Granbury, Texas’, Paden Bray ended his Resistol Rookie year after running away with the number-one spot in the Resistol Rookie heeling standings with $67,014.24 in PRCA earnings.
"It’s a good achievement," Bray said. "There’s a lot of rookies that have the same goals to win the Rookie of the Year. To go out on top is a pretty good accomplishment. It felt good you know, but I can’t say that I was too worried about it. I was more focused on making the Finals—that was my goal. The rookie deal was just going to come into play with that. I don’t know how many rookies that have won as much as I did. I know I had a great first year."
The final week in Pro Rodeo's regular season was a knife fight to break into the top 15. Bray was a little over $4,000 shy of meeting his goal of qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ending his Resistol Rookie season 17th in the PRCA world standings.
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"I went to Kansas City (Missouri) from the college rodeo in Alpine (Texas) and actually got on a charter plane that cost me four grand. I heeled a steer at Kansas City and lost a leg to be 4.9. That was going to help me out a lot. Then I got to Alpine and roped there. On my way home my phone broke so I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t know how Cole (Davison) did. That next morning before Stephenville (Texas), Erich and I practiced at my house, and my dad told me that there was no way that I could make the Finals. It kind of didn’t hit me until I rode out of the arena at Stephenville. It was kind of a hard pill to swallow. I didn’t really start until May though—Corpus Christi (Texas), I could say was my first rodeo. After Corpus Christi I has $2,500 won, and from then on I won $60,000, so if you look at it like that it was a pretty good year."
Bray, who is currently attending Tarleton State University, majoring in business, was fortunate enough to heel behind the 2017 World Champion Header Erich Rogers throughout his rookie year. Rogers and Bray plan on continuing their success in the 2020 PRCA Pro Rodeo season.
"I’m very grateful for the opportunity in the first place. We hauled together, we took my truck and his trailer. We were together 98% of the time all summer. We didn’t have one argument, we didn’t have one complaint. We left rodeos where we didn’t do good, and I messed up or he messed up. His attitude was great, and we had a lot of fun. I’m happy to say we’re roping together again next year. I had a lot of fun and it was a great first year."
Having a world champion on the team wasn't the only secret to Bray's success. He spent the year aboard two solid heel mounts.
"I have a dun horse—he’s 16. He has papers, but I just don’t have them. He’s got a Playboy bunny on his left jaw. I call him Hugh Hefner. He’s awesome. I bought him this winter, and I won a ton rodeoing on him. And I have a sorrel horse. He’s 11 years old, and I’ve had him ever since he was a weanling. I call him Slider. I rode them both pretty equally. I’ve rode Slider ever since he was 3 years old, and he’s been my good one ever since he was 5. I’ve rode him for the last six years rodeoing. I have two really good horses."
At the start of the season, Bray and Hunter Koch (who made the NFR for the first time this year with Matt Sherwood) were both without partners, so they decided to go to every Open jackpot they could looking for a run and showing off their skills.
"It didn’t matter who we could get. We just went to every single Open jackpot we could get to just to show those guys that we could catch. I got the opportunity to rope with Erich, and then I just kicked off from there. I got to jackpot a lot more, and I figured out how to catch and I got a better idea on when to throw fast and when to do my job. I feel like that is what set me up to have such a good rookie year. The last three or four years of my life, even my whole life, I’ve been patterning myself to catch steers and not make mistakes, and I feel like that’s what paid off this summer because we did catch a lot of steers."
The 20-year-old credits parents Ken and Billie Bray for setting him up to win.
"I give them all the credit. I’ve been in a program—I would say like a practice program—I’ve been around really good people my whole life. I’ll tell you what helped me more than anything is them doing that and setting me up to be around good people and jackpotting a lot."
If there's anything Bray learned from his Resistol Rookie year, it's that rodeoing is still a job.
"The biggest lesson that I learned was no matter what the rodeo we are at, or what the setup is, or the certain situation, I still have to do my job. I feel like the only time that Erich and I messed up is when we tried to do too much. When our run was the best and when I did my best was when I would just relax, and I caught my steers that I got turned. When we did that we placed so much and we won so much because we caught. I bet our catch percentage was over 75% this year—we caught a lot of steers." TRJ