When Harry Vold Rodeo Company’s Double Valley stalled in the chutes, Reed Arneson stalled too. The South Dakota State saddle bronc rider let his focus fade momentarily.
Then Double Valley took off on the Casper Events Center dirt. Arneson remained along for the ride.
“I wasn’t really ready to go, I guess,” he said. “And that was completely on me, not firing from the start and just getting behind him.”
Arneson was awarded 62 points on that ride, a score he said was generous from the judges in Sunday’s first go-round of the 2018 College National Finals Rodeo. But it was fitting for the bronc rider to hang on through adversity. Just over 18 months earlier his rodeo career nearly ended.
The sophomore’s still not sure when the pain started or what prompted it. He remembered the pain originating in his leg and then intensifying. He kept riding, because that’s what riders do.
It wasn’t until the Crazy Horse Memorial Stampede Rodeo in 2016 in Crazy Horse, South Dakota, that he finally sought medical attention. But not for the pain itself.
“I was rodeoing on it all summer and then, finally, a horse flipped over on me while I was rodeoing at Crazy Horse,” Arneson said. “And that was the last horse I got on before I had to have back surgery.”
The culprit was a herniated disc that had gone unattended for too long.
Once out of surgery and recovering at an encouraging rate, Arneson asked when he could rodeo again. The doctor’s answer was never.
So he and his family, from Bison, South Dakota, traveled to Wichita, Kansas, in order to get a second opinion. That trip proved beneficial. Arneson would return to the arena in a matter of months.
“Yeah, it’s bad,” said Arneson, reciting the doctor’s orders, “but you can get hurt doing whatever so if you want to do it, go for it.”
The road to recovery proved more arduous than he originally believed. The workouts got more grueling but he pushed his body to be in the best shape for his return to bronc riding. After his ride on Double Valley on Sunday, he insisted he still needs to workout.
However, qualifying for this year’s CNFR was a key landmark for recovery and career. He was the only male qualifier from South Dakota State.
Having his first ride on Sunday afternoon helped him get the nerves out of the way. Watching the other riders also helped. The broncs had the upper hand earlier in the week, with only half of the riders completing their Sunday rides.
“Overall, this is one of the biggest rodeos I’ve ever been in,” Arneson said, “but it is just another rodeo and you’ve got to take it horse by horse. You don’t like seeing everybody get bucked off, but at the same time there’s only a few rides in the first two sessions so it does remind you that it is just another rodeo and you’ve just got to ride your ride and go for it.”
Arneson had a no-score on his ride Monday and was in 27th before Wednesday night’s performance. He mentioned his strategy would remain the same for his third go, in Thursday night’s performance.
While momentum may be on his side, he hasn’t left Casper during his days off in search of nearby rodeos. His strategy, as far as time off was concerned, consisted of “laying low and staying loose.”
He would need an exceptional ride on Thursday night and a little help from the other riders in order to make Saturday’s short go. But that doesn’t worry him at all. He learned from his time on the sidelines that there are some rides to push and some rides to simply enjoy.
“It’s been a long road to recovery,” he said. “But this is amazing. This is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”