If you talk to people who just came back from Las Vegas, most would probably tell you they lost money there.
Not Rylee Grace Abel. The Hobbs resident returned from Vegas early last week and brought back with her nearly $22,000 – and a Dodge pickup truck.
Nice haul. But Abel didn’t win that loot at a casino or blackjack table; she’s just a teenager after all. She earned it competing at The Vegas Tuffest, a 19-and-under rodeo event, from Dec. 2-6.
Straight from the nice-work-if-you-can-get-it file, Abel took home $13,300 for winning the goat-tying competition. She reeled in another $8,000 for finishing third in the barrel hot round. And then there was another $500 for her sixth-place finish in the first round of the breakaway roping.
All that for Abel’s rodeo skills. The pickup truck was a bit of luck, though her skill did factor in. Abel was in the running for the truck because she is a world champion, and that distinction allowed her to open a box with a message inside that read, ‘truck or trailer’ which meant she would get to open another box.
The message inside that second box informed Abel that she had won a 2021 Dodge work model.
They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the truck is long gone. It came with the Abels back to Hobbs, and Rylee Grace has already been tooling around in it.
Handy skill, that rodeoing.
Though Abel’s talents have earned her money before, this trip stood out.
“Oh my gosh, it was really overwhelming,” Abel said, “because I’ve never really won anything that big. So for me to be able to win that, it was amazing.”
Perhaps even more amazing is that early on in The Vegas Tuffest, Abel got off to a poor start.
First, Abel’s horse Badger was crippled. She had to borrow her 11-year-old sister Anistyn’s horse Kat. But Abel’s fortunes didn’t initially change with her new ride.
“I didn’t have good goat runs at first,” she said, “and I had some bad luck with my calf roping, too.”
But she didn’t give up. And as the days in Las Vegas wore on, Abel’s performances improved.
“I’m not really sure what changed,” Abel said. “I guess God just had a plan to let me do some good. I was super down and mad at myself the first couple of days because I could not have a good run. … I was like, ‘Why am I not winning? I’m working hard.’”
But Abel’s faith and persistence made her trip to Las Vegas worthwhile.
“It was good, it was fun,” she said. “It’s a lot of money that we can run for, so it’s a lot of pressure, but we had fun. It didn’t start out good; I didn’t have a good rodeo to start. I really wanted to go home. But it ended good.”
Abel has worked hard at rodeoing most of her life, inheriting the passion for it from her rodeoing family.
While homeschooling through Tatum, Abel has been improving her rodeo skills in her spare time, and it has paid off. Especially on her most recent trip to Las Vegas.
The money, says Abel, has not been misspent. “It went into my college account,” she noted, “my savings account.”
Abel says the rewards for taking part in rodeo go beyond financial.
“I love the people that I get to be around,” she said. “We’re all Christian; we’re all able to share our light with each other in and out of the arena. I love being able to stand up for our flag in the arena. I’ve always loved it; it’s amazing. When you’re part of the rodeo family, when you make friends in our world, then you have friends no matter what. You have lifelong friends no matter what.”
The friends will last a lifetime, and so likely will the work Abel puts into rodeo.
“Yes, always, I always need improvement,” she said. “I need to work on my consistency in the goat-tying. I always have to work on my breakaway roping and making sure my barrel horse is ready to go. Everyone always has room for improvement.”