Lying in his hospital bed after surviving a brush with death this summer, Steven Peebles pictured himself being in the thick of the bareback riding world title chase at the National Finals Rodeo, where he suffered a broken back during last year’s event.
Fast forward to Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, where Peebles’ vision came to fruition as he claimed his fourth round win at the NFR with an 89.5-point ride on Frontier Rodeo’s Full Baggage.
The victory put the Redmond, Ore., cowboy $8,235 behind Kaycee Feild in the world standings with two rounds remaining, and Peebles’ lead in the NFR average standings has him poised to win his first gold buckle.
“Sitting in the hospital this summer, six months ago, I wanted to be in this situation. It’s all I dreamed about doing,” Peebles said after his winning ride. “In reality, it was probably a far-fetched thing to do. But standing here doing exactly what I wanted to do is a feeling I can’t describe. It’s pretty awesome.”
Peebles, 26, has been nothing short of spectacular at the NFR, climbing from 14th place in the world to second while placing in all eight rounds to earn an NFR-best $145,913 and push his total winnings this year to $225,999.
“I’m just finally feeling good. I’m not hurting,” Peebles said of the key to his success. “It seems like my whole career I’ve always been hurting. I’ve been riding through injuries. Now to not be riding through an injury, I’ve just been trying to have fun and not overthink anything and let the chips fall where they may.
“I’m loving my chances right now.”
Peebles suffered broken ribs at a July rodeo in Livingston, Mont., that punctured an artery and filled his chest with blood. He barely made it to the hospital in time to save his life thanks to his traveling partner, fellow bareback rider Brian Bain, who wisely decided to postpone their planned drive to Billings, Mont., and take Peebles to the nearest hospital.
“Otherwise I’d be laying on the side of the highway dead,” Peebles said. “They said I wouldn’t have made it to Billings. By the time I got to the hospital, I only had 15 minutes or so to live.
“They went to work pretty fast and saved me. They were pumping blood in me as fast as they were pumping it out.”
After spending six days in the hospital, Peebles returned to his Oregon home to start the recovery process. But after a few days, he was readmitted for a four-day stay.
“I wasn’t feeling too good, so I went back to the hospital and they ended up draining another three liters of blood out,” Peebles said.
Urged to take three months off the rodeo trail to recover, Peebles returned to action six weeks later and rallied to qualify for his seventh straight NFR.
“I had to get back. Otherwise the season was going to end,” Peebles said. “I started going to five rodeos a week. It was pretty brutal for a while, but it all worked out. It makes me feel happy every day I get to be here.
“I have a second chance to come prove myself. I could be dead right now, but instead I’m trying for a world title.”
When healthy, Peebles has given four-time defending bareback riding world champion and four-time defending NFR average winner Feild all the competition he can handle.
In 2013, Peebles placed second to Feild in the world standings and NFR average race. Last year, Feild won the NFR’s first round and Peebles took the second to ascend to second in the world behind Feild.
However, their showdown came to an abrupt end in the third round, when Peebles suffered a spine compression fracture when his horse crushed him into the chute gate.
This year, Peebles won rounds 2 and 3 to pull within striking distance of Feild. The rivals shared the win in round 4, and Feild then won rounds 5 and 7 before failing to place Thursday, when he fell to third in the average.
“Me and Kaycee have been at it for a few years,” Peebles said. “I just hope when the dust clears this time, that I can bring home the gold buckle.”