Hardy Braden has always had faith in his ability.

Trained by his father, he knew what to do and when to do it before he ever got on a bucking horse. Over his 10 nights in the Nevada desert, he gained even more knowledge and more confidence in his ability.

Hardy Braden

On Saturday night during the final round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Braden matched moves with Andrews Rodeo’s Fire Lane for 82 points to finish in a tie for sixth place. It was the eighth time he’d earned a paycheck at this year’s championship.

“Eight rounds … I placed in eight out of 10,” he repeated, somewhat amazed at what he had done. “I was second in the average. That’s pretty good for me.”

It was a pretty good week overall. Braden earned two go-round wins — scoring the highest points in the first and seventh rounds — and caught big checks along the way. His biggest came at the end. He rode nine of 10 horses for a cumulative score of 764 points to finish as the average runner-up to Wyoming cowboy Brody Cress. That was worth $54,577 to the Welch, Oklahoma, cowboy.

In all, he earned $160,192 in Las Vegas and pushed his season earnings to $262,966. He finished fourth in the world standings.

“I think the thing is that you want to be riding to the best of your ability, and the rest of that stuff will take care of itself,” Braden said.

He did. He averaged just shy of 85 points per ride, which is saying something. The NFR features the top horses in the game. Some are harder to ride than others, but they’re all fantastic athletes. The one night that he came down was during the third round, which featured the “eliminator” pen, the hardest-to-ride bucking beasts in the game.

He was one of eight of the top 15 saddle bronc riders in the game who failed to score a point that night. Five nights later when the eliminators returned, Braden found redemption with an 88-point ride on Hi Lo Pro Rodeo’s Garden City Gal to win the round.

“If you have a good support system behind you like I do with my family — my dad, my mom, my sister and my brother-in-law — they’re going to stand behind me whether it goes good or bad,” Braden said. “That takes a lot of pressure off you in whatever you do. They’re going to love you no matter what.”

Hardy Braden just spent 10 nights doing what he loves, and his family was with him with every spur lick he made. That makes every step of his first NFR that much more special. £