Gratitude at the Center of Rodeo |

Gratitude at the Center of Rodeo

Kaycee Monnens
for Tri-State Livestock News

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

–G.K. Chesterton

Watching RFD-TV’s The AMERICAN March 6-7, it was evident that priorities are aligned in the hearts of the competitors. Not only do rodeo contestants exhibit an air of modesty in their victories, they humbly accept hard luck and judge’s calls just the same. They show genuine joy for deserving winners, even if that means a loss for self. And above all, each man, woman, and child in the building (quite literally, due to the unique entry format of the rodeo) has a notable position of thanks.

The 16-man round on Saturday began with a moving ceremony which honored American veterans and featured two Medal of Honor recipients. Sunday’s Shootout Round featured Adrian Brannan inviting the crowd to sing along to “America the Beautiful” while Kylie Frey delivered a stunning rendition of the National Anthem. The heartfelt introduction to the rodeo and presentation of the American flag horseback left no proud citizen with a dry eye. The only explanation: gratitude.

Perhaps that was the rodeo’s intention from the beginning. The first RFD-TV’s The AMERICAN was hosted in 2014, the brainchild of Randy Bernard and Patrick Gottsch, the CEO and founder of RFD-TV. In creating the event, they took all the defining traits of America–the freedom for anyone to enter any event; a big chance for the “little guy”; the risk of losing it all in the modern-day Wild West; and the opportunity for a dream to come true–and boiled them down into one extraordinary rodeo.

And it was wild. With all the ordinary dirt-throwing, fast-paced action of rodeo, the Texas sun-streaked AT&T Stadium brought extraordinary highs and lows to contestants.

Jill Tanner, the breakaway roping champion, posted a 2.65 as the gunner. Without high hopes of her time sticking to the top, she watched every other more-than-capable breakaway roper fall short. Tanner broke out of an eight-year retirement with the intention of going to The AMERICAN, and did so in memorable fashion. If the million dollar pot were open to breakaway ropers, she would have won it all. Perhaps next year, with $2 million to play with, that change will be made. With immeasurable modesty, Tanner said, “I’m definitely not the best roper here. It was just my day.”

It is unclear whether being first or last to go has an advantage, because while Tanner had to wait for the rest of her pool to rope, Erich Rogers and Paden Bray had the pressure of knowing exactly what they had to do as the last ropers. “Just make a run” is easier said than done with just two catch loops and five seconds being the only obstacle on the path to $100,000. The pair made a picture-perfect run, despite Rogers saying how “scary” it was. Their “happiness doubled by wonder” was evident from the grins that were seen across the arena. The team thanked everyone, from their horses, to the producers, to each other.

Ryder Wright wins the Saddle Bronc with a 91.25, making this his second American Rodeo win in three years. Photo by Jake Link Photograph, The American Rodeo / Rural Media Group

Ryder Wright and Hailey Kinsel, already legends by any account, secured two more victories, their second and third, respectively. The bucking horses were a marvel, and Wright won on the horse aptly called “All or Nothing,” indicative of his Etbauer-esque riding style. Kinsel and Sister, true to nature, posted a 15.4 second run in the short round to secure their third title. Kinsel thanked Sister; Wright thanked his brothers, who were seen earlier jumping for joy at Ryder’s victory.

Shane Hanchey, who has qualified for the semi finals in tie-down roping for seven years and never made it to Sunday’s Shootout Round, finally clinched the buckle. It comes shortly after an Average title at the 2020 National Finals Rodeo, held across the street at Globe Life Field in December. The $50,000 towards his world standings will help tremendously in his hunt for another gold buckle this year.

But Hanchey’s victory came at a great cost to the last-standing qualifier in the entire rodeo: Hunter Reaume. Hopes were high for Reaume as he tied an easy 7.2-second run, which was the $1.1 million in the bag, but hearts broke for him, when seconds later, he received a no-time when an attempt to remount his horse went horribly wrong. He rode out with grace, later telling a friend, “It wasn’t God’s timing.” In his interview, Hanchey expressed deep gratitude for his horse, TJ, and the Bird family for their help with him.

