Curtis Cassidy is sitting on top of the world, in so many ways.
In the shootout round of RodeoHouston on the weekend, the Donalda cowboy handled his steer in 3.3 seconds to walk away the winner.
That victory came along with a trophy saddle, a beautiful buckle and a cheque for $50,000.
Add to that the $3,500 he’d won earlier in the rodeo, and Cassidy grabbed hold of the top position in the world steer wrestling standings.
He’s got a $37,000 cushion on the rest of the field, and is a virtual shoe-in for his third National Finals Rodeo appearance this December.
And the 2009 pro rodeo season has barely started.
It’s still sinking in,” admitted Cassidy.
“It feels great, and it’s a great win to have at this time of year. When it’s early like this, it takes a bit of pressure off the rest of the season.”
Like the Calgary Stampede, RodeoHouston has created it’s own unique format, which sees competitors work their way towards the championship round over the 19 days of action.
For Cassidy, it was an up and down run.
“The first night I was late, and the steer stepped into me. I had a bit of a sore groin, so I didn’t get off,” he said.
“I was kind of disappointed about that. But I came back the second night and was 4.2, and split the round.
“Then my next round, I was 3.6 and broke the barrier, so I definitely should’ve won a lot more out of the preliminary rounds than I did. I guess that made me bear down that much more when it did come time to advance.”
Cassidy made it all the way through to the final four, but didn’t really draw the steer that he wanted from that bunch.
“I guess it worked out good, so I can’t complain,” he smiled.
“But he was just a little slower and wanted to let off a bit, and kind of stop. I told my hazer Jason (Miller) to stay beside him, and I was going to try and get as good a start as I thought I could get.
“I did that, and it ended up he quit running and stopped right there, and I got my hands on him, luckily. I came up with horns, but that was about it. I was glad when my feet hit the ground and I still had a hold of the horns!”
After that tense second, the rest was automatic, and Cassidy handled the steer as he’s done so many times in the past.
The 3.3 on the clock was just .10 of a second off the Reliant Stadium speed record.
This marked the second time the 2006 Canadian champion had claimed the Houston title. He’d won it back in 2003, but then the payday was only $12,000.
One thing that didn’t change from then was Cassidy’s mount, Willy.
The 23-year-old has become the go-to steed in the steer wrestler’s books these days, and long-time rodeo announcer Bob Tallman has it calculated that some $6 million has been won aboard the famous brown gelding, named the best steer wrestling horse in the world last year. And he just seems to be ageless.
“He felt as good as he ever has,” noted Cassidy.
“And I had Jason Miller hazing for me, and my hazing horse felt really good also. It was just a good combination of everything that came together.”
While Cassidy is looking forward to many more high moments in the season ahead, those brief seconds in the spotlight at Houston will be a career memory.
“The crowd went crazy when I was 3.3, and I didn’t even know if I was safe at the barrier, or what had happened even. When 40 or 50,000 people go crazy, it’s an unreal feeling.”
Cassidy will return to Canada after competing this week at a rodeo in Austin, Tex.
l At the Camrose Spring Classic rodeo, also last weekend, Black Diamond’s Kyle Thomson won the saddle bronc riding, with Michael Solberg of Sunnynook first in the bareback riding.
The bull riding title went to Chad Besplug of Claresholm.
In the timed events, Logan Hofer of Magrath was the fastest tie-down roper, Clayton Moore of B.C. took the steer wrestling, Kendra Edey of Longview won barrel racing, and the team roping title went to Blair Stroh and Kevin Schreiner. Lonnie West of Cadogan took the boys’ steer riding honors.
Dianne Finstad is the agriculture and rodeo reporter for C99 and CKGY.