In almost every sense of the phrase, Taos Muncy is nothing more than a wide-eyed kid. At his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the 20-year-old Corona, N.M., native found himself in the middle of a world title race.
"On that first go round I needed a nametag and someone to spit for me because I was shook up pretty bad," he said, his voice and hands shaking as he held his world championship buckle. "I was really overwhelmed by it. It was bigger and better than I ever imagined. I always thought it would be, but it was more."
As a matter of fact, he was affected by it so much that he got off to a shaky start. In the first round, he bucked off and in the second had a 74.
"The beginning of this week started off a little slow and I was starting to wonder," he said. "I was holding them for two then it took me a while to get started."
Being true to the cowboy code, the bronc riders in the locker room-many of them veterans searching for their first world title-gave the youngster some advice that may have cost them their best chances at a gold buckle.
They told him to let it all hang out and ride like he had all year. A year in which he won the San Antonio (Texas) Rodeo and Stock Show, Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days, the College National Finals, Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days and the Deadwood (S.D.) Days of '76 Rodeo.
After the second round, Muncy went on a tear. He placed fifth in the third and won the fifth, seventh and ninth. With a few unfortunate buck offs by his competitors, Muncy was suddenly second in the average and the world after the seventh round and in the driver's seat for a world title. Then disaster struck.
He bucked off of Little Stone of the MJM Rodeo herd. He only dropped two spots in the average, but the focus for the world title shifted to Cody DeMoss and Rod Hay. (As it turned out Hay won the average title and set a new record by riding 10 head for 826 points.)
Then came round nine where Muncy had drawn the infamous Blood Brother of the Burch Rodeo string. The bronc is known for his difficulty to ride.
Muncy nodded his head and for a moment looked to be headed for the arena dirt, but somehow recovered to ride the horse for 86.5 points and the round win.
"Riding Blood Brother was the main key," he said. "I was a little nervous on that one.
"They don't ride him very often and he's really intimidating, but I got past him, barely, but I got past him. That was really huge."
Still, DeMoss controlled his own fate and when it came to the final round, all he had to do to win his first world title was make a qualified ride. He drew Kesler's Cool Alley, the 2004 Saddle Bronc of the Year. After the first jump, he was out of position, but true to his style, he didn't safety up and kept trying to spur. He got further out of position and bucked off before the whistle. He lay in the dirt face down-knowing he let yet another world title slip through his fingers.
"I didn't have a clue about the average or nothing," Muncy said. "I just wanted to come and try my hardest on 10 broncs. I hated to see Cody go down. If he'd have had it, it was going to be the round, too. I hate to see that."
Meanwhile, Muncy and Hay awaited the computers atop the back of the chutes to figure their fates.
They found that Muncy won the world title by $14,000 and was second in the average. In Las Vegas, Muncy won $91,755 to bring his season earnings to $201,133.
"It means the world to me," he said. "Ever since I was a little kid I've been dreaming about it. I never pictured it would come this fast, but I was fortunate to draw good horses and stay on a few of them. I wish there were 10 more rounds because it's just so fun up here."
If he continues to ride like he did for the last eight round at the Finals, bet on him getting 10 rounds every year for as long as he wants them.