To fully understand the mentality of a bull rider, one only has to listen to Trey Benton III talk for a few minutes about how things went at his last rodeo of the regular season, in Puyallup, Wash.
It wasn’t supposed to be his last rodeo of the regular season. There was still nearly a month’s worth of competitions that usually prove vital in qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo.
“It was the first weekend of September,” Benton recalled. “I was riding a bull named Blue Light Special. I actually made (the whistle) on my ride and scored 87 points, but when I went to get off, he stepped on my leg and just snapped my femur in half.”
So obviously, Benton was most upset and pained over that, right? Not exactly.
“I really thought I won the rodeo with that ride, but I took second, and I was more mad about that than breaking my leg,” he said. “I thought I’d won that deal.”
But as he sat on the arena floor, there was no getting around turning his attention to an ugly injury.
“I was on my butt the whole time after it happened. I tried to move, and the bone just rubbed together, and my leg was laying funny on the side,” Benton said. “I knew I wasn’t getting up and going anywhere. It was pretty broke.”
Beyond healing from such a gruesome incident, one of Benton’s chief concerns was remaining among the top 15 money-winners in bull riding, to qualify for the NFR. But not being able to ride for the final month certainly put that in jeopardy.
“Oh, of course I was worried. I was in 14th before I broke my leg, and I came out 12th after that ride,” said Benton, who earned $12,000 for mangling his femur. “And there was three weeks left in the season. It was frustrating sitting in the hospital, wondering how many guys would pass me up.”
It wasn’t much better in the comforts of his home in Rock Island, Texas.
“I was sitting on my couch with crutches next to me,” said Benton, 22. “You never root for guys to get bucked off. I was just hoping the odds would be more in my favor. I was sweating it out that last weekend. I just kept watching the results to see the money standings.
“The final standings showed I was still in 13th — nobody else had won enough. When I realized that, I was just like, ‘Yes, I did it.’ ”
Then came the harder part: recovering in three months from an injury that often takes twice that long to heal.
“The doctor who fixed it said it could be healed in three months,” Benton said. “Me and my dad did the math right there on the calendar, and I knew I’d have a good chance of making the Finals. Right then and there, the deal was, can I get healed enough to do the Finals?”
The problem was that he didn’t need just a typical healing. He needed healing that would allow him to climb atop an angry 2,000-pound animal and withstand getting tossed around some more. The first week of November, he gave it a try, taking practice rides on three bulls, and it didn’t go well.
“I didn’t know if I could do it,” Benton said.
But he came back a week later, on Nov. 17, and practiced on two more bulls.
“It just worked perfect. I rode two bulls perfectly,” Benton said. “You could say God helped me out. Everything clicked. That’s when I knew I was 100 percent good to go for the NFR.”
And that’s all he wanted. Last year was the first that he qualified to come to Las Vegas, and he placed in two rounds en route to finishing ninth in the world standings. He made $73,239 heading into this year’s NFR, a place where plenty more money could be won.
“You get to Vegas and the NFR, you have the best 15 guys at the best place,” Benton said. “You can’t count anybody out. The guy in 15th can storm through and win the title. It’s anybody’s ballgame here.”
It would be normal to worry about his healing femur, or at least be a little nervous about the setting in front of 17,000-plus fans a night at the Thomas &Mack Center. But bull riders aren’t quite normal, and Benton fosters little concern.
“I’m a good kind of nervous,” he said, noting he’s drawing on his 2012 experience. “This year, it’s just another rodeo to me. A backyard rodeo, with just a few more people.”
Still, he realizes that the NFR is the top of the rodeo mountain.
“Just being out there, to make the National Finals Rodeo, is every cowboy’s dream. And to make it twice, I’m just proud of that.”