Going Ten Rounds
Getting up, I breathed a big sigh of relief. That’s when I knew I was a two-time world champion.
This year’s NFR started out strong for me. I won the first go-round and placed in the second. Then came Round Three.
My Dad said later that if there was a run to win me the world title, it would be Round Three.
That night, I drew a runner. I called Josh Clark who had run the steers up at Copper Spring Ranch to prepare them for the NFR. He sent me two videos of them running him, and they didn’t pass that steer either time. They had run him at a rodeo a couple weeks prior to that, and a guy had broke the barrier on him to make a really good run. At the NFR, we want the steers to run extremely hard because it’s such a fast setup. That’s why they left that steer in the herd. Here I was the first bulldogger to get to run him. I was dreading and sweating him. I knew I had to get the maximum start on the barrier. If I didn’t stop the clock, I’d blow my chance to win the average. And after coming into the NFR in tenth place—closer to the bottom of the pack than the top—I needed to place high in the average to have a chance to win a second gold buckle.
But I didn’t want to break the barrier and get ten seconds added to my time. For some reason guys were breaking the barrier more than usual this year, even though the setup’s the same as it ever was. We’re still scratching our heads over why.
Tyler Pearson was hazing for me, as usual. Before the run, he and I made a game plan. We talked about getting as sharp of a start as close to the barrier as possible behind that steer to give us a chance to catch him.
I backed into the box. A lot of steer wrestling horses really pull on you in the box. They get antsy. Not Scooter. He stays relaxed, really calm-headed. He’s paying sharp, sharp attention to what you tell him to do.
I nodded my head, the chute banged open, and the steer ran. I dropped my hand, and Scooter took off after him. Though the start felt good at the time, looking back I realize I could have dropped my hand sooner. We were about six inches behind the barrier, when I really wanted to be dead on it. That was my mistake, because Scooter won’t go until you tell him to. But he will give it his all to recover from a mistake like that, which is exactly what he did.
My first thought was, Crap, we’re behind. We’re gonna have to run him a ways. And in that split second, I decided to focus strictly on getting that steer caught rather than trying to place in the round. Nothing else mattered other than getting my hands on the steer and stopping the clock, because a no-time would have taken us out.
Without a word or a glance, we all knew that was the new goal—me and Scooter and Tyler and Metallica. We’re going to be taking this steer farther down the pen than we planned. It was just understood.
Best Hazer in Rodeo
I’m lucky to have a guy like Tyler Pearson on my side. I believe Tyler is the best hazer in the sport of rodeo right now. He is one-hundred percent there for the person he’s hazing for. He will be the last one to quit out of the entire run. Whenever everyone else says they’re done, Tyler Pearson is still trying for the bulldogger, whether that’s me or a high school kid at an amateur rodeo. Tyler takes pride in the job he does. Tyler Pearson is a world champion steer wrestler—a great bulldogger—but he deserves ten times the amount of respect for the kind of person he is and the job he does helping others in the sport. Not just as a hazer, but in many ways. I wish you could spend a week in the truck with us to see how much we push each other so everybody is successful.
We were chasing that steer, and the bucking chutes at the other end were getting closer and closer and closer. We were running out of real estate fast.
It happens. Guys have spills into the bucking chutes at the Thomas & Mack. Just this year, Blake Mindemann was chasing a steer down the arena when the steer lifted his head. Blake went to get back on his horse and slid into the bucking chutes and banged his head. It gave him a concussion. Everybody was worried about him, but he was good to go. In fact, the very next day Blake dusted off his jeans and was 3.7 and placed second in the round. Still, you never want to see that happen.
At any other rodeo, with the bucking chutes coming at us so fast, I might have said, Well, I messed up, I can’t catch him and turned my horse so nobody got hurt. But we had to catch that steer in order to stay in the hunt.
Hell, most horses wouldn’t have let us run that steer so far into the back end of the arena. Most horses would have picked their heads up and not finished the run. I’ve had horses check out on me, and it hurts. Scooter kept his head down and kept running. And Tyler and Metallica stayed by our side the whole time.
Turns out it was the steer that checked out. Tyler didn’t give him a choice. Normally, the hazer peels off to the right-hand side and the bulldogging horse goes left. If Tyler had peeled his horse off to the right, the steer more than likely would have followed through that open hole. I would have missed the steer and hit the bucking chutes.
But when Tyler didn’t budge, the steer slowed. The minute he slowed, Tyler turned left and drove Metallica right through the gap between the steer and the bucking chutes. He made sure that steer turned in with me so I could get my hands on him.
