LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t much, but the $2,115 that Hardy Braden earned Monday during the fifth round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo means something big.

He remains consistent and is giving himself every chance to win. He proved that with an 85.5-point ride on Powder River Rodeo’s Rich N Fancy to finish in a tie for sixth place. It marked the fourth time in five nights that he’s earned an NFR paycheck.

“Tonight’s horses were the best of the best,” said Braden of Welch. “It’s a good score in any other pen, but there are 15 of the best bucking horses going down the road in tonight’s pen.

“If you stub your toe, they are going to buck you off. I just needed to keep hustling, and it worked out.”

Yes, it did. Braden has ridden four of five horses. If he has stayed on, he has found money. He has earned $57,173 through five nights of ProRodeo’s grand championship. He has moved up to sixth in the world standings with just shy of $160,000 in season earnings. It’s been a good year by any standard, but it’s been quite incredible for Braden.

His best year prior to 2017 was a year ago, and he won $34,511. That means this year’s campaign is almost five times better than last. He knew he’d have to get a good start Monday if he had hopes of adding to his total.

His key was making a solid mark-out, where the heel of his boot was over Rich N Fancy’s shoulder, allowing his spur stroke to be strong. The other bronc riders offered a bit of assistance in his ride, as happens to be the case among rodeo contestants – they know that it’s not man vs. man; it’s the cowboy that rides the best animal that wins.

That comradery is what makes rodeo much different than other sports.

“They told me she will be better if you were to try to hang on with your mark-out for a jump or two to try to get in time with her,” Braden said. “That horse never has the same trip twice. Everything is different, but tonight she had just a good trip.”

So did Braden, who remains consistent. His average score has been just a bit better than 85.5, and that’s paid off quite well. While $2,115 isn’t big compared to round-winner Sterling Crawley’s $26,231, it is valuable in its own way.

“There are a lot of rodeos where that’s the grand prize,” Braden said. “Some people work all month long to make $2,100. It’s pretty special.”