Leal’s Junior Bull Riding has made a habit of spending one week every December in Las Vegas. And that isn’t expected to change anytime in the near future.
Beginning in 2013, Leal’s Junior Bull Riding has teamed with Las Vegas Events to have some of the nation’s top young bull riders compete at the Las Vegas Convention Center during Cowboy Christmas. As Bo Gardner, vice president of corporate marketing for Las Vegas Events and general manager of the Junior World Finals, began bringing in other events to accompany the bull riding, the event has grown from a five-day happening to its current 10-day format. This year’s Junior World Finals is scheduled for Dec. 5-14.
The Junior World Finals is a rebranding of the Junior National Finals Rodeo, which ran the last two years.
“Ever since we first went in 2013 Bo does something every year to make it better,” said Alysa Leal-Davis, the junior bull riding producer and the daughter of Lillie and Cirildo Leal. “We’re excited because Bo could have anybody do this but he chooses us.
“We saw what he did for the Junior NFR and we know he has a lot more coming for the Junior World Finals. I think we’re all excited to see what Bo has up his sleeve this year. It’s going to be as big as the Junior NFR if not bigger.”
At last year’s event, there were more than 120 young bull riders competing in four age divisions – 10-11, 12-13, 14-15 and 16-18. The two younger divisions compete on mini bulls while the two older divisions compete on junior bulls.
Leal-Davis expects to have at least as many bull riders in Las Vegas for this year’s Junior World Finals as the sport continues to gain traction.
“It’s amazing to see how many kids join this every year,” Leal-Davis said. “Even if there are kids out in Vegas who aren’t riding for us at least the sport of bull riding is continuing to grow. Honestly, to me it seems like more people are interested in the sport of bull riding now thank in recent years.”
Contestants compete in one of six regions across the country, with each region putting on a minimum of six qualifying events. The bull riders earn points at each qualifier and at the end of the season the top four kids in each age division qualify for the Junior World Finals. Leal’s Junior Bull Riding will also hold a last-chance qualifier.
“It was hard for us to do regions at first because we didn’t know how it was going to work,” Leal-Davis said, “but it has worked out really well. We just want to take baby steps every year.”
The six regions that comprise Leal’s Junior Bull Riding are Texas; Rocky Mountain, which has qualifiers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho; Southwest, which has qualifiers in Arizona; Southeastern, which has qualifiers in Mississippi and North Carolina; Northeastern, which has qualifiers in Maryland; and the New Mexico/Colorado Region.
As with any rodeo event, especially bull riding and bronc riding, safety is paramount, for the kids and the stock.
“There is danger involved with this,” Leal-Davis said, “but these kids know this is a dangerous sport. And we do everything we can to make sure these kids are safe. If we see a bull that is too tough for an age division we are going to pull that bull out because we don’t want these kids to get hurt, we want to build their confidence.
“We don’t want to take stock out there that is going to be too tough for these kids,” she added. “We’re there to put on a show. People aren’t there to see all these kids get bucked off.”
And with so much invested in the stock, the Leal’s make sure the bulls they and their contractors bring to Las Vegas are the best they have to offer. That is especially true when dealing with the mini bulls.
“You’ve got to breed for big, strong ankles so that when they’re bucking they don’t break,” Cirildo Leal said. “It’s never happened to me, but it can happen.
“Me and my wife do everything we can for the bulls and for these cowboys,” he added. “We’ve got people who travel 24 hours to our house when we’re having an event just so they can get on our bulls because they don’t have any mini bulls to practice on.”
While that is starting to change as more stock contractors continue to do a better job of breeding the right cows with the right bulls, Leal’s Junior Bull Riding remains the gold standard for mini bulls and junior bulls. So it only makes sense they’re the ones who will once again be in Las Vegas for this year’s Junior World Finals.
“We just want to thank Las Vegas Events and all of our regional people,” Leal-Davis said, “because without them we would not be able to have Leal’s Junior Bull Riding. We’re the founders, but these guys work hard all year to go out there and make this happen. It’s great to know we have people we can trust.”