In an effort to quell nerves before Saturday’s steer wrestling short go-round at the 2018 College National Finals Rodeo, Thomas Davis rode bareback broncs at the Chris LeDoux Days rodeo in Kaycee.
The open air and the less-pressured event helped put him at ease after he admitted to being concerned about nerves earlier in the week. And his bulldogging horse could always tell when he was nervous.
“Kind of took my mind off of what was going on here at night and it kind of helped a bit,” Davis said Saturday night. “I was really nervous coming in and I just knew I had to make a good solid run to stay in the running and that’s what I did.”
The Osage native and Central Wyoming College freshman wrestled his steer to the ground in 4.1 seconds in the short go for his best time of the rodeo. Davis momentarily took the lead in the aggregate before finishing third at this year’s CNFR.
That finish was shy of his initial hopes of a national championship, but better than what was projected after his 6.3 in the first go. The 4.3 he clocked in the second go helped his confidence immensely and set him up for a big third go on Wednesday night.
“I just knew I had to come out and make a solid run,” he said. “Make it smooth, nothing fast. Just be me and make a good run, and I did.”
Davis stood in fourth in the aggregate after Wednesday night’s performance. However, earlier in the night he had his third, and final, bareback ride at the CNFR, which left his left arm hunched toward his stomach. His tight rigging cut up his hand during that ride, leaving his left hand bloody and sore.
The hand remained tender and his ribs were still sore by the time he rode his horse into the arena for Saturday’s short go. The announcers then called upon the crowd to rally behind the Wyoming native, who felt a sudden surge of adrenaline.
“That got my nerves going quite a little bit when you hear that,” Davis said. “But you’ve just got to put that stuff in the back of your mind a little bit and use it as energy for the run you’re about to make. That energy carries you a long ways no matter how you do it.”
Dialed in and with the crowd firmly in his corner, Davis took his position in the box. With an exhale he gave the affirmative nod, signaling to the crew that it was time to release the steer.
He didn’t have time to think about his ailments and how a non-cowboy may have resigned from the remainder of the rodeo. All he knew was that he had a job to do. Not doing that job was not an option.
“All the pains and the aches and the bumps kind of go away as soon as I nod my head,” he said. “It happens so fast that if you think about it then it’s there and gone.”
He finished 1.8 seconds behind winner Tristan Martin of East Mississippi Community College in the bulldogging average by the time the 2018 college finals came to a close. He had already made his impact in the state of Wyoming by winning the all-around at April’s Casper College Ropin’ and Riggin’ Days Rodeo. He also was the nose tackle and fullback on the 2015 Upton-Sundance Class 1A/11-man state championship football team.
But now the country knows him for his steer wrestling and bareback riding abilities.
Davis finished 26th in the bareback this year, scoring a 64.5 points on his only successful ride. Despite the injuries, that’s still his preferred event so there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back as a sophomore.
The rest of his summer will center around working. Davis still has to pay for college so he needs to strengthen his bank account before starting back in Riverton in the fall. He may compete in professional rodeos this summer with Sheridan College sophomore and Big Piney native Chance Ames. They’ve traveled to rodeos together where they’ve both competed in bareback. Rodeos like that give the two friends time together, experience and a chance to earn money.
Days after his final bareback go of the CNFR, Davis talked about what he could fix about his rides going into this summer’s rodeo season with Ames. He called them “rookie mistakes,” like trying too hard instead of building on his scores.
“Just got to be happy with what I did and learn from my mistakes,” Davis said. “Hopefully I can come back and show them who I am next year.”