There’s nothing funner in the whole wide world’

Mason Stuller has had a pretty good run in the rodeo arena.

The 16-year-old from Venata, Oregon, moved to the top of the leaderboard in Novice Bareback Bronc Riding at the Junior World Finals on Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center with an 85.5-point ride on Girl Crush.

“I didn’t know anything about that horse,” Stuller said, “but I had some guys tell me she would probably be pretty good so I was hopeful.”

Coming out of a right-hand chute at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena, Stuller made sure to have his feet in good position on Girl Crush’s flank and then worked in tandem with the big black mare as she went straight down the middle of the arena.

After the ride, Stuller acknowledged the appreciative crowd and then exchanged fist bumps with fellow competitors when his score was announced. He finished the first round with a 10-point lead on Bradlee Miller from Huntsville, Texas.

It was the second successful ride in as many days for Stuller, who competed in Novice Saddle Bronc Riding on Thursday. Stuller scored 80.5 points to put him in first place; Stran Nielson from Leamington, Utah, is second with a 74.0.

“The horse ran to the fence,” Stuller said of his bronc ride, “so I just kept my cool and did what I was supposed to do. I just stayed calm.

“Right now I’m just getting lucky with the draw and I’m having a lot of fun.”

Stuller freely admits that he had never been on either horse before this week, and he used that to his advantage.

“I’d rather not know anything about the horse,” he said. “I just let the horse do whatever it wants to do. That way I don’t think about it.”

It’s a philosophy that has worked well for Stuller the past 12 months.

At last year’s Junior World Finals, which was called the Junior National Finals Rodeo at the time, Stuller won the Senior Saddle Bronc average title after winning the final go-round with a 70.0-point ride.

He carried that momentum into the high school season. At the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in July Stuller finished sixth in the average in bareback and eighth in the average in saddle bronc to win the All-Around Rookie Cowboy title and place third in the All-Around standings.

Not bad for a kid who has only been riding broncs for the past five years.

“I started riding sheep when I was 4 or 5,” Stuller said. “And I started getting on broncs when I was 10 or 11, but it took a few years before I felt comfortable. I got beat up quite a bit, but I’m starting to get pretty good at it now.”

Unlike a number of competitors at this year’s Junior Finals Rodeo, Stuller didn’t grow up on a ranch surrounded by opportunities to improve his rodeo skills. Obviously, that hasn’t slowed him down.

“I grew up in a super-tight town neighborhood,” he said. “And then we moved out to the country, but we don’t have any property or anything. I just really wanted to do this and my parents have always supported me.”

Like most roughstock cowboys, Stuller has suffered his share of injuries over the years. And, like most cowboys, Stuller shakes them off with a simple shrug of his shoulders.

“I rode bulls for a while,” he said, “but this summer I broke my leg. I also broke both my arms before, but that was about it.”

Stuller will have his second go in saddle bronc Saturday and in bareback Sunday. More than likely, he’ll stick around Monday to compete in the final go-round in each event for the second year in a row. That’s just fine with the high school sophomore, who is in Vegas for the third consecutive year.

“The first year I was here there wasn’t hardly anybody here,” Stuller said. “Every year since then the competition has gotten better, the money has gotten better and it’s more fun.

“After this, I’m going to finish up my high school season, go back to nationals and go to as many rodeos as I can because there’s nothing funner in the whole wide world than rodeoing.”

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