On night eight of the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), the energy in the Thomas and Mack was unmatched as the best rodeo athletes in the nation compete to top the average and bring home a gold buckle.
The bareback riders started night eight with a bang as they tried to best the broncs. Leighton Berry lead the pack with an 88-point ride on Powder River Rodeo’s Knot So Foxy.
“Tonight’s the night where you have to give it your all,” Berry says. “You can’t quit. All these horses are going to be trying to jerk you down and make a guy look funny. You have to just stay back and keep setting your feet hard, and the judges liked it so I’m thankful.”
As he heads into the last two rounds of the Wrangler NFR, Berry’s trying to finish strong despite a rocky start.
“I pretty much took myself out of a top average position because I was only 72 in Round 1,” Berry explains. “The rest of the seven rounds have gone great. I’m going to finish out as strong as I possibly can, and we will see how it shakes out.”
Steer wrestlers Will Lummus and Tyler Waguespack tied for the lead with 3.6-second runs. Both cowboys left it all in the dirt, taking advantage of good steers on night eight.
“The steer was great,” Lummus reveals. “I had to take a chance at the barrier. Clayton Haas did a great job on the haze, and it all just worked out.”
Lummus gave his hazer and his mount credit for helping him to the win.
“Benz is owned by Clayton Haas,” he shares. “He’s an amazing animal, a little tough in the box, but when you get him lined out, he’s one of the easiest animals I have ever ridden.”
Waguespack also felt confident in his steer, after watching the animal help his fellow competitors to solid times in past rounds.
“They were 4-flat both times on that steer,” Waguespack reveals. “I knew if I could keep him on his feet, was able to shape him, and make a good run to get the win.”
This seasoned cowboy isn’t fazed by the pressure of the final three nights. Instead, he’s keeping his eye on that golden buckle.
“I’ve been in these situations before, so not really nerves, but just the energy of the run and trying to win,” he shares.
In the team roping, Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin caught in 3.5 seconds to top the scoreboard on night eight.
“Anytime you can beat the top 15 in the world—especially Kaleb Driggers (and Junior Nogueira)—by half a second, that’s an amazing night,” Proctor says.
All-around cowboy Stetson Wright marked a 90.5-point ride on Bar T Rodeo’s Hell Boy in round eight of the saddle bronc riding. After hitting the dirt before the eight second mark in round seven, Wright came back strong.
“I would say that was the best thing that happened to me this week,” Wright says of the round seven buck-off. “It sounds really weird, but when you exit yourself from the average race, all of the stress is off. I’m still in the World Title race, and now I can focus on winning rounds. I’ve never been an average rider, and I felt like me getting bucked off last night reminded me that I wasn’t.”
In the tie-down roping, Hunter Herrin got it done in 7.2 seconds to win night eight’s competition.
“It’s been my best run,” Herrin says of his round eight run. “I was able to put it all together and stay out of my own way. If you do that, you might not win first but you can live with it as long as you compete to the best of your ability.”
Barrel racer Leslie Smalygo won her first-ever Wrangler NFR go-round victory with a 13.41-second time.
“It’s a complete dream come true,” Smalygo reveals. “I thought it was just a pipedream to make it out here. Gus is the only horse I rode all year, and he’s the only one I took with me. He’s just been so honest all year and exceeded any expectations I had. I was just hoping to be in the thirteens this week, so to win a round—I never thought we had this in us.”
After winning the night’s round of saddle bronc, Wright also tied for the top score in round seven of the bull riding. Wright split the bull riding round win with Ky Hamilton, who also scored a 90. Hamilton and Wright are traveling partners, making the tie even more meaningful.
“Best round win I’ve ever had in my life,” Wright says. “This is an unforgettable moment for us. We travel together all the time and are around each other 24/7. We’ve been to the NFR for three years together so to get this round win together, it’s awesome.”
Hamilton gave a stellar performance aboard Dakota Rodeo’s Bubba G to match Wright’s 90-point score.
“’d seen that bull before, but I’ve never been on him,” Hamilton reveals. “He’s a big bucking bull with a lot of up and down in him—the kind that I really like. I knew he’d suit me well and he was everything I thought he was going to be, and it worked out well.”
Hamilton has racked up consistent scores at the Thomas and Mack this year, putting him in a solid spot for both the average and the world standings.
“It’s funny, I don’t get nervous here at all,” Hamilton shares. “It’s almost like something’s wrong with me. It’s weird. It’s the biggest rodeo and I don’t feel anything. I feel exactly how I feel right now when I’m getting on. I believe that works in my favor because in bull riding it’s all about reaction and being able to adjust to what the bull is doing. It’s not a bad place to be calm, cool, and collected.”