STEPHENVILLE (May 30, 2018) — It's been several years since Linden Woods' first bareback ride.
He was 15, and along with a friend from his hometown of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, he entered an amateur rodeo.
"We borrowed some gear from his older brother and headed out," Woods said. "I ended up splitting the win and getting a pretty good handful of cash. I never looked back."
Now a sophomore agriculture services and development major at Tarleton State University, Woods is a linchpin of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region champions and is headed to his second College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.
He advances to the June 8-16 finals as the regional bareback title holder after finishing no lower than third in six of 10 rodeos during the regular season, including a win at Western Texas College in Snyder.
But it took a little insistence to get him to Tarleton.
Woods began his collegiate career at New Mexico Junior College, riding for coach Marty Eakin, brother of Tarleton coach Mark Eakin. Woods qualified for the CNFR as a freshman and competed a second season before his junior college days ended.
"I took two years off after that and was down here for some rodeos, and I saw Mark at a restaurant," Woods said. "He asked if I had thought of coming back to school since I had two years of eligibility left. I said probably not. He phoned me about two months before school started and offered again, and I couldn't turn it down."
According to Woods, the draw of competing for one of the nation's premier rodeo programs was too strong.
"When I rodeoed in the region before, everybody was chasing Tarleton," he said. "Tarleton is obviously the best rodeo school in the region, if not in the country. I got the opportunity to wear a purple vest, and I wasn't going to turn it down twice."
Though he's returning to Casper for a second run at a national title, the time between CNFR appearances makes it seem new.
"It's been three or four years since I made the college finals, so it's basically like doing it for the first time," he said. "I feel good. I'm healthy going into it, and I finished the season strong."
Woods expects this to be his final college rodeo season, but he hopes to continue as a professional.
"I love to rodeo," he said, "so I'll do it as long as I can."