After finishing 17th in the world in 2019, Paden Bray bounced back and behind Erich Rogers qualified for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2020. After they won Round 1, Bray’s #1 heel horse—the 12-year-old sorrel he calls Slider—was sidelined for three rounds by an abscess. After Bray rode his 7-year-old sorrel horse, Hot Rod, in Round 2, and his 17-year-old dun, Hugh Hefner, in Rounds 3 and 4, Slider bounced back in time for Round 5 and finished the rodeo. Rogers and Bray were the only team to rope all 10 steers. They won the average in 80.2 seconds, and after placing in four more rounds banked $122,962 a man.
“We’ve had Slider since he was a weanling,” said Bray, 22. “We got him from the Montgomery Ranch in Crowell, Texas, and halter broke him. I was 10 at the time. My cousin Brook Bearden broke him and put the first few rides on him. Then my coach, (Canadian team roper and tie-down roper) Marty Becker (who now lives in Morgan Mill, Texas), put about nine months on him when he was 4. Marty’s been my coach since I was 12.”
Rogers and Bray made an aggressive 4.8-second run to win the opening round at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“I got Slider up Friday (the next day) to exercise him, and he was really sore at a trot when I got him out of his stall,” Bray said. “He was definitely off in the right hind. I didn’t hit the panic button. It’s obviously great to have your #1, but that’s why I have seven of them. I got on my young horse Hot Rod—who’s been working outstanding at the jackpots—for the second round. Then Hugh Hefner helped out in the third and fourth rounds.
“Meanwhile, (Dr.) Charlie Buchanan (at Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Stephenville, where Bray lives) went to work on that abscess, which was what we suspected when Slider went from fine to straight lame. It was handy to be so close to home, because I also took Slider to a salt water spa every morning to keep the slight swelling out of his suspensory and tighten up the tendons in that same right hind, which helped a lot. After a couple days, Slider was so much better. Those salt water spas work wonders.”
Paden returned to riding Slider in Round 5, and stayed on him through Round 10.
“I’ve ridden Slider since he was 4, so eight years now,” Bray said. “He’s been my good horse since he was about 5. He’s old faithful, and I’m really confident in him. He’s always in a good spot, and I feel like I can catch on him in all conditions.”
Rogers and Bray were both thrilled to win the NFR average.
“Like Joe B (Beaver) says, ‘It’s the second most coveted buckle in the world,’” said Paden, who was the reserve world champion heeler (just $2,983) behind Paul Eaves in 2020. “Our goal was to win the Finals. Being the only team to catch all 10 is a big blessing in itself. To have a goal and be able to accomplish it was awesome.
“Rodeo’s a little bit like the military to me. You can have a game plan, but when a scenario you don’t expect comes up you have to make a new plan. Slider had to sit out a few rounds, but my horses all did their job. We had to adapt and overcome a little bit, but we did that and kept moving forward. It was an amazing first NFR for me.”