“Train hard, perform easy, and stay excited”
Clayton Sellars has bull riding in his blood.
As a child growing up in Fruitland Park, Fla., he’d see photos of his father riding and want to ride, too. He also looked up to his older brother, who also rode as well.
“I wanted to be like him,” he says. “And then I went to some junior rodeos with him, and I just started getting on bulls and never quit.”
As he recounts his earliest days riding bulls, it seems almost unfathomable that such a solid rider could have ever been new to the sport. Now a leading name in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, he started riding bulls when he was only six.
“When I first started, I remember I would get on little junior bulls and calves and get on and on and on and on and on and kept falling off, falling off,” he reminisces. “But I didn’t care. I still liked it.”
“When I finally got to stay on one, that was pretty special,” he says, reflecting one of his earliest memorable rides.
He mentions it was a mini-bull and recalls how it ran straight across the arena.
“But I stayed on. I think that’s the day I fell in love with riding.”
It’s a love affair that’s served him well. In 2018, the PRCA pro brought home the honor of Resistol Rookie of the Year for bull riding, a goal he’d set his sights on at the start of his rookie year.
“It meant everything, really,” he says of the distinction. “You have one shot at it. A guy can rodeo his whole life and can only get one shot at that title. So to go out there and capitalize on it my first full year in ProRodeo was incredible.”
“My perspective just changed. It was like, ‘I belong here.’ I can play with these big dogs and not only that, I can beat them,” he says.
Sellars earned more than $90,000 in competition money in 2018. But as the “rookie” designation implies, last year was just the beginning of his trajectory. This year, he stands to potentially double that amount.
Regardless of how much he earns, he has a bright future ahead of him. The upcoming Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is one small part of that, though an important one. Sellars has aspired to compete in the NFR since he was 12 years old. But like his laser-focused endeavor to earn the title of Rookie of the Year in 2018, he seemed destined to achieve this hefty goal, too.
“You put that goal out there, and you’re always shooting at it,” he says about his ability to keep his eye on the prize. “You don’t overthink it. You don’t have to burn it into your mind every single day. But you just kind of know that’s where you’re heading.”
As a rider, he thinks having the right mindset is essential to success. He notes the distractions of life on the road. Some days, he’ll travel 15 hours in pursuit of eight seconds on a kicking bull.
It’s his ability to maintain a winning attitude through all of it that’s helped him excel in bull riding, he suggests.
“It’s hard to explain,” he says when asked what it feels like to get out there and ride. “It’s kind of like a dance. When everything goes right, it’s extremely smooth. It’s not hard by any means. And it’s almost easy. But then again, if you stub your toe, it’s the most out of control situation you can be in. There’s a fine line there between disaster and art. It’s, like, being in control of the most out of control situation.”
So, what does it take to reach Sellars’s level of success?
“It takes focus,” he says. “You gotta keep yourself healthy, and you gotta stay mentally sound.”
He admits he encounters challenges in his pursuit. There are bound to be some setbacks in a sport where losing is unavoidable.
“Bull riding is probably the only sport where you’re gonna lose at least 30 percent of the time,” he says. “The best guy in the world loses at least 30 percent of the time. So it’s inevitable that you’re gonna lose, so you have to learn how to handle that, forget about it, and build on it.”
Sellars exhibits a special kind of mental endurance. It’s evident to anyone who watches him ride. He almost seems at peace on such a powerful beast, in synch with the forceful, rapid movements during his most impressive rides.
Unfortunately, there are bad days too. Again, it comes down to mindset.
“If I buck off of one, I walk out of the arena and ride him perfect in my head. I go back in my head and ride him perfect two or three times. And then I will forget it completely, absolutely delete it from my head,” he says with a laugh. “Which maybe isn’t the best thing to do. I don’t know. But it’s how I handle it.”
Even with his rising profile in the scene, his community still views Sellars as a good kid out there doing what he loves.
“Clayton’s a hometown boy, raised right here near Vac-Tron. His whole family is very close, just good, solid people. He’s been a good role model here locally, but also, while doing what’s he’s doing in the rodeo,” says Brian Showley, Director of Sales at Vac-Tron, which was recently acquired by Vermeer. “That makes it a good fit.”
It’s no surprise that when Sellars first sought sponsorship, he turned to Vac-Tron (now Vermeer MV Solutions), a locally-owned business that mirrors Sellars’ emphasis on values like family and honesty.
“We’re a family atmosphere here at Vac-Tron, and he’s the same way, brought up in that same manner, with a good family life. He’s just a good boy to represent our brand,” Showley says. “I like supporting someone who represents their sport well but also their community. All that wrapped into one makes Clayton the right choice.”
This family-first ethos continues to drive Clayton today.
“These people are the constant,” he says. “Everybody comes and goes, especially on the rodeo road, where you’re always traveling.”
He also offers a word of appreciation to his sponsors, an impressive roster that includes Vac-Tron, Rock & Roll Denim, Resistol, Tri-County Landscapes, and Hughes Brothers Construction.
“My family, my friends and my sponsors are always there no matter what happens,” he says.
There’s also another group he credits, knowing his career wouldn’t be possible without them.
“The fans. They’re going crazy, and that lights a fire in you. It helps you get excited, and that makes it easy. When the fans are there, and they’re loving it and everybody’s cheering, it snaps you right into that zone. There’s not a whole lot that can throw you off.”
As for new riders, he has a few nuggets of helpful advice.
“Put some goals out there,” he says. “Get some goals in your space. Train hard, perform easy, and stay excited. Always stay excited.”
He’ll even talk to himself if that’s what it takes.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, you can do this! You can win this thing! Look at all these people out here!’ Maybe there’s a pretty girl in the front row. That might even get me excited.”
When pressed as to what else that keeps him excited, his response reflects authentic passion.
“Literally everything under the moon.”