Take a look at some of the highlights of this year's National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
After a whirlwind adventure at Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, we’re back home and already pining for next December’s return trip. In the meantime, though, here’s a look at 10 highlights from the 2016 edition, from the world-class entertainment to the gold buckle champs.
Cowboys and Cowgirls Conquer Vegas
Las Vegas plays a fantastic host to NFR each year. With top-tier arenas and an unbeatable atmosphere, there is no other place that can balance the Western lifestyle and a vibrant nightlife. During the day, visitors had plenty to do. To stock up on Christmas gifts, Cowboy Christmas, Stetson Country Christmas, and Mandalay Bay were popular trade-show destinations, while restaurants such as Della’s Kitchen, The Buffet at the Monte Carlo, and Mesa Grill in Caesars Palace were popular dining venues.
At night, for those who were unable to attend the rodeo, Vegas gave a warm welcome to NFR by hosting huge country music acts in their biggest venues. From George Strait, Reba, and Brooks & Dunn to rising stars Kelsea Ballerini, Cam, and Cody Johnson, each show made concertgoers feel like Western high-rollers.
The Wright Brothers
These talented bros were the talk of the town following their start in the rodeo arena. The Western way of life runs deep in their family, with ranching and rodeo-ing going back several generations. Though it’s common for rodeo families to have kids in the same occupation, it’s not every day that a single family dominates a rodeo sport — in this case saddle bronc riding. Cody, Jake, Jesse, and Spencer Wright are just a handful of the family athletes. There are 13 in total, but the “fantastic four” have each broken record after record. Cody, the eldest at 39, is a two-time world champion. Jake ranked second in the world in 2013, while Jesse won the title of 2012 world champion. Spencer, the youngest at 20, had major shoes to fill at his first NFR appearance in 2014. He did not disappoint, walking away as the 2014 Saddle Bronc World Champion.
This year, the Wright family’s legacy expanded with Cody’s two sons qualifying in the finals. Rusty took on his second turn at the NFR, followed by his younger brother and the newest Wright to join the ranks, 18-year-old Ryder. Together, the family dominate the sport, and it’s clearly not the last we’ll see of them.
Trying to get the hottest ticket in town wasn’t easy, but for a few lucky patrons, Christmas came early. Outside the NFR arena and in the new Thomas & Mack Center, the King of Country set the bar high early on with two buzzed-about performances on December 2 and 3.
The Bohlin Co. Saddle at Cowboy Christmas
Making the social media rounds within Cowboy Christmas was the absolutely stunning Bohlin saddle on display at The Bohlin Co. booth. The collaboration between Mercury Leather Works and Bohlin silversmiths produced one of the most awe-inspiring pieces to be displayed on leather. The saddle drew crowds of hundreds to see the one-of-a-kind work of art. What makes this saddle so special? It’s been more than 30 years since Bohlin has made one.
Barrel Racer Mary Burger
Age often has its limits, but Mary Burger seems to defy them all. Now 68, Burger set records as rodeo’s oldest world champion at age 58 with her gold buckle in 2006, and again this year as 2016’s Barrel Racing World Champion. The Oklahoma native rode Mo, a 7-year-old buckskin, during Round 10 of this year’s championships, earning her a WPRA-record. At the start of this year’s NFR, Burger was in a comfortable position, as her earnings from the regular season gave her the coveted No. 1 back number in Las Vegas (an honor reserved for contestants who win the most money during the regular season). Her accomplishments have not gone unnoticed by her peers, as Burger has paved the way for others in the world of barrel racing. We can’t wait to see if she returns next year, but in the meantime, Burger has two family members to look out for — her daughter-in-law. P.J. and her granddaughter, 10-year-old Kaden.
Brooks & Dunn with Reba
The only other show that could compete with Strait during NFR week was Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas. The collaboration between the legendary acts made Caesars Palace a destination for anybody in boots. Even if they didn’t have tickets to the sold-out shows, cowboys and cowgirls stuck close to the theater in hopes of catching a glimpse of greatness.
Lyndon Gaither Paints with Color
Lyndon Gaither made his booth at Cowboy Christmas an interactive painting studio, paired with completed works on display in the backdrop. The ability to see Gaither’s artistic process captured the imagination of more than one wanderer at the trade show. His use of abstract shapes within his colorful wildlife canvas art was enough to make shoppers do a double-take, but the ability to see the progression of the work was what hooked ’em.
Two years ago, Nogueira made his first appearance in NFR team roping with the iconic Jake Barnes. Since then, he has been able to grab the attention of most rodeo fanatics. The Brazilian native made his third appearance this year with a new partner. Barnes has sustained injuries that left him unable to compete, but with the guidance of his old partner, Nogueira was still able to make history. He ended up taking the PRCA’s 2016 All-Around Title at the NFR.
Nogueira and partner, header Kaleb Driggers, took second place in the final world standings for heading and heeling after Round 10. The second-place finish along with the money and their fourth-place average, accumulated enough points to give Nogueira the All-Around Title. With a new winner on the heels of legend Jake Barnes, we’re excited to see where this new title takes Nogueira.
NFR Cowboy Christmas was a major success this year, from the Junior NFR on the second floor of the convention center to the thousands of shopping vendors, it’s safe to say that anyone could find what they needed. The most popular item on everyone’s wish list? Turquoise. Thanks to vendors such as Rocki Gorman, Ann’s Turquoise, Samsville Gallery, the Sparkling Spur, and more, there was no shortage of rare, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces to discover and take home.
The Night of Gold Buckles
After 10 intense rounds of riding bulls and chasing cows, the results every competitor had been waiting for were finally revealed. The tremendously nail-biting finale held some impressive showings, with several cowboys and cowgirls breaking stadium records.