As a full-time calf roper, Riley Pruitt is gone much of the year. With the 2019 season wrapped up with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas, where Pruitt finished well. He finished fourth in the world in earnings.
“I made some really good runs and won a lot of money,” said. “I won round 8. I won second three nights in a row. It was around $126,000 I won in 10 days.”
Pruitt said making it to the NFR is crucial to being able to make money and being able to continue competing.
“The money is great at the finals. If you don’t make the finals, you’re broke,” he said. “I went into the finals with $98,000 and I spent close to $70,000. I mean, fees, fuel, a rig. There’s no telling what can happen. A horse goes down and you got to go find a new horse. The horses in my event are not cheap. They’re $60,000 to $100,000 horses. You could very easily go broke in a year, but if you make the finals and do real well you don’t have to spend that much to do it.”
To make it to the NFR is no small feat. A cowboy has to finish in the top 15 in money earned in that event. To finish in the top 15, a cowboy has to compete in a lot of rodeos throughout the season.
“It’s a long, long year,” Pruitt said. “I bought a truck last fall. I got one year out of it. I put on over 100,000 miles on it. I drove every bit of it. It’s a job. It’s a job, that if it goes well, you get paid a lot of money. If not, at the end of the year, you’re looking for a new job. It’s a lot of work.”
With the 2019 season over, Pruitt will spend some time at the family ranch with his wife Jenna and daughter Chloe. Riley and Jenna are expecting baby number two, a boy, in March.
“I just work on my place. Me and my wife, in 2016, we bought some land and put a house on it. We’ve been building on it ever since,” he said. “Now, after the finals, for about two weeks I don’t touch a rope. ... So, I’m just trying to be home and help my wife and be a dad. Get everything setup before I leave again.”
It’s that time he gets to spend at home with his family that keeps him going during the rodeo season.
“It’s really hard, but every chance we can get together we do,” Pruitt said. “We’re a great family. It’s hard for rodeo guys to be with their families. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who supports me. That helps more than anything.”
Being on the road for much of the year, Pruitt said it is those times his wife and daughter spend with him on the road that he cherishes most.
“(Not being home a lot), you’ll miss out on some stuff. My daughter, she’s great, they went out on a lot of stuff with me this year, and that helps,” he said. “There will be times where they can’t go with me just because it’s non-stop. This summer, I went to 18 rodeos in 10 days. I think I slept five hours.”
While he’s away, he also gets a lot of help from his father Troy Pruitt, who is a big name in the world of calf roping himself having won a gold buckle at the NFR in the 1990. Pruitt, though, doesn’t look at competing in the same event where his dad is a legend as a burden.
“It just means I’ve had more help than a lot of the other guys,” he said.
Pruitt, you could say, has rodeo in his DNA. His father isn’t the only one his family with rodeo experience.
“I grew up in it. My father roped. My mom ran barrels. My earliest childhood memories are being at the rodeos,” he said.
Following in his footsteps was natural for Pruitt.
“I grew up around all of those guys who roped,” he said. “I fell in love with it. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. I’m going to go until my body says I can’t anymore.”
Pruitt said he had never even considered competing in any other rodeo event.
“I’ve never been a fan of team roping. I never wanted to be a bulldogger. I’m too big for the roughstock events. So, I just fell in love with calf roping. I’ve worked my whole life for that.”
His ultimate dream is to bring home that gold buckle, just like his dad.
“I want to be higher (than I finished this year), he said. “I’ve only dreamt about a gold buckle for 27 years now. That’s all I’ve wanted to do. My dad’s got one. I want to be able to have one myself.”
To get that gold buckle, Pruitt said he will have to log a lot of miles on the road. He competed in around 90 rodeos last year. He is planning on competing in more than 100 in 2020.
“Next year, I’ll probably go to more,” he said. “I got two really nice horses this year underneath me. Last year, I only had one. So, I had to pick and choose where I went. I had to help him out. This year, I’ve got two of them and they’re great. I’ll probably go to 105-110 rodeos this year and make the finals again. That’s the goal. The end goal is to win the world title. I feel like I’ve been roping good, so I’m going to keep it going into the new year.”
To get back to the NFR, Pruitt said he will be gone from January to April practicing and competing in winter rodeos. The first of the 2020 season will be the National Western Stock Show in Denver in late January, which means a short turnaround from the 2019 season to the start of the 2020 season. After that, he will compete in Rapid City, South Dakota; Fort Worth, Texas; San Angelo, Texas and San Antonio, Texas.
“I’ve got a really good friend who lives down in Stephenville, Texas. Here, at the end of January, I’ll go down there until March,” he said. “I’ll live with him and go stay down there and go to rope and go to rodeos. Stay right in the hunt. It’s hard for us to take a break. What we do is so hard, the moment you stop you lose.”
If all goes as planned, expect to see Pruitt in Las Vegas next year competing once again in the National Finals Rodeo.