9-year-old Hayes Weinberger​​​​​ is just a few weeks removed from a trip to Las Vegas, where he saw plenty of sights — Cowboy Christmas and the Strip, for instance — and put on quite the show himself.

“It was really hard,” Weinberger says. “The horses weren’t easy down there. They were really good.”

Hayes has been bareback riding for less than a year — but that didn’t stop him from being crowned the World Champion in the Peewee Division of the Junior NFR.

“It means a lot to me,” he says. “I was really happy when I won the second round. They were cheering really loud, so that made me really happy.”

Now Hayes is back home at his family ranch in Breien, North Dakota — and sporting a new belt buckle.

But if you ask this young buck what the future holds, you’ll get a very specific answer: “I want to be just like Ty Breuer when I’m older.”

That name, Ty Breuer, is one you may have heard before. The Mandan man has been a professional bareback rider since 2010.

“It seems like even when a guy is nervous, a guy is nervous all day until you get there,” he explains, “and then it seems like when a guy gets on the back of the chutes and they run the critter in, you calm down and start thinking about what you have to do.”

Breuer was there in Las Vegas, too — on the adult side of the competition, of course — but of all the rides he took that week, it was a ride to the junior arena that may have had the biggest impact.

“I had known about Hayes, but I’d never officially met him until the Junior NFR this year,” Breuer says.

“I told him I want to be just like him, and he said great,” Weinberger recalls. “And he watched me ride, and helped me.”

“I knew Hayes was sitting around third in the first round,” Breuer says. “I was like, ‘man, if he gets another one covered, he’s gonna have a good shot at winning this sucker.’ My wife said he ended up winning it, so that was pretty cool.”

It was just a quick visit — but for Hayes, meeting his role model was just as special as being named champion.

And for a guy like Ty? “I don’t really even know what to say,” he says. “That’s an honor, that’s for sure.”

It’s a chance to show the next generation of rodeo stars what it means to be a true champion.

“The people that I looked up to when I was starting to rodeo — you watch em ride, but you don’t really go off that,” Breuer explains. “You kind of go off of what kind of person they are also.”

Ty Breuer and Hayes Weinberger — the present and future of bareback riding — are two people you should know.

The following North Dakota kids participated in the Junior NFR in Las Vegas:

Izaak Boekelman (Arnegard), Ty Brenna (Keene), Ashton Frei (Halliday), Coy Hepper (Keene), Carson Hildre (Velva), Rye Johnston (Velva), Cayden Kling (Belfield), Jake Leppell (Keene), Tel Sorenson (Watford City), Aiden Treetop (Fort Yates), Zane Wagoner (Watford City), Hayes Weinberger (Breien), Jason Weinberger (Breien)