Round 10 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was a tough one for Chad Ferley. After all, he'd already been notified that he had wrapped up his first world title following his tie for first place in Round 9, and he was in a dogfight for the Wrangler NFR average crown with J.J. Elshere.
Ferley (Oelrichs, S.D.) stayed focused enough to ride Sankey Rodeo's Surprise Party for 87 points and a third-place finish in Round 10, but the average title went to Elshere, who finished with an 81.5-point ride to end with 723 points on nine head. Ferley's 720.5-point total was just 2.5 points shy of Elshere's, but a great week in Las Vegas kept the saddle bronc riding world title in South Dakota another year.
"I'm just happy and having fun," said Ferley, who will marry his longtime girlfriend Jessica in May. "I didn't even know until later last night (Dec. 8) that I had it (world title) clinched until somebody told me. They told me, and I kind of just tried to block it out of my mind and act like I was still riding for it. It turned out better than I ever thought it would, and I've been having a lot of fun doing it, so I'm pretty happy."
Ferley travels with Jeff Willert, a Belvidere, S.D., cowboy who won his first world title last year, so he's used to hearing the world champion tagline that he'll enjoy when he's announced at rodeos next year.
"I might be half used to it by now, it'll just be a different person," Ferley said.
Ferley and Willert are continuing a historic trend of world champion saddle bronc riders from South Dakota that includes the legendary Casey Tibbs, but Ferley isn't sure what the key to the trend is, exactly.
"I guess we're just getting on good horses and riding well and everything's working out great so far," he said.
Ferley won the fourth round, a share of the fifth with Rod Hay and a share of the ninth round with Bradley Harter en route to the title. His 2006 campaign was a direct opposite of the previous year, when he broke his leg in Odessa, Texas, and had to sit on the sidelines for much of the season.
He won the Odessa rodeo this year, a victory that put his mind at ease and kick-started a season that would end at the pinnacle of the sport.
"When I finally got to come back last year, everything went well for me," said Ferley, who won $237,583 this season. "Then I started out the year this year and ended up winning the rodeo that I broke my leg at last year, Odessa, and started it off pretty well. Things just kind of kept rolling since that."
And roll, they did. Ferley won average titles at major PRCA rodeos in Salinas, Calif., Reno, Nev., and Fargo, N.D., before capping his season off with victories in the final two Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Finales in Omaha, Neb., and Dallas. He rode that momentum into Las Vegas, where his plan was simple and straightforward as he squared off against a number of experienced and established stars.
"The plan was just to show up here and ride the best that I could," said Ferley, who won $94,321 at the Wrangler NFR. "Those other guys are pretty good bronc riders who have proven themselves for a lot of years, and I just had to prove myself next to them."
Given the way he finished an impressive season and the buckle he'll wear next year, there's little doubt he's proven himself in their eyes.