High school rodeo: Bucking the norms, rivals become friends
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
HEBER CITY — CoBurn Bradshaw noticed the son of a two-time world champion saddle bronc rider hesitate when it was his turn to ride a bull.
So the Beaver High junior decided to make what he thought was a clever crack about the young man from a rival school.
Milford's Rusty Wright, however, found the attempt at levity so insulting, the sophomore left the safety of that fence and jumped on the back of that ornery bull.
"He said, 'I thought you was supposed to be a Wright,' " said Wright, the oldest son of two-time world champion Cody Wright. "After he said that, I got on the bull; and on the first jump, it bucked me off."
Such an exchange might not seem like the perfect foundation for a lasting friendship, but it was. Three years after that first encounter at a junior high rodeo practice in Beaver County, the boys are high school rodeo traveling partners and best friends.
In fact, Bradshaw, who earned 70 points, the highest score in the saddle bronc competition in the first round of the High School State Finals Rodeo, thanked Rusty and his father for helping him become one of the state's best saddle bronc riders.
"I want to thank Rusty Wright just for riding," Bradshaw said after his win Thursday. "He's the reason I push myself."
Heading into this week's finals, Wright was in first place with Bradshaw right behind him. After his win, Bradshaw overtook Wright in the standings. Both boys will likely earn a spot on the Utah team that heads to the High School National Finals in July.
In any other sport, it would be unheard of to see the top two competitors — from rival schools no less — helping each other out and sharing trade secrets.
Imagine the highly successful parent of a star athlete coaching athletes from other schools who will challenge his son on game day. While it may never happen in baseball or basketball, it is fairly common in rodeo.
What isn't as common, however, is that the helpful parent owns two NFR titles and is willing to share his knowledge and experience with friend and foe alike.
Bradshaw and his father, Travis, said that just shows what kind of man Cody Wright really is.
"These guys are so good," Travis Bradshaw said, "they'd probably feel guilty if they didn't tell him what they knew."
Bradshaw doesn't worry about whether or not the Wrights keep a few secrets within the family because what they've already shared has made him a better rider.
"Rusty's grandpa has helped me, too," CoBurn Bradshaw said. "They just put it simple what I need to do."
And while the Wrights' coaching has been invaluable, it's the friendly competition with Rusty that's really helped Bradshaw improve.
"I would ride lazy if he wasn't in the competition," he said. "I can't win if I slack with him around."
Both the boys and their fathers said that while the boys may be friends, they still want to beat each other in the arena.
But neither would feel good about it if they didn't do everything they could to assist each other in earning the best score possible.
"We help each other out, tell each other what we're doing wrong and if we've ridden the horse, we tell each other what it did last time," Bradshaw said.
They've even discussed what went right for Bradshaw and wrong for Wright in the rodeo's first round. Wright said Bradshaw's success doesn't make him mad, it inspires him.
"It makes me want to try harder," said Wright, who admits to toying with the idea of being a bull rider before committing himself to the sport that has made his family famous.
"Riding a bucking horse is way funner," he said.
They laugh about Bradshaw's "bad first impression" and how he's made up for his insult with years of friendship. In fact, Wright said he's been to dances at Beaver High and no one messes with him "because I'm with CoBurn."
"And now I think I tease him a little more than he teases me," said Wright.
Both boys said watching Wright's father and uncles is both educational and motivational.
"The way he handles his rein and sets his feet, well, he almost makes it look easy," Wright said.
Adds Bradshaw, "Seeing him up there it makes me want to push myself."
Cody Wright isn't worried about the pressure that might accompany his son's surname.
"I look for bigger and better things from him," he said. "I think he's really good at it … But it's a work in progress."
Rodeo, like life, has its share of ups and downs, Cody Wright said, and he expects his son will find a way to land on his feet — regardless of the circumstances.
And while he doesn't consciously hold back information when he's helping his son's friends and teammates, he said his sons, of which there are four, might learn a little more from him and his father, Bill, just because they spend a lot more time together.
Besides, keeping secrets isn't really something cowboys do.
"How good could you feel about that," Cody Wright said with a shy smile.
Rodeo, he said, is different than other sports in that success is sometimes determined by the luck of the draw — i.e. which horse a cowboy gets to ride in competition.
"If they were riding on the same horse, the same day, it might be different," he said. Still, no cowboy wants to earn a win just because no one else could ride.
"The good rides, the fun rides are when some guy scores an 89 and you go out and score a 90," he said.
In fact, when Rusty Wright goes pro in a few years, his father said he hopes to compete against him. And if, at some future rodeo, Rusty happens to have a 90-point ride, Cody Wright will do the only thing he knows how to do — outride him.
"I'm going to try and beat him," he said with a laugh. "No one goes out and tries to win second place. You want the other guys to do well; you just want to do better."