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At Fort Worth Stock Show, Pro Rodeo Cowboy Juggles Risk And Reward

Miguel Perez
Bareback rider Winn Ratliff, 29, waiting by the chute with Andy the horse before his round at the Will Rogers Coliseum on Saturday, January 26, 2019.

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is a major stop on the professional rodeo circuit, and nationally-ranked bareback rider Winn First Ratliff, 29, is hoping to win big. 

More than a million people typically attend the three-week affair, which runs through Saturday, February 9, this year. Cowboys and cowgirls from all over the country flock to the Will Rogers Coliseum to compete in categories like saddle bronc riding and barrel racing. 

The rodeo always gets Fort Worth's cultural district bustling. In addition to rodeo, there are also livestock competitions, fair rides and concerts.  

Ratliff, of Leesville, Louisiana, gave KERA an inside look at the life of a professional cowboy while competing in his first round at the Fort Worth Rodeo

Credit James Phifer / Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo
Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo
Bareback rider Winn Ratliff, 29, competing at the Will Rogers Coliseum on Saturday, January 26, 2019 for the Forth Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

On barebacking riding technique 

"You wedge your hand in there really tight, crack it over, and then you're welded on the horse while they're running in the arena, bucking. You're trying to stay on top of his back and trying to spur him to get points while he's bucking.

You're in control, yet you're out of control.

We ride eight seconds. You want to try and stay in rhythm with him as he's bucking. Then you have two pro rodeo officials on your left and right side looking for our posture to be square with the horse — not hanging over to one side. They're also looking for our feet to be in motion with the horse."

On the physical and mental strain 

"I had a horse that, if you look at stats, was not very rider-friendly. We came up to the fence, and it spooked her. She fell on top of me, and I shattered my pelvic ring in three sections. I broke my sacrum, and I was out for 12 weeks on crutches. 

You can't let it affect you. You've got to be mentally tough and not look at it like it's a burden ... If you do your job and have the right dance partner, you've got a shot at winning quite a bit of money."

On how he got started 

"I started out five years old riding sheep, and I just fell in love with it. It was just like a natural gift that God gave me, and I found out that the school I was attending — McNeese State University — had a rodeo team. That's where I started riding bareback horses." 

Ratliff is currently ranked third in bareback riding at the Fort Worth Rodeo. There are still four sets of cowboys left to compete, and he'll need to be among the top 12 to return for the Championship Finals on Feb. 9.

Ratliff's bio
Ratliff on Facebook

Miguel Perez is an assistant producer at KERA. He produces local content for Morning Edition and KERA News. He also produces The Friday Conversation, a weekly interview series with North Texas newsmakers.