LAS VEGAS – On the first night of his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Welch saddle bronc rider Hardy Braden finished first.

Braden matched moves with Cervi Rodeo’s HATitude Alpha Dog for 87.5 points to win the opening go-round and pocket an additional $26,231.

It was a great way to kickstart his inaugural run at ProRodeo’s grand championship.

“I just wanted to do well, so this was a good start,” said Braden, who pushed his season earnings to $139,004. “It is a little bit of pressure, but it’s still just my main goal to do as well as I can do.”

He did just that on Alpha Dog, a horse that has guided others to success inside the Thomas & Mack Center over the years.

Braden attended both Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships.

“Talk about a cool horse,” he said. “I thought, ‘What a cool horse that I would love to have,’ and low and behold, this was my first time to get on him and here at the NFR in the first round, and it just paid off.

It was the perfect match to help him overcome any first-NFR nerves that may have come his way. He tried to manage all the spirited happenings that occur with the spectacle that is ProRodeo’s championship.

“I wasn’t any more nervous than I thought I’d be,” Braden said. “In my mind, I kept telling myself that it isn’t any bigger than San Antonio or Houston, and I’ve been to those a few times.

“I just didn’t want to let the pressure get to me.”

He did a pretty good job in a field of seasoned veterans. Among the other 14 saddle bronc rider are past world champions Jacobs Crawley, Zeke Thurston, Jesse Wright and Taos Muncy.

“This helps take the pressure off me to have a round win because I have one in my pocket,” he said. “Really you just go on and do the best you can with what you have. I like having the pressure off, but I’ll try to win another one.”