Fruita’s Tonozzi finishes fifth at National Finals Rodeo

Roper Garrett Tonozzi and his horse Diesel, which he has been riding in competition for 11 years, at his home northweat of Fruita

The way Garrett Tonozzi and his teammate, Kenny Harrell, looked at it, they had nothing to lose.

Tonozzi, the 23-year-old Fruita resident, and his roping partner, Harrell, of San Angelo, Texas, were the 15th and final qualifiers in the team roping competition at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas on Dec. 4-12.

Having qualified for the finals, there was nowhere to go but up.

Tonozzi and Harrell won the first two rounds of the 10-session competition and also won the fifth.

That moved them from 15th to fifth in the final standings.

“(That’s) the best start you could ask for,” Tonozzi said of winning the first two sessions. “We put ourselves in contention for a world championship, which is all you can ask for.”

In all, the two split a $70,000 purse for the 10 days of competition. Tonozzi won $132,000 on the pro rodeo circuit this year.

It was Tonozzi’s second appearance at the National Finals. He and teammate Brady Minor qualified in 2006.

“NFR is usually our free-and-clear money,” he said, meaning anything won on Las Vegas is profit.

Tonozzi and Harrell have known each other since competing on the youth circuit.

This was the first season they had competed as teammates, however. Tonozzi was the header —the roper who lassos the head — Harrell was the heeler.

“All year long we went from third to ninth,” Tonozzi said of their position in the circuit standings.

They missed a couple of events at the end of the season, however, which dropped them to 15th place.

“Any time Kenny and me are together, we’re pretty aggressive,” Tonozzi said.

That’s how they approached the National Finals, and it paid off.

Tonozzi had plenty of support. His grandparents and his mother were there for the entire 10-day run in Las Vegas and his uncle and family joined them on the weekends.

“It feels good,” he said of finishing in the top five in the world. “It gives Kenny and me a lot of confidence heading into next year.”

Next year actually begins Jan. 9 in Odessa, Texas, and includes an annual stop in Denver at the National Western Stock Show. Shortly thereafter, the spring circuit begins.

Tonozzi will spend his short offseason finding ways to improve. Much like golfers, rodeo riders are never completely satisfied.

“You always have to keep learning and keep getting better,” he said.


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