The Best Beget the Best
By Liisa Andreassen
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) is the largest and oldest rodeo-sanctioning body in the world; “world champion” is the most coveted title in Pro Rodeo. The sport’s world champions are crowned at the conclusion of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) presented by Polaris RANGER, based on total season earnings at PRCA rodeos across the continent, including monies earned at the Wrangler NFR. The PRCA crowns eight world titlists; each receives a gold buckle and a specially-crafted trophy saddle. The 2016 PRCA world champions had season earnings ranging from $142,350 to $374,272.
Wrangler NFR – past and present
The Wrangler NFR has been held annually since 1959 – and since 1985, every December at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“It’s here that the very best cowboys, barrel racers and livestock in the world are showcased,” Justin Shaw, PRCA media director, says. “A new contract keeps the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas for another 10 years (2015-24) and raises prize money significantly over that decade.”
The Wrangler NFR consists of 10 rounds – one round on each of 10 consecutive days; each contestant competes once each day. Cowboys and barrel racers earn money by placing first through sixth in any round and pick up more money by placing first through eighth in the average (cumulative times or points earned during the 10 rounds). At the end of each Wrangler NFR, there are two champions in each event (four for team roping): the average winner, the winner of the Wrangler NFR (by having the best cumulative time or score for that event over the 10 rounds) and the world champion (person who finished the year with the most money, including what was earned at the Wrangler NFR). For each event, the average winner and world champion may or may not be the same person.
If the saddle fits
The Wrangler NFR saddle rotation program is truly one of the most innovative awards programs in professional rodeo. Established in 1998, the NFR Saddle Program was created as a means to celebrate Women’s Pro Rodeo Association’s (WPRA) 50th anniversary. The program proved so popular and successful, it has continued uninterrupted in each successive year.
The concept of the NFR Saddle Program is to award a trophy saddle to each of the top 15 NFR barrel racing contestants. The saddles are donated to the program by the nation’s top saddle makers and their endorsees.
Each year the saddles are on display at the WPRA booth at Cowboy Christmas in the Las Vegas Convention Center, during the NFR. In addition to the top 15, saddles are also donated for Reserve World Champion, NFR Fastest Time and WPRA Rookie of the Year. The WPRA and the top 15 barrel racers truly appreciate all of the support that these great saddle manufacturers give to the NFR Saddle Rotation Program and the sport of rodeo.
Cactus Saddlery, based in Greenville, Texas, is the Official Saddle of the PRCA and one of the industry’s leading saddle and tack makers. They have partnered with the PRCA for more than 10 years and all of their products are handcrafted in the USA.
So, what makes an exceptional saddle design? The first step is to understand how the basic parts of a saddle should work to provide a good ride allowing the horse and rider to perform their best. A correct fitting tree and bars are paramount to the horse’s well-being, and a correct seat is crucial for the rider.
Amanda Love, sales/customer service for Cactus Saddlery, says that all the award saddles are handcrafted by their top saddle makers, whose skills have been passed down for generations.
Each saddle has to pass a 10-point inspection:
- American-made materials
- Genuine cowhide leather
- Solid tree
- Straight seating and skirting
- Inline stitching
- Seat sits tight on tree
- Finished leather should accept the dye
- Cordura for synthetic saddles
- All hardware should be tight
- Company stands behind their product
“To choose the design, we look back on the trends of our saddle orders for that year,” she says. “With the combination of new and old techniques, the craftsmen of Cactus Saddlery continue to turn ordinary leather, into timeless works of art. The mix of tradition, innovation and fashion are the cornerstones that all our products are built upon. Winning a PRCA World Championship is the most coveted title in our industry, so we are proud to partner with them in awarding the ‘Best to the Best.’”
Fun fact: Creating Pro Rodeo
Before the PRCA, there was the Rodeo Cowboys Association; before that it was the Cowboys’ Turtle Association. Why turtles? Because like a turtle, the founding cowboys were slow to act and then stuck their necks out when it was time to strike.