Sandwiched between storms in a stroke of almost laughable good fortune, the 96th Clovis Rodeo continued with Day 2. And it was here Friday that D.V. Fennell and Cody Taton knew they had also arrived with some luck in their Wranglers.
Luck in bronc riding, whether it be with or without a saddle, is all about drawing surly stock that will buck harder, jump higher, kick more and, in general, turn on the people that matter -- four judges.
Fennell got it with Big 85 on bareback to launch the competition with a rousing start in the first ride of the night.
Taton got it later aboard Lunitic Fringe in the final saddle bronc trip.
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They each took advantage, hung on for the required 8 seconds and posted leading scores that they can only hope will hold up through competition today and Sunday.
"I don't know about winning," said Fennell, a 37-year-old who cut his teeth as a kid riding goats in Oklahoma. "But it should be a good check, and that's the name of the game: make a living. Those victories are nice, but I'll win second all year long if they'll let me nod my head."
Meanwhile, rodeo officials are bowing their heads to Mother Nature, which delivered sunshine followed by temperatures in the mid-60s through the night.
Forecasts call for temps climbing into the 80s today and tomorrow, further drying an arena dirt floor muddied by storms earlier in the week and likely destined for more slop early next week.
"Perfect," Ron Dunbar, Clovis Rodeo Association president, said as fans began to file in on a night that more than 10,000 stuffed the arena to also watch steer wrestling, team and tie-down roping, girls barrel racing, bull riding and, of course, mutton busting. "And the grounds are perfect."
Fennell finished ranked ninth in the 2009 World Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) standings with $130,976 in winnings.
But he was stuck in 34th this season, at $7,254, coming to Clovis. Then the lucky match -- Big 85 -- which is relative considering the horse's ornery temperament.
"A phenomenal horse," Fennell said after scoring an 87 -- two better than Steven Dent of Mullen, Neb. "He just bucks hard, leaps in the air and kicks hard every time. He's one of those horses who doesn't have the best timing in the world, but when he gets out there and bucks like that, judges go, 'Wow.' He's just a big-time buckin' horse."
Fennell, finished here and already en route to Texas for his next rodeo, will not know until Sunday afternoon whether he earned the Clovis first-place paycheck of around $6,000.
Payouts go through eighth places of each event in a rodeo whose total purse exceeds $300,000.
Taton, a 28-year-old who recently moved to New Mexico after being raised in South Dakota, had never ridden Lunitic Fringe.
But he had sure been watching: "And every time I would just think, 'I want that horse.' It's just the way it bucks. It just kind of scoots out, then takes its head right between its legs, and when it does that and jumps that high, it makes you feel like a bronc rider."
Taton, 21st in the world a year ago, would appear to have positioned himself strongly to win. Only two others scored in the 80s Friday -- Taos Muncy (82) of Corona, N.M., and Tyler Corrington (81) of Hastings, Minn.