SALT LAKE CITY — For Tag Elliott, there are no horrific memories of the bull riding accident that nearly killed him six years ago.
So it’s understandable that Tuesday’s Days of ‘47 was just another rodeo, and his 73-point performance on Gettin’ Jiggy was just another ride for the 25-year-old Thatcher (Box Elder County) man.
“I don’t remember much from that night,” he said. “I don’t have any bad memories. It’s just another place.”
Elliott had just turned 19 (his birthday is July 22) when he drew a huge, white bull named Werewolf in the Days of ’47 Rodeo. He was having a good season, and drawing a bull like Werewolf, who’d helped another world champ earn a score of 96 the year before, could mean a big payday.
But as Werewolf exited the chute he jumped through the air, and when he landed, he threw Elliott forward just as the bull threw his head back. Werewolf’s horn collided with the right side of the cowboy’s face, breaking every bone and severing an artery. It took 10 hours of surgery just to stabilize him. It took more operations and 20 months off before he could even consider whether he wanted to return to bull riding.
There was no question, no hesitation — he did.
He came back sparingly at first, and then last year he enjoyed his best year since the accident in 2007. He ended up qualifying for the national finals in Las Vegas by less than $100.
“It’s a really, really cool experience,” he said smiling Tuesday night after being just one of two riders who earned a score. “That’s everybody’s dream to go.” He said it was disappointing not to perform well in the NFR, and this year he’s struggled to find that consistency.
“The winter was good, but lately I’ve been off,” he said. “Hopefully it will pick back up.”
He said just making that eight-second whistle can give a cowboy confidence to turn his season around.
“I do have quite a bit of ground to make up,” he said.
But beating the odds is definitely something Elliott knows how to do.
Tyler Willis of Wyoming earned the night’s highest score in bull riding with a 79-point ride.
The No. 1 cowgirl in the country raced through the ESA and to the top of the leaderboard. Sherry Cervi, a three-time NFR champion, earned the rodeo’s fastest time with a 13.33-second ride. Kassidy Dennison was third with a time of 13.50 and Brittany Pozzi had the night’s third-fastest time with a 13.57-second ride.
Reigning world champion Jesse Wright and three of his saddle bronc-riding brothers competed Tuesday night. Jesse didn’t make the whistle, but all three of his brothers did. Jake Wright, who is currently ranked eighth in the world, earned 76 points, while Alex Wright earned 70 points. Two-time world champ and the oldest of the Wright brothers, Cody, earned 80 points, which was the night’s highest score until Tyrel Larsen earned 83 points in a re-ride.
Cody is coming off a rare week off in what is the busiest time of the rodeo season. He decided to watch his two sons compete in the National Finals High School Rodeo, and it was worth the turnout fees as his oldest son Rusty won his second-straight saddle bronc championship.
“I’m really excited for him,” said Cody Wright. “Doing it once is something special. To do it twice is awesome.”
Wright said the pressure of growing up with a famous father and accomplished uncles doesn’t bother his sons as they ascribe to the philosophy that if they work hard, good things will happen.
“You usually get out of something what you put into it,” Cody Wright said smiling. “And they work hard. I believe they earn the things they’ve gotten. We practice a ton at home.”
As for his own ride, he shrugged.
“I felt OK,” he said, laughing off a dismount that had him falling face first into the pick-up man’s horse’s rear end. “I thought I could have rode him a lot better.”
He won’t win any money for Tuesday’s ride, but he’s hopeful brother Spencer Wright, who is currently in second place, will earn a paycheck at the Days of ’47 Rodeo.