PUEBLO, Colo. – By Ted Harbin – Casey Colletti has never taken his status as one of the elite ProRodeo cowboys for granted.
Riding bucking horses in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is just too hard, too demanding on the body. Bareback riding is the toughest event on a cowboy’s body, where his hand is wedged into a rigging that strapped to a bucking beast. Every jump, every kick, every jerk is felt from head to toe.
Take this year, for example. Colletti, a 27-year-old cowboy from Pueblo, finished the regular season 13th in the world standings, earning $71,534 en route to his third qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. There was no easy path to ProRodeo’s grand finale, which takes place Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.
“It was hard to make the NFR this year,” said Colletti, who had five victories this season, none of which were big-money wins like he’d seen the previous two seasons. “It was definitely a struggle. I’d go to every rodeo from Florida to California and everywhere in between trying to win money. I’d win a little bit, then the winning would fall off. I was trying to stay consistent placing in the money, but it was really tough.”
“I’d try not to get upset. I’d stay up there in the standings, but it came down to the final weekend before I clinched the NFR.”
Over that final few days of the regular season, Colletti won the bareback riding title in Poway, Calif., then finished second in San Bernadino, Calif. He closed out his campaign in Stephenville, Texas, with a third-place ride.
“When it comes down to it, I made it, but it would’ve been a lot more fun had I clinched the NFR before that and didn’t have to stress and worry about it so much,” he said. “Now I’m going to chase that guy that’s in the No. 1 spot.”
That guy is four-time world champion Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore., now preparing to compete at his 13th straight NFR. Mote has earned more than $124,000 this season and has less than a $4,000 lead over the No. 2 man, two-time reigning champ Kaycee Feild of Payson, Utah. While they have earned about $50,000 more than the Colorado cowboy through the regular season, the rides in Las Vegas are what count the most.
Go-round winners will earn $18,630, so the world standings will change nightly. In rodeo, dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most money won at the conclusion of the NFR will be crowned world champions.
“I dang sure think I can come away from the NFR with a world title on my belt,” said Colletti, whose father, Chuck, rode bareback horses. “They’re ahead of me, but I still think they’re catchable just because of how much money is out there to be won.
“That’s my favorite part of the NFR.”
It should be. The first two years he played in Las Vegas, Colletti earned a combined $118,569. That’s pretty solid considering he did it in just 20 days over two Decembers. Last year, he won the fifth round and placed in three others, leaving Las Vegas with $35,925. While that seems great, it was less than half what he earned in 2011.
“I think I was just trying too hard last year, but I still had a good finals,” he said. “I won more money with three no-scores than guys that rode eight or nine horses, so I can’t be too upset with that.”
So what was the main difference this year?
“I drew better horses the previous two years to make the NFR,” Colletti said. “I drew some good horses this year, but it just didn’t work out as well as I would’ve liked. I got on a lot more rank horses this year to make money.”
Unlike most professional athletes, rodeo cowboys must cover their own expenses, which also include entry fees paid at every rodeo in order to compete. To make more than $70,000, he spent almost all of it to play the game.
“I wouldn’t able to do this if it weren’t for B Tuff Jeans, Greeley Hat Works, Pete Carr and the MGM Grand,” he said. “They make it possible for me to be able to compete because of their faith in me and because of our working relationships.”
When times were tough, he leaned on his family: parents, Chuck and Shelly Colletti; his sister, Kristi; his grandparents; and his girlfriend, barrel racer Brittany Pozzi. When he needed a helping hand in the arena, he had traveling partner Seth Hardwick of Laramie, Wyo. He also had the support of his former mentor, Jim Boy Hash, the rodeo coach at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.
“I’ve had a lot of support, and my family is the most important thing to me,” Colletti said. “There were a lot of people backing me and helping me mt.ake it.
“As far as Seth, I had somebody to feed off of because Seth was winning a bunch. I’d see him be 84 or 85 points, and I’d want to be 86 or 87. When you have somebody that’s positive like Seth, it helps. He has a really good rodeo attitude. Whatever happens, whether he wins or whether he’s zero, he doesn’t get too worked up about it; that’s good for me, because I let some things bother me.”
Hardwick finished the season 17th in the world standings, just missing the NFR by two spots. Though Hardwick won’t be behind the golden chutes with him during the NFR, Colletti plans to take his friend’s attitude to Las Vegas.
“I have to be a veteran when I get there and look at this as a business trip,” he said.
When one rides bucking horse for a living, the NFR is good for business.