LAS VEGAS — Mason Clements sat down and took a deep breath, reflecting on his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
In front of him was a golden sheet of paper that revealed his work in Sin City. He had ridden nine bucking horses, was knocked to the ground in Round 3, and placed four times — he won the fifth round and shared the win in Round 10. In all, he pocketed $80,372 in Las Vegas, his birth home 25 years ago.
“To be here 10 nights and win as much money as I’ve made all year trying to get to this point, that is a special feeling,” said Clements, who jumped five spots to finish the season 10th in the world standings with $166,486. “It has been well. I’ve had a lot of successes; I’ve had a lot of downs. It’s always a learning situation; you never lose.”
He learned a great deal in one of the greatest bareback riding competitions the NFR has ever seen. There were multiple 90-point rides and scores high in the 80s. On Saturday night, Clements rode Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Top Flight for 88 points to share the round win with eight-time NFR qualifier Steven Dent. Both men added $23,481 for that.
“To share the 10th round with Steven Dent is an honorable thing,” said Clements of Santaquin, Utah. “To share the win with a veteran NFR qualifier, a prestigious bareback rider, is a good feeling. It definitely gives you a little swag, a new step.
“You know you have it, and you’ve gotten to that point for sure. But then you leave here, and you’ve done this for your first time. You now know the sky’s the limit.”
Through an injury-riddled 2016 season, he finished 18th in the world standings. Only the top 15 in the world standings at the end of the regular season qualify to compete in Las Vegas. He upped the ante this year and was able to push his chips into the table, walking away a winner.
Most importantly, he learned through every ride, through every spur stroke, what it means to compete on ProRodeo’s grandest stage. While his earnings are amazing for 10 days, he watched two other competitors — world champion Tim O’Connell and three-time qualifier Richmond Champion — earn more $165,000 in that same time frame.
“I’m a contender and a competitor at the highest level,” Clements said. “I’ve opened up a whole new arsenal of things I can do now, a whole new bag of tricks that I’ve learned here. I’m taking my riding, the way I read horses and the feeling of horses to a whole new level.”
That will make him fun to watch for years to come.