Hunter Reaume's goals are to be the best athlete possible and to grow the sport of rodeo. He hopes his actions at The American will serve as a model for young people and draw new fans. Photo by Jake Link

Colten Fritzlan, the 21-year old 2020 Resistol Rookie of the Year, rode every single bull over the weekend and claimed a happy victory on stage. Tilden Hooper, after posting a wicked 90.5 point bareback ride, did the same. For both roughstock riders, their big check launched them to first in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings and has already punched their ticket to the Finals in December.

The Cajun steer wrestler, Jacob Talley, topped his field with a 3.87 second run, impressive on any day of bulldogging. Most memorable was the man across the chute as he nodded his head: Tyler Pearson, who hazed for Talley just before running at a million dollars himself. It was Pearson’s to lose, and unfortunately, a tricky steer in the Shootout Round ensured it. Yet, the brotherhood of steer wrestlers is a strong bond, and Talley expressed his gratitude for Pearson.

Professional rodeo athletes do not have million-dollar contracts; they are not assured of a win or promised a result. Because of the risk of rodeo, its participants are inspired to have faith through hardship and sheer gratefulness for each opportunity. With life-changing money on the line RFD-TV’s The AMERICAN brought out the greatest virtues in man this year. If thanks is the highest form of thought, rodeo athletes are among the finest examples of thinkers–and people–in the world.

Quotes from rodeo athletes at RFD-TV’s The AMERICAN:

I’m thankful for my partner and the opportunity to rope here at RFD-TV’s The AMERICAN. –Paden Bray, after advancing to the Shootout Round

I have an incredible animal that’s taken a huge team to get here.

-Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, after advancing

It’s a great group of guys. We’re all buddies––we’re a very close-knit group. Everybody feeds off everybody. They just want you to be that much faster. It’s great to be a part of.

–Tyler Pearson, after advancing

It’s a blessing to be here, roping against these guys that are so talented. Tuf and Trevor and a lot of guys have helped me a lot. I’m just very fortunate and thankful to be a part of this.

On the subject of his horse: “He’s a blessing, for sure.”

–Hunter Reaume, after advancing

I’m definitely not the best roper here. It was just my day […] This is just such a huge platform and I thank all of y’all for having it.

–Jill Tanner, 2021 The AMERICAN Breakaway Roping Champion

The fans and sponsors and everybody behind the scenes giving us an opportunity to win this money and this buckle, we’re here to show our talents to you guys… Thank you guys, and God bless.

–Erich Rogers, 2021 The AMERICAN Champion Header

I’m just going to give a shoutout to my partner […] My job is pretty easy back there and I sure enjoy it. I’m very blessed to be here. It’s such a great rodeo and I’m super grateful.

Both of those horses––We’ve been really blessed to get to ride. They both give us a chance every single time. They deserve this as much as we do, so we are very appreciative of them.

–Paden Bray, 2021 The AMERICAN Champion Heeler

We’re all like family. For a guy to be able to run at a million dollars and help me right before him, it’s nuts […] It’s a little nerve racking, but you want those guys to do good, too.

–Jacob Talley, 2021 The AMERICAN Champion Steer Wrestler

I think that’s why we have so much success [..] I have my brothers behind the chutes with me all the time. You can’t beat family.

All of us cowboys really appreciate these guys pulling through and having this rodeo. It means a lot with all the stuff that’s going on right now. We just really appreciate it.

–Ryder Wright, 2021 The AMERICAN Champion Saddle Bronc Rider

We all come up here and we’re so speechless because of the opportunity the guys like Patrick Gottsch and Randy Bernard give to the sport of rodeo and the western way of life. I’ve been here every year and never made it to Sunday. I love you guys at home.

If it’s not for TJ, I wouldn’t be here. I went through a bad horse deal, losing Bam Bam. The Bird family they’ve definitely helped me with TJ.

–Shane Hanchey, 2021 The AMERICAN Champion Tie-Down Roper

God’s still good and I still haven’t learned to wear the right mascara, if you were wondering […] It’s a great town so we’re really grateful for them to have us and have a rodeo here. We’re grateful for every opportunity, especially the really big, nice ones like this, especially after a really hard year on everyone.

–Hailey Kinsel, 2021 The AMERICAN Champion

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