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Meet the Member Tait Cortez
story by Lindsay King
“I have been married to a bareback rigging longer than anything. When you truly love a sport, it is like a marriage. You give everything to it to make it work,” said Tait Cortez, a 30-year bareback veteran originally from Kraemer, Louisiana, but now a resident of College Station, Texas. His world came crashing down, literally and figuratively, last August in Crawford, Nebraska. “My hand blew out of my rigging and I went right out the back door. I landed on the back of my head, driving my chin into my chest.” Tait broke his neck in four places, crushed several vertebrae and severed arteries going to his brain. His good friend Travis Carlson dove over the bucking chutes as soon as Tait hit the arena floor, laying on the ground with him while the pickup men chased the horse out of the arena.
Initially, upon hitting the ground Tait was unable to move anything. “Something in my head kept telling me to move my head, so I did. I heard a great big pop and then I was able to move my feet and legs.” By the time Tait was transported to the ambulance, he could move everything but his arms. His right arm gives him the most trouble today, but he is in physical therapy working on his mobility. “My doctor said if I didn’t have as much strong musculature in my neck and back I probably would not be here. The muscle absorbed a lot of the impact. Normally people’s necks just snap off when they hit like I did.” He also was not wearing his neck roll for that particular ride. “I had been on that horse many times and he isn’t a bad one. Never underestimate anything and always use all your safety equipment, that’s my take away from all this.”
Physical fitness has always been a key factor in Tait’s 30-year rodeo career. He actually started out as a bull rider before deciding his hand was made for a suitcase handle. “I was just sitting on the porch one day when a buddy needed a ride to rodeo practice. That’s how it all got started, I watched the guys get all excited to get on bulls and that made me want to get on one. I rode my first bull that night.” Tait’s first love was horses; he always aspired to be a great horse rider. “I started going to rodeos to ride bulls and one night they needed a bareback rider. They loaned me the rigging and I got on a bareback horse. I almost won the rodeo too but my horse didn’t buck too hard. I was more like a puppet on the easy horse.”
His bareback season, and career, may have come to sudden halt last fall, but Tait still managed to leave while he was on top. “At the finals all I had to do was ‘knee out’ all three horses. I had more than enough points from the season to win the world. I just had to put my rigging on the horse, and place my hand and foot on him as an honest attempt to ride.” On the second night, Tait drew the Gambler, the horse he broke his neck on. With no room for bitterness in his heart, Tait prayed over the bronc to keep the horse and his future riders safe. “The next night when I grabbed my rigging I burst out crying. Everyone gathered around me and I just said ‘this is the last horse I will ever put my rigging on.’”
Leaving the sport of rodeo was never an option for Tait. With plenty of offers to work on the communication’s side of things, Tait is now the business development coordinator for the NSPRA. “You always have to remember, you are not doing this alone. If you have a significant other, they are your trainer, supporter, sponsor, everything. Without my wife (Stephanie), I don’t know what I would have done. She has been an angel and a mad coach at the same time.” One other hearty thank you goes to Matthew Greig. “Without Matthew, I would have never come out of my 14-year retirement and joined the NSPRA. I would not have won the world title without my traveling partner.”