The Wright family is a rodeo family that specializes in saddle bronc riders. They are also ranchers. They are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bill and Evelyn Wright are the parents of 13 children. Each of their seven sons has made a name for the family in the saddle bronc rider event.
According to Wikipedia, the sport was originally based on the “necessary horse breaking skills of a working cowboy.” The event has grown into a “highly stylized competition that uses horses that are specially bred for strength, agility, and bucking ability.” The sport is recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA). A competitor must stay on a bucking horse for eight seconds without touching the horse with his free hand in order to score. The rider is scored on a scale of 0–50 and the horse is also scored from 0–50. Scores in the 80s are very good. The sport is considered the last blue-collar sport.
Bill had rodeoed when he was in high school in Hurricane, Utah, and in college at Dixie College in St. George. He had attended some saddle bronc clinics, obtained his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card, and wanted to give the professional circuit a try. But he was a young husband and father, and he stayed in Hurricane to take over his father’s ranch. They moved to Milford in 1993.
- “You know how in life you come to a fork in the road and the one you take makes all the difference?” says Evelyn. “That was our fork.”
The ranch is located near Milford, Utah, on Smith Mesa overlooking Zion National Park and has been in their family since their pioneer ancestors homesteaded there in the 1850s.
Bill carried on the tradition of herding cattle and raising hay. He also did odd jobs to supplement their living, such as breaking horses, and pouring concrete.
Cody Wright, their oldest son, was a high school rodeo champion and when the College of Southern Idaho offered him a scholarship to be on the rodeo team, he relocated to Twin Falls, Idaho, to train under three-time world saddle bronc champion Shawn Davis. Cody’s brothers followed and rodeo has paid for each of their educations; most brothers attended CSI.
Cody turned pro in 1998. He is a two-time world champion (2008 and 2010). His brother Jesse won the world championship in 2012 (he placed second the previous year). Brother Jake placed sixth in 2012 and second in 2013. Youngest brother Spencer took the 2014 championship (Jake was fifth, Jesse eighth, and Cody—with a dislocated shoulder—placed ninth). They made history as the first family to have four brothers at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in any event. Brothers Stuart, Alex, and Calvin, and brother-in-law CoBurn Bradshaw also compete. The family won the world title every other year from 2008 to 2014. In 2016, Cody and his sons, Rusty and Ryder, became the first father and two sons to compete in the same event at the WNFR.
The love of saddle bronc competition continues on into the next generation. Cody’s sons Rusty, Ryder, Stetson, and Statler compete as well. Stetson won the 2015 National High School title, while Ryder was named PRCA rookie of the year in 2016. Ryder was the world champion in 2017 and is the youngest world champion of all time.
By the end of the 2016 season, Cody and his brothers and sons had 35 years of ProRodeo experience, 26 NFR qualifications and four world titles.
A 2009 film entitled “Born to Ride” documents Cody’s first world championship. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John Branch penned “The Ride of Their Lives,” a six-page New York Times article, after spending time with the Wrights. He expanded his article into The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West, published in 2018. “Readers not only get an inside look at the grind of professional rodeo, they’re also immersed into the world of cattle raising.” The Wright family’s ability to hold onto the ranch “as the West is transformed by urbanization and tourism, ravaged by drought and rearranged by public-land disputes and shifting federal policies” is an open question that weaves through the book. Part of the challenges the Wright family experience are long hours to drive for their eight seconds of competition, high costs of equipment, and injuries. “The Wrights go to the hospital like it’s a 7-Eleven. Name it, they’ve broken it — ribs, shoulders, arms, legs, knees, ankles, heads.”
Patriarch Bill said, “They don’t make a lot of money, they just enjoy it. And there’s a good sense of accomplishment in it. It’s like poetry in motion if it’s done right. If it’s not, it’s like a car wreck, I guess.”
- “‘It’s the Wright Night at the Rodeo’: Meet the Family that Dominates Competitive Saddle Bronc Riding,” by Bill Whitaker, 60 Minutes