Great horsemen keep horses that rock Bronc Riding Nation coming year after year, but who’s cultivating the next crop of champion riders? Coaches, parents, teachers, mentors and steers.
Mike Merchant won his Southeastern Circuit Bronc Riding Championship several time. He had what it took to seek gold and was on his way when health issues ended his world championship goal. What killed his career only fueled his desire to serve the community by helping kids get involved with a safer start on the path to their own gold buckle dreams.
• Steers aren’t as strong as any bucking horse.
• The high, airborne buck-offs that happen in bronc and bareback riding can break a beginning rider’s confidence.
• Cattle have been used to hone the skills of timing and develop confidence and style among the greats.
Merchant talked to Brian Burwash about Canada’s Build A Cowboy program that incorporates steer bareback and bronc riding for young contestants. He visited with Craig Latham and the Etbauer brothers’ at Oklahoma Panhandle State University who routinely use cattle in their school and college programs for bronc and bareback riders.
Armed with the best of the above trail blazer’s wisdom, Merchant then found an ally in the bucking horse community’s non-profit cultural preservation organization, Bronc Riding Nation. Together with industry icons, they launched a successful campaign to include steer bareback and bronc riding in the National Junior High School Rodeo Association (NJHSRA).
2015 was the first year NJHSRA contestants went for the gold at their finals in the newly added Steer Bareback and Steer Saddle Bronc Riding events. Oklahoma’s Jayco Roper and Wisconsin’s Colton Clary split the win for the champion’s title and became part of bronc riding’s history book.
Keeping it relevant, alive and well in the sports that depend on bucking horses is a responsibility that belongs to us all.
Mike Merchant has done his part for the community he loves. His son, Michael, finished 5th in the year-end standings.
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