Bareback rider Zach Dishman (Beaumont, Texas) credits six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier James Boudreaux for showing him the ropes.
In three weeks, Dishman will get to see how far he has come in three years as a professional when he rides some of the roughest livestock at the 18th Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo (DNCFR), March 17-20 in Pocatello, Idaho. Ironically, Dishman is replacing Boudreaux, who underwent surgery recently to repair a torn rotator cuff and biceps tendon suffered at the Fort Worth (Texas) Stock Show last month.
It's a bittersweet opportunity for the junior at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
"I'm glad I have the opportunity to go to the DNCFR," said Dishman, a two-time College National Finals Rodeo contestant who turns 21 on March 8. "James has helped me a lot. He has really been a good inspiration for me."
The DNCFR is the crowning event of the PRCA's circuit system of regional competition, which determines the national circuit champions.
Created in 1987, the DNCFR features a tournament-style system. Cowboys compete in two preliminary rounds. The top eight contestants in each event advance to the semifinals. After the completion of the semifinals, the top four contestants in each event move on to the final round known as the Wrangler Round where the national titles are decided.
The DNCFR field includes the season circuit champions and circuit finals winners from each of the 12 circuits, which are based on geographical regions. The circuits showcase not only some of the sport's top competitors, but also cowboys who are known as "weekend warriors" and hold other jobs during the week.
Dishman had a solid rookie year in 2002, earning $22,517 and finishing behind reigning world bareback riding champion Will Lowe (Canyon, Texas) and 2003 Wrangler NFR qualifier and defending DNCFR bareback riding champion Tom McFarland (Morristown, Ariz.) in the rookie standings.
Based on that, it should be only a matter of time before Dishman shines, but he's putting no timetable on future successes.
Like any cowboy, he has dreams of one day competing at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, as his father, Monk, did in 1982-84. But first things first.
"I have a good opportunity to get my degree," Dishman said. "It's hard to be a good student and rodeo. But with scholarships, a lot of my school is paid for. There's a lot of motivation there."
Bob Doty, the 10th-year coach at TSU, strives to find a balance between rodeo tutelage and preparing his students for the real world.
"I try to give them examples," Doty said. "A lot of people think rodeo is going to be their life, and actually very few make a living out of it. I give them encouragement, and hopefully they're also getting that from home. Zack rodeos hard and gets back to school, and that's good to see."
Doty wouldn't mind seeing another Tarleton alumni win a championship buckle.
Four years ago, Denny McLanahan claimed the DNCFR bareback riding buckle, and Eric Mouton won the world bareback riding title in 1997. Dave Appleton rode for TSU before winning the world all-around title in 1988 and being inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1992.
For now, Dishman is just focusing on this season.
Besides holding down first place in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region's bareback riding standings and hopefully heading for his third straight College National Finals Rodeo in June, he's enjoying his best start as a pro, already ranked 17th in the Jack Daniel's World Standings. And although he knows any earnings in Pocatello won't count toward the standings and qualification for the Wrangler NFR, just being in the presence of some of rodeo's best is enough for him.
"I'm getting an opportunity to go to the DNCFR because James got hurt and they needed someone else to ride," Dishman said. "I may not have this opportunity every year. In Texas, it's hard to make it in bareback riding. A lot of the top guys compete in the circuit."
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