Cole Reiner is tuning out the distractions ahead of his second year as a pro at the National Finals Rodeo, a 10-day competition that crowns the best cowboys in the world.
The Buffalo High School graduate and professional bareback rider is ranked eighth in the world with $98,216 in winnings. Rodeo rankings are based on cumulative prize money earned throughout the year, and the top 15 cowboys in each event advance to the finals. This is Reiner’s second year qualifying.
Last year at this time, he was ranked 12th in the world, but after a stellar performance during the finals, he finished fifth, raking in $154,325 in winnings on the year.
Reiner, the son of Joe and Michelle Reiner, had a standout rookie season, winning the 2020 Rookie of the Year title, but he said this year has felt even better.
“I think I have a really good chance this year of winning the world championship,” Reiner said.
There were times in Reiner’s rookie season where he struggled to perform in high-pressure situations, he said, but that’s changed this season. As his maturity and confidence has grown, he’s been able to perform better.
With more experience, Reiner has also changed his strategy. Whereas last year he went to as many rodeos as he could in order to ensure that he qualified for the NFR, this year he amassed a significant amount of winnings early so that he was able to take his time during the last half of the season, giving his body a break and picking the best rodeos to compete in and the best horses to ride.
That gives him the opportunity to be healthier – and to have more fun.
“Everything feels better when you’re on a better horse,” Reiner said.
Reiner finished his last practice for the NFR ahead of Thanksgiving. This year’s championships will be held Dec. 2 -11, and in November, Reiner prepared by working out twice a day, riding practice horses and doing any rehab that was needed. That takes care of the physical part of the job. The business part is another issue entirely.
“It’s a full-time job trying to get sponsors signed up,” Reiner said.
As a second-year rider, though, it’s been easier to collect sponsorships and make a living, he said, and the increasing popularity of rodeo as a sport has helped as well.
Between the Cowboy Channel, a television station devoted to Western sports, and social media, Reiner said he thinks the popularity of rodeo has been growing across the country.
“It showcases a lot of American culture and the American idea of standing up for yourself,” Reiner said.
As rodeo’s popularity grows, so does Reiner’s. And that means the number of distractions can increase dramatically, he said.
This year, reduced COVID-19 restrictions mean that Reiner will have more opportunity to interact with other riders, fans and sponsors at the NFR. The championship will also be held in Las Vegas (last year’s host city was Arlington, Texas), a significantly more distracting location.
“The amount of attention we’re going to get this year compared to last year is a thousand percent more,” Reiner said.
Reiner has a plan to stay focused, though, limiting his exposure to sponsors, media and fans, and instead focusing on his performance. Reiner also said he plans to stay away from the Vegas atmosphere — “The nightlife of Vegas is like nothing else,” he noted — and keep his eye on the ball.
“Being able to kind of make a plan for the day and stick with that plan as far as being in bed by a certain time or being up by a certain time … that’s huge,” Reiner said.
Reiner attributed some of his ability to stay focused to his experiences as a wrestler at BHS. Reiner won two state wrestling championships in high school, and he said that learning how to cope with that pressure has translated into learning how to cope with the pressure of the NFR.
Nothing compares to the NFR, though, Reiner said.
“There’s no place like this for the rest of the year that pays this good. The horses are better, the guys are the best in the world,” Reiner said. And to come to the NFR and not be prepared or to waste the opportunity would be silly, he said.
Still, even with all his preparation, Reiner is under no illusions; anything could happen at the championships.
“Rodeo is a very humbling sport,” Reiner said. “Talk is really cheap when you’re talking about this kind of stuff.”