Although the Canadian contingent at the National Finals Rodeo didn’t bring home any world championship gold buckles, the crew did return from Las Vegas with some significant cash from rodeo’s richest event.
After the final calculations were done Saturday night, steer wrestler Tanner Milan cashed in his chips in the average race, where he finished third best among the world’s top 15. The Cochrane cowboy was 52.6 seconds over the ten rounds, and that was worth an impressive $43,154. Add to that the almost $40,000 he won in four go-rounds, and the two-time Canadian champ brings home $83,135 from his first NFR. His $159,461 total for the year meant he finished sixth in the world standings, the best of the six Canadians who made the season grand finale.
“I couldn’t have asked my horses to work any better this week and my brother, Baillie, hazed his (butt) off this week,” Milan told reporters, as the NFR wrapped up.
Bareback rider Clint Laye brings a $52,038 paycheck back to Cadogan to show for his first ten days of work in Vegas. His $142,346 season was tenth best in his event, as he finished off his NFR run with an 82 point ride for a split of fourth in the last round.
“I expected a lot more from myself,” commented Laye, who turned 22 last month. “But it’s a good outcome because I’m going to work harder next year.”
Not far behind Laye was Manitoba’s Orin Larsen, also making his NFR debut. He collected a few bumps and bruises over the course of the body testing event, but wound up with $22,529 to show for it.
Big Valley’s pride, Zeke Thurston, managed to place in the tenth round of saddle bronc action, and that helped him secure a fifth place finish in the average, as he logged 671 points, riding nine of his ten horses. His haul from Las Vegas worked out to $45,692. In his rookie season on the pro scene, the 21-year-old earned $127,970 and finished 11th in the world. The other Larsen brother, Tyrel, won $26,653 for his NFR debut to wind up 13th on the season, with just under $98,000.
The Thomas and Mack arena is a tough place to run barrels at the best of times, and even harder when you’re using borrowed horses. Okotoks cowgirl Deb Guelly was at her 6th NFR, but was the hard luck story of the bunch, as she experimented with horsepower that would click for her in that place. She wasn’t shut out, but her single payday of $4231 fell short of even paying the repair bill for her truck breakdown on the way down.
Altogether, the half dozen Canucks brought $234,279 U.S. north of the border, along with refreshed dreams and determination for the new season ahead.
The most dramatic World Championship comeback story of this year’s NFR was in the bareback riding, when Steven Peebles of Oregon put a dent in Kaycee Feild’s drive to a fifth straight word title. Just before he was scheduled to compete at the Ponoka Stampede this simmer, Peebles was badly injured at a Montana rodeo, and came with inches of actually losing his life.
“In the back of that ambulance that day, I begged God for another chance at life, and I told him that if He gave me that chance I would represent him as best I could and go after a world title as hard as I could,” Peebles told the PRCA. “That’s what’s pushed me this whole time – to not let God down. I look at life completely different now, and I kept fighting for what I wanted. It’s incredible everything worked out as well as it did.”
The closest finish came in the saddle bronc riding, where even a last round win by ‘Wild’ Wade Sundell wasn’t quite enough to budge Jacobs Crawley from the number one spot. The Texas cowboy won the average, and edged out the popular Oklahoma rider for the world prize by a mere $3000.
Another Texan, Hunter Cure, claimed his second gold buckle in the steer wrestling, after placing in six rounds and finishing second in the average. Count up another couple for the Lone Star State, as Callie duPerier raced to the top spot in barrels, managing a season where she came in as world leader and finished on top as well.
The legendary Trevor Brazile had earlier earned another buckle for his collection in the steer roping, but added in his 13th All-Around title to make his count up to 23 championships, as he also broke the six million dollar mark in career earnings. Brazile very nearly had one more, but for a figure eight loop on the tail of his final calf. That opened the door for fellow Texan Caleb Smidt to win the tie down roping title, in just his second NFR. In the team roping, the buckles went to members of two different teams. Aaron Tsinigine from Arizona came away with the header honors, while Kollin VonAhn earned his second heeler world title. The impressive young Sage Kimzey of Okohoma made it back to back world bull riding championships, in his first two appearances at the NFR.
Meantime, just in case fans in Las Vegas couldn’t get enough rodeo with the daily Wrangler NFR dose, rival western wear firm Cinch teamed up with Boyd Gaming to host a Cinch Chute-Out event on the final weekend, featuring many of the contestants who’d finished the year just outside the top fifteen in the standings.
Ponoka-raised Jake Vold was there, and the newly minted Canadian Bareback Champion made a strong statement about belonging in Las Vegas in December. He won the first two rounds of the event with matching 86.5 points scores. Then he came out in the top six round, and posted a mark of 88.5. Finally, his domination was capped off as he climbed aboard the top Canadian bareback horse of the CFR, Virgil from C5, and spurred to an impressive 94 for the $10,000 bonus. It wasn’t NFR type cash, but the $14,000 he earned will go a long ways towards his 2016 season expenses.
Closer to home, there was rodeo action at the Agrim Centre in Rimbey Saturday night, during the Ultimate Cowboy qualifier. The event was designed to narrow the field for the increasingly popular challenge, where contestants have to try their hand at all the rodeo events.
Organizer Scott Wyzykoski, known as the steer wrestling dentist in Red Deer, was impressed by the level of competition among those fighting for four available spots for the big New Year’s Eve event in Calgary.
“We had two from Quebec, three Americans and even a transplanted Aussie,” noted Wyzykoski. “It’s different for rodeo, because the crowd gets to see the competitors more than once, so there was a lot of loud cheering.”
Canada’s new All Around Champion, Josh Harden of Big Valley, came out in a tie for first at Rimbey, by placing in every one of the five events he competed in. Splitting top honors with him was Gerald Eash of Montana, while his brother Leroy also made the top four advancing from the night.
The surprise, to Wyzykoski and other rodeo fans, was Cole Goodine. The cowboy from Carbon has been to the CFR four times in bareback riding, but proved he’s very handy in other events as well, especially when he turned in a winning steer wrestling run.
Tickets for Ultimate Cowboy V December 31st at the Agrium Western Events Centre are available through the website www.ultimatecowboy.ca.