FORT WORTH, Texas ― The Bad Boy Mowers Lead Dog Chair is exactly where all 35 riders on the Built Ford Tough Series aspire to sit—even if it’s not the most comfortable chair in the arena and it tends to be set up far enough behind the bucking chutes that it sometimes makes it difficult to watch the rest of the event unfold.
Gage Gay was excited the first time he sat there.
However, the 19-year-old quickly grew rambunctious and it was hard for television cameramen to contain the excitement of the Staley, N.C., native.
Tanner Byrne, another of a trio of PBR rookies currently on the BFTS, has found himself in the chair at times during three of the past four BFTS events.
“I love the feeling of being in the lead dog chair,” Byrne said. “It’s where you want to be and when you’re at the highest level of bull riding you can be sitting in that chair and know you’ve done good, so it’s a great feeling.
“It’s very comfortable even though it’s uncomfortable.”
Tanner Bryne talks with Leah Garcia about his last ride of the Table Mountain Table Casino Invitational and his plan for the rest of the season.
Gay is the highest ranked rookie.
He’s currently 13th in the world standings, but after his third Top-5 finish in the past four weeks Byrne, 21, is right behind him at 17th.
Byrne has twice finished second – Phoenix and Tacoma, Wash. – and this past weekend he earned the first pick in the bull draft for the Built Ford Tough Championship Round in Fresno, Calif. He took Hair Trigger and despite making the whistle, his 86.75-point effort left him in third place in the event average behind Cody Nance and Markus Mariluch.
PBR Livestock Director Cody Lambert said Byrne could have easily won the Table Mountain Casino Invitational – “he did his part” – but the bull wasn’t quite as good as he was the night before when Emilio Resenderode him in the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
“I’m a little bit disappointed with the score, but that’s the judges’ call and it probably feels a lot different than it looks,” Byrne said. “I’m just really excited and I did my job 100 percent this weekend, so I can look in the mirror and know I did my best and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.”
A situation like that is precisely why his father Ryan, a former Canadian bullfighter turned PBR judge, does not work events in which Tanner is competing.
Byrne is within 600 points of Gay and a third rookie, Brady Sims, ranked 22nd, is within 800 points of Gay.
All three understand the BFTS is the biggest stage in bull riding.
“He’s going to win more than most guys with consistency,” Lambert said after watching Byrne this past weekend in Fresno. “He’s going to get more scores than everybody else or more scores than most of the guys. He might not always win first place, but he’s going to win some seconds and thirds and he’s going to win some events too.”
What some see as a hindrance has actually worked in Byrne’s favor.
The 2014 PBR Media Guide lists Byrne at 6-feet-4-inches.
That’s a good six inches more than the assumed average height of a top-ranked bull rider and 10 inches taller than Gay, who’s among the smallest riders on tour this year.
“What I like to do a lot is run my knees up as much as I can (on those) bulls,” Byrne explained. “So you’ll see a lot of times my knees will be right above my handhold. It can’t take a really deep hold, especially on these really small bulls.”
Lambert noted that Byrne has adjusted well to a style that works well for someone with long legs.
“It’s not rocket science. He’s gotta bend his knees more than the other guys,” said Lambert. “That’s not all bad because that has his knees out in front of him and it’ll keep him from getting pulled over the front and he can look like he’s getting pulled over the front and his knees will stop him. Also, if a bull is spinning, and he’s got his knees in it, it pulls him around by the legs, so he stays in the middle of them better than a lot of guys, so what might be a hindrance to one guy might help another guy. Tanner’s learned how to use it.”
Byrne added, “I’m going to ride with my knees and that’s what gets me going.”
Tanner Byrne puts up 88 points on Compact in Round 2 of the Bass Pro Chute Out in Phoenix.
While he may not be a flashy rider, Lambert said Byrne’s body style hasn’t affected his consistency.
Byrne has ridden nine of 13 bulls the past four weeks and his 69.23 percent riding average is the highest among anyone in the Top 20, but he’s still the only rider among them with less than 25 total outs.
As would be expected of anyone competing on the BFTS, not one of the three rookies this year is short on confidence.
Gay made a name for himself in Arlington, Texas, and has recorded five Top-10 finishes in nine BFTS events, while Sims has quietly amassed four Top-10 finishes in six events, including his first Top 5 this past weekend in Fresno.
As a matter of fact, Sims has ridden nine of 19 bulls and his 47.37 percent riding average is nearly 10 points higher than Gay’s 37.93 percent average after slipping to 11-for-29.
“I want to win the rookie race,” Sims wrote in a message. “I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t, but I’m also focused on winning BFTS events and moving into that Top 10.”
He added, “We’re all bunched together and it could go any of our ways at any time.”
J.W. Harris also made his BFTS debut last week with the first of three exemptions.
He’s now ranked 75th in the world and if he can move up into an alternate position or higher in the next couple weeks – Nampa, Idaho, and Billings, Mont. – he too would move into the rookie race once he cracks the Top 30 for the first time.
Harris wouldn’t be a prototypical rookie.
He’s a 27-year-old veteran who’s won four of the past six PRCA titles.
That said, Byrne is as confident as he’s ever been in his career whether it’s the rookie race or among the top riders – Guilherme Marchi is currently the No. 1 ranked rider in the world – contending for a world title.
“I’m feeling really confident and really hot, but it’s just one bull at a time and you can’t overthink it,” said Byrne, whose goal is to keep it as simple as he can. “I’ll just keep showing up and try to ride my bulls.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.