SANTAQUIN, Utah – Mason Clements wasn’t always a bareback rider, but he was always a cowboy.
As a boy, family friends introduced him to rodeo, and he fell for it. He wrestled steers and rode bulls. At age 20, he turned his attention to bucking horses and hasn’t looked back. It’s paid off well with his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand championship that takes place Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Clements, 25, of Santaquin. “It shows that I’ve been working hard for something I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s another stepping stone of many to one of the greatest goals I can achieve, and that’s the world title. You have to make the NFR first, so I can check that off my list.”
He’s returning home, of sorts. He was born in Las Vegas, and his mother, Tracy Pledger, lives there. He moved around a bit, mostly in Utah, and graduated from Alta High School in Sandy, Utah. But to say he’s excited to be part of the biggest event in the sport is likely an understatement.
“I can’t even pull the words together; it’s very surreal and indescribable,” he said with a smile. “I’m very ready. I’ve known this has been going to happen, but it’s just been a matter of when and dealing with the adversity to get there.
“I wasn’t going to let an early-season injury or mistakes sideline me for another year.”
That happened in 2016. Clements suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and was sidelined from the game for a few months when he was fifth in the world standings at the time. He finished the 2016 season 18th in the world standings, and only the top 15 contestants in each event advance to Sin City in December.
This year, he suffered another injury in a bareback riding wreck in May. Despite three broken ribs, numerous separated ribs and a broken left fibula, he found his way back into the arena in short order. He played through the pain and made it work, earning $86,114 and finishing the regular season 15th in the world standings.
“When I got hurt, I was still sitting good in the standings,” said Clements, who has the support of his sponsors: Wrangler and Hooey.
“Three weeks later when Reno (Nev.) rolled around, and I thought, ‘I can’t sit here any longer; I’m going to miss my opportunity.’ ”
“I knew I had to put my hand in my rigging and do my job.”
He’s glad he did. In rodeo, dollars equal points, so the world standings are based on the money list. Clements finished less than $3,000 ahead of the No. 16 man, Montanan Justin Miller. And he did so while riding in pain, gritting his teeth through every bumpy ride and every spur stroke. He had pain through virtually every ride until late August – that’s two months and dozens of bucking horses.
“There were a lot of times when I just wanted to lay in a big tub of ice,” he said.
It shows the commitment he has to the game he loves. Though his family isn’t involved in the game, Clements took to it early with the help of friends.
“I pretty much invited myself everywhere we went,” he said. “I just wanted to be there and wasn’t sure how to do it. As a family, we would occasionally go over to our friends’ house for Sunday barbecue, and you couldn’t keep me off their horse.”
After his stint in bull riding to begin his ProRodeo career in 2010, Clements found an interest in bareback riding at a rodeo in Prescott, Ariz. He had never paid attention to it before, but there was something he saw that made an instant impact.
After the rodeo, he called a friend to see about riding a bucking horse, and the offer was good for the next day’s event in Randolph, Utah. Clements drove 12 hours, stopping only for a quick shower and to borrow equipment, and mounted two horses the next day.
“I bucked off both the horses that I got on, but I remember hitting the ground and thinking, ‘I can do this,’ ” he said. “That kicked it off for me, the love of the fight to stay on an animal five times the size of me. I immediately had a love and passion for it. I didn’t even make the whistle, but I craved it already.”
It’s now a full-fledged addiction, and he’s OK with it. He has the support of his family – besides his mom, he has his father, Doug, brothers Tyler and Colin and sister Sarah. From providing him a place to stay when he needed or rooting for him from the stands, he has recognized their importance in his life.
They may not have always understood his love for the game, but they were always supportive. Meanwhile, his passion drove him to the College of Southern Idaho, where he competed on a rodeo scholarship. He won the intercollegiate Rocky Mountain Region title in 2014, just a year after taking up the sport. Of course, he had two great coaches in Kelly Wardell and Cody DeMers, both of whom rode bareback horses at the Wrangler NFR.
“I was able to get on eight horses a week in practice, then two college rodeos and ProRodeo if there were any close enough to make. I practiced a lot in college, it’s really payed off now that I look back at it.” said Clements, who credits much of his success to his discipline in practice as well as great mentors and coaches. “In the spring (of 2014), I would practice Mondays and Wednesdays. We’d be at a college rodeo on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, then after that, Cody and I would go to any ProRodeo we could get to. We would then drive all night Sunday back to Twin Falls, Idaho, for class Monday morning and practice that evening.
“He taught me how to get up and down the road. He really got my foot in the door on the whole business of rodeo.”
Considering it’s been just a little more than five years since he first got on a bareback horse, he’s doing awfully well. He’s had help from other top bareback riders, including a couple of Utahans: Caleb Bennett, a six-time Wrangler NFR qualifier from Tremonton; the late Lewis Feild, who won three straight all-around and two bareback riding world titles; and Kaycee Feild, a four-time world champion bareback rider from Payson.
He’s taken all the lessons they have dished out, and he’s found the positives in every step he’s taken. Now he’s looking forward to returning to Las Vegas for the richest rodeo in the world, with a purse of $8 million, where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 each night for 10 rounds.
“I’m looking forward to 10 days of the baddest bucking horses on the planet, to get my NFR jacket, the ring and the money that’s available,” he said. “I like riding bucking horses, and I like to do it to get money. I’ve sacrificed a lot over the last seven years of my life to be at this moment and have this opportunity, now it’s time to capitalize not only now but many more years to come.”
It’s Clements’ time to shine, and he has every reason to do it.