All of a sudden, everything was stopping. You’re going thirty miles an hour and then you have to catch a steer that’s standing still. I tried to slow down as best I could and get a decent head catch. I was only focused on one thing—laying him down on the ground flat and getting out of the run. When I finally stopped the clock, I heard the crowd give a sigh of relief. We were 6.1, which didn’t place me in the round but kept me in good position for the average. And being 6.1 after a slow start was a lot better than me breaking the barrier and being fast on the steer and adding a ten to my time.
Once that run was over, we got back to the trailer and laughed about it all, about how things could have been a lot worse than not placing in a round, about how about I was almost riding those bucking chutes!
When I think back on that night, what stands out more than anything is Tyler’s great, great hazing job. That’s the kind of thing nobody sees or understands. He rode Metallica into a very tight spot to help me complete the run. It was incredible. And for Scooter to put out that much try and that much heart to run all the way to the bucking chutes the way he did and never check out on me—for me to just ask Scooter one time and for him to commit into it, I mean that’s one special animal.
In Round Four, I drew another runner. This time, though, Scooter and I blew the barrier out. Sometimes the cattle, when they feel you getting up on top of them really quick, they’ll pick their heads up and stop. That was the situation with this one. We got such a good start, the steer stopped. I got caught riding, as we say.
Once again, Tyler was in the perfect position. When he saw the steer slow up and stop, he did the same thing to keep the steer blocked off from moving to the right and out of my reach. He did an outstanding job of reading the play. That helped me jump the steer, though my head catch wasn’t good. It was more like the steer caught me instead of me catching the steer. My feet didn’t hit the ground in the proper position. I had to regroup. That cost me a lot of time in my run. I was 5.4 and, again, didn’t place. But I was still in a good position to place in the average.
The next four rounds were great. I placed in all of them and moved up in the average. I won Round Eight, which put me in first place in the world standings. But Will Lummus was right behind me. In Round Nine, I drew a solid middle-of-the-herd steer. I was 5.1 and didn’t place. Will drew a steer that nobody had any luck on all week. Both Kyle Irwin and Ty Erickson missed him. When Will got across that steer, the steer picked his head up. Will missed the inside horn and the steer slipped right by him. It was a bad break. Will had an outstanding week of bulldogging. I know if you brought that same steer back and let Will run him, he’d catch him all day long.
That put me first in the average and first in the world standings. Coming into the tenth round, I was fourteen seconds ahead of Bridger Chambers. All I needed was a decent time on my last steer to win the average and the gold buckle. I drew a solid steer, one that Scott Guenthner had placed on in the fourth round. We watched videos of his runs to get prepared. We came up with a simple plan: get a comfortable start, run him to the middle of the arena, get a good head catch and lay him on the ground. It sounds simple, but so many things can go wrong when you’re riding animals chasing animals. No matter what, I could not miss that steer.
This was what I’d been practicing for most of my life. My Dad, Mike, rodeoed when I was little. He had a family to support—me and my three sisters—so he never went far from the house. But he dang sure gave his time to me. I started learning to steer wrestle when I was eight or nine, and practiced pretty much every day from then on. I would get home from school every afternoon and, rain or shine, I’d either have the arena drug or horses saddled or steers penned. When Dad got home from work, he’d come straight to the practice pen until it was dark. A lot of kids play football or baseball or go to the prom. I practiced. Every day.
The day of Round Ten, me and Tyler didn’t talk a whole lot about what was at stake. Going into the box I remember he gave me a pat on the back. “Use your head,” he said. “Let’s go make you a run.” That was it.
All week, during the go-rounds, I was a lot sharper on the barrier than I was this night. I rode Scooter all the way up the steer’s back, got a good head catch and laid him over. It was about like a good, old practice-pen run. That was all we needed.
Getting up, I breathed a big sigh of relief. That’s when I knew I was a two-time world champion.
As soon as you win the gold buckle, they bring you into this little room and make you wait until the entire rodeo is over. They want you there for the awards presentation immediately afterwards. So instead of getting to see everybody to share the excitement, I called everybody. Afterwards, Sarah Rose ran up and gave me a big hug. My Mom, too. Then I saw my Dad.
In 2016, when I won my first World Championship, I tried to give Dad my gold buckle. I told him he worked for it as hard as I did. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. But he wouldn’t take it. This time, after he gave me a hug and told me congratulations, I handed him the buckle, and he held onto it. I hope he’ll wear it.
How does it feel the second time around? I’d say it feels just as good as the first. But to be able to have my new wife, Sarah Rose, in my corner makes it that much better.
Read more about the rodeo athletes in The Chase for the Gold Buckle. Follow #theCjHASEnfr
More from The Chase for the Gold Buckle