Sometimes, familiarity has its advantages in the world of bull riding.
That proved to be true for both John Crimber and Gavin Firnekas on Saturday at the Junior World Finals at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Crimber scored a Wrangler Rodeo Arena-record 91.0 points on Air Time to take the second-round lead in the 12-13 division while Firnekas had a 72.5-point ride on Toy Tiger to lead the way in the 10-11 division.
“Me and (Air Time) have a lot of history,” said Crimber, who had a 70 in the first round. “I’ve been on him since he was a little bitty calf. Every time he bucks he goes out there and goes around to the left. This summer I went to a PBR and I was 90 points on him.”
As much as Crimber knows about Air Time, it pales in comparison to the relationship between Firnekas and Toy Tiger.
“We actually own that bull and I’ve been on him a couple of times,” said Firnekas, a 12-year-old from Gillette, Wyoming. “I knew I could ride him and win it. There’s only one other kid that’s ever rode him. It was just a good time overall.”
It’s a welcome feeling for Firnekas, who won the junior bull riding at this event three years ago but only recently returned to competing.
“The year after I won it I broke my leg,” Firnekas said. “And last year I wasn’t in it because of my leg, but this year I finally qualified again.
“I was going to a practice pen before a PBR event in Billings, Montana,” he said of the injury, “and this bull of ours … my rope was still around my hand and the bull threw me back under him and then he stepped on my leg.”
While the leg took time to heal, it was even longer before Firnekas regained his confidence mentally.
“I had quite a bit of doubt about bull riding,” he admitted. “I had so many mental blocks about it and it was inside my head the past two years. I’m fine once I get to the rodeos. It’s mainly at the practice pen for me because the practice pen is where I really fight my head.
“But I’m feeling good now and I think I’ve got past it.”
Unlike Firnekas, Crimber hasn’t had an injury or a mental block to overcome. About the only thing he was fighting Saturday morning was a lack of sleep.
“I was so happy after I saw my draw that I could barely sleep last night,” Crimber said, while a steady stream of other competitors and well-wishers stopped by to offer their congratulations. “I was super-happy when I saw my draw because I love that bull. That bull fits my style of riding. He’s just a really up-and-down bull and he turns around to the left.”
Crimber has been on a roll this week, and not only at the Junior World Finals. He’s also competing at the International Miniature Bullrider’s Association in Vegas and he’s covered both bulls so far. And back in January Crimber won the junior bull riding title at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo
“I’ve got a lot of confidence right now,” Crimber said. “I told myself before I came here that I was going to ride everything they put under me and that’s what I’ve done so far.”
The Decatur, Texas, cowboy, who has “been riding bulls since I was 5 years old,” which makes sense for the son of Paulo Crimber, a former National Finals Rodeo qualifier and seven-time Professional Bull Riders finals qualifier.
Crimber and his family also live less than 300 miles from Lockney, Texas, home of Leal’s Miniature Bull Riding. Cirildo and Lillie Leal have provided miniature bulls for the Junior World Finals since 2013.
“I get to go to the Leals and practice on their bulls,” Crimber said. “And that helps a lot. I know a lot of these bulls that are here.”
And as both Crimber and Firnekas proved Saturday, any advantage helps