Not so long ago, Rusty Wright was an aspiring bull rider.
The Milford, Utah, teen and the eldest son of two-time world champion saddle bronc rider Cody Wright was competing outside the family’s marquee event and loving every 8 seconds of it.
He rode the big beasts of the rodeo in seventh and eighth grades, and continued on into high school, until one ride went wrong.
“I got thrown, and the bull stepped on my chest,” Rusty said. “I punctured a lung and spent a few days in the hospital. I missed being able to watch my dad at the NFR (National Finals Rodeo).”
Though Rusty suffered a traumatic injury, Cody did not begrudge his son’s choice of events.
“I rode bulls in high school and college,” Cody said. “It seems like every little boy dreams to be a bull rider. We are all bronc riders, and he wanted to ride the bulls. Whatever they want to do, I just try and help. If I have any knowledge, I will pass it along.”
Rusty missed about six months of rodeo action. When he was ready to climb back on a rough stock animal, it was a bucking bronc.
Rusty was 15 and a high school sophomore.
“I’d had only ridden bulls,” Rusty said. “I had to figure out how to ride the broncs.”
Fast-forward 41/2 years.
Rusty, who won back-to-back national high school saddle bronc titles in 2012 and 2013, won the 2014 Resistol PRCA Saddle Bronc Riding Rookie of the Year award with $30,124 in earnings.
As of Monday, he was second in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) saddle bronc standings with $86,953 — $19,032 behind Louisiana cowboy Cody DeMoss — and $8,654 in front of No. 3 Taos Muncy of New Mexico.
Throw in the $16,000 he earned at the Calgary Stampede — an amount that does not count toward the world standings — and it has been a pretty profitable year.
Oh, and he’s just 19 years old.
“It’s kind of crazy,” said Rusty, who earned $8,067 the final week of July and $7,409 last week. “I never thought it would be this good. I wouldn’t be here without my uncles (twins Jesse and Jake, 26, and Spencer, 24) and my dad. I’m just trying to make things happen, and I’ve gotten some good rides.”
Rusty pretty much has a lock on his first trip to the NFR, with a $41,470 lead over No. 15 Tyrel Larsen entering the final six weeks of the season. Only the top 15 qualify for the NFR from Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.
The Wright clan will be at the Farm-City Pro Rodeo this week in Hermiston, with Rusty and Cody riding there Saturday night.
Spencer (No. 9) and Jake (No. 10) are holding strong for repeat trips to the NFR, while Jesse (17th) and Cody (24th) are scrambling to put more money in their coffers.
Cody has been slowed by a shoulder injury suffered at the 2014 NFR. He dislocated his left shoulder trying to dismount a bronc named Camp Fire after an 8-second ride in the seventh round.
Cody, 38, has been to 12 consecutive NFRs (2003-14). He and Rusty would like to take a father-son trip to the big show.
“It would be awesome if all of us went,” Rusty said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to. (The season) is a long way from over.”
“If I could go with Rusty, that would be great,” Cody added. “Honestly, I never seen this coming. I never gave it a second thought, to be honest with you. I thought I’d be done riding before he got this far, but the last couple of years, he’s really come on. I’m really proud of him.”
To say that the Wright family has dominated the saddle bronc event the past few years would be an understatement.
In the high school ranks, a Wright has won five of the past nine national titles — Jake in 2007, Spencer in 2008, Rusty in 2012 and ’13, and Ryder, Rusty’s younger brother, this year.
Jesse (2009) and Spencer (2012) also won rookie of the year honors. As a family, they have made 21 trips to the NFR.
In 2014, all four brothers qualified. No other family had ever been so well represented.
When it comes to world titles, Cody won twice, in 2008 and 2010. Jesse won in 2012 and Spencer in 2014. Jake was second in 2013.
“From the first bronc I ever got on, this was what I working for,” Rusty said of the NFR. “My ultimate goal is a world title. It still hasn’t sunk in quite yet that I’m going. I’ve had a lot of opportunities and a lot of help. My dad has paved the road for us.”
His dad’s wisdom and years of experience have helped Rusty hone his craft in such a short time.
“He’s that guy who will shoot it straight and not give me a bunch of bull crap,” Rusty said. “Every time I make a good ride, I look back, and he has the biggest smile on his face. I hope I’m making him proud.”
“I’m happy for him to be able to pick it up and carry on,” Cody said of his son’s saddle bronc prowess. “I hope I can save him a lot of hard knocks from what I’ve gone through. I hope he makes it bigger and better than me. I hope they forget about Cody Wright and remember Rusty Wright.”
The way this year has gone, it would be the Wright thing to do.