first, of course, but I’ll rodeo as much as I can and as much as the schedule allows. Then when I get there, I need to be sure I do my job. I went to quite a few rodeos last year, even with the COVID thing, but I had a lot of missed opportunities and I want to narrow those down and capitalize on them.”
Odessa marks the Oregon cowboy’s first competition since placing third at Rodeo Austin Xtreme Bulls at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas, in November.
“I’m just glad to be rodeoing again,” Gray said, fresh off the holiday break. “I drew a pretty good bull and I’m excited about that. It doesn’t have a name, it’s one of Beutler’s (Beutler and Son Rodeo), and from what I’ve heard he should be pretty good.”
Not only is Odessa one of the first chances to win big, it’s also the first competition on the 2021 ProRodeo Tour.
Traditionally, the ProRodeo Tour Finale is among the last chances for cowboys to climb in the world standings in hopes of qualifying for the NFR. But only the top 24 cowboys in each event in the Tour standings get to compete at the Tour Finale.
Steer wrestler Dirk Tavenner knows how important each Tour rodeo is, having missed out on qualifying for the 2020 ProRodeo Tour Finale by about 1,500 points and finishing 16th in the 2020 world standings.
“I dang sure don’t want to miss out on a Tour rodeo, and a dang-sure good rodeo,” said Tavenner, 31. “We don’t know what the summer will be like. We usually choose the best ones for us, but this year we’ll try to get to as many as we can. It seems that with COVID, it could change tomorrow, so when there’s an opportunity to go to a good rodeo, you will get guys from everywhere going.”
Tavenner is set to cross the U.S. twice – going from his home in Idaho to Odessa, and then immediately heading north to help friends at the RAM Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo.
“It’s (Odessa) a little different from a two-header,” Tavenner said. “With these deals you have one bullet, so aim for the heart.”
Tavenner’s not taking a foolhardy approach while logging all those miles. When he arrives at Odessa, he’ll have Stetson Jorgensen’s horse, Mable, waiting for him along with Luke Branquinho as his hazer, he said.
He’s also bringing a positive attitude.
“I missed the Finals, and the last five years I was within striking distance, but rodeo doesn’t always give you what you want so I just try to enjoy it,” Tavenner said. “I get to see cool places and it’s cool for my family, too. I’ll try to hit the barrier more and make better runs but not get into the ups and downs. Rodeo is tough sometimes with the highs and lows, so just mellow out and enjoy it.”
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Vold Rodeo Company’s Painted Valley, a multi-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bareback and saddle bronc horse, passed away Jan. 14, according to Kirsten Vold, owner of Vold Rodeo Company.