The loud crowds and big-name cowboys were at the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas &Mack Center.
But the business of rodeos and horses was being conducted in smaller venues such as the South Point arena, where rodeo stock contractors scouted for the next great bucking horse and horse breeders showcased their colts.
If July in Las Vegas was about hoops — the National Basketball Association spent two weeks here for its Summer League — December was about horses — professionals came to cut deals, stage non-NFR events such as the World Series of Team Roping and engage in good old-fashioned horse buying.
The NFR ended Saturday, marking its 30th year in Las Vegas and another 10 days of Thomas &Mack sellouts.
Meanwhile, at the Benny Binion World Famous Bucking Stock Sale, some of the rodeo industry’s rising-star bucking horses were sold, generating $500,000 in sales for horse breeders and sellers who came from across North America.
On Dec. 6, a 5-year-old bucking horse named Sonora fetched $85,000, the highest price among the 25 horses sold.
Buying a great bucking horse means a stock contractor can ask for high prices from rodeos, which, in turn, can use that star bucking horse to attract top contestants and sell tickets.
More than 200 bucking-horse buyers and sellers were working at South Point, much to Smith Pro Rodeos owner Stace Smith’s delight. Smith’s company produced the World Bucking Futurity Finale, a contest for 5-year-old bucking horses to win money or a crack at a future NFR.
“The breeders have a chance to market their horses to top rodeo stock contractors, the contractors have the opportunity to purchase the continent’s best young horses, and the riders who just missed NFR qualification have the opportunity to ride here,” Smith said.
The stock contractors scout bucking horses in much the same way that major league baseball scouts check out top pitching and hitting prospects in the minor leagues.
Sellers came from as far away as New York, Florida and northern Alberta to see how much their horses would fetch.
Laurie McDonald of the MX Bar ranch in Alberta sold two previous horses at the Binion event and sold two more — First Class and Crescent — on Saturday.
“This is the place to be if you want to sell bucking horses,” McDonald said. “People will be here looking to buy.”
Even cowboys were at the bucking futurity finale, looking to make a name for themselves by perhaps reaching the NFR and getting a shot at a world championship.
“It’s really competitive here,” said Ty Manke, a 27-year-old contestant from Hermosa, S.D., who hopes to reach the NFR one day.
Outside of the NFR’s nightly action, there were two major rodeo events — the World Series of Team Roping, where more than 3,700 roper contestants vied for nearly $10 million in prize money, and the Bucking Bull Games, which featured five bucking-bull events with a record-high $1.5 million in payouts.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273.