TOWNSEND — The best cowboys and cowgirls in the world are less than two weeks away from the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, which begins Dec. 6, but the professionals won’t be the only ones competing in Sin City.
The top junior competitors in the country will put their talents on display during the Junior NFR portion of the event, where 13-year-old Great Falls native and Townsend student Ridger Jones will be among the bareback competitors. Jones is making his second consecutive trip to the Junior NFR after placing 10th in the world last year, leaving him with only one goal in mind.
“To win that gold buckle. It takes a lot of try, grit, determination,” said Jones, who said he has plenty of room on his belt for a shiny gold buckle.
“The way he competed all year this year, his focus, we’re really excited for him and I know he’s really excited to compete,” said Doug Jones, Ridger’s father. “We’re kind of hoping for good things down there.”
Ridger credits his dad, along with his uncle, for getting him into the rodeo business. A competitor in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, Ridger showcased his skills in the Bulls, Broncs and Bible Camp in Miles City last weekend, tightening things up for Las Vegas next month.
“The atmosphere and how big the rodeo is, there are a lot more people and a lot more things to do,” Ridger said of the Junior NFR. “The horses are a lot bigger and (buck more). I feel like (this year) will be a lot less overwhelming, and I just finished up that rodeo school, so I’m getting ready.”
“This is a great deal for the kids,” said Doug. “It’s actually a really great deal for our sport. There are a lot of people from different parts of town and around the area that are supportive of the kids and helping them out along the way.”
The Jones family is hosting a send-off party this Sunday in Great Falls. All are encouraged to attend between noon and 3 p.m. at the Mighty Mo Brewing Company, where food, 50/50 raffles and silent auction items will be featured.
For Ridger, it’s a chance to thank those that have supported his young rodeo career.
“It’s pretty cool. I’ll get to see my grandparents and other family, see everybody,” he said.
“We’ll have some pizza and drinks, a fun atmosphere for everyone to say hello,” added Doug. “They can wish him good luck and get him on down the road. We have great friends and family back in Great Falls that have supported Ridger in everything, so the more people that want to come, the happier we are to have them. It’s a family event, this is a family sport and that’s what keeps cowboys together.”