Cowboys aim to cash in at lucrative winter rodeos

FORT WORTH, Texas – Winter is bitter, ornery. It teases with sunrays, then betrays with teeth-chattering temperatures. Winter builds character, a time to measure the previous season’s rest and recovery.

Winter in rodeo brings tests, warmth, and cold-hard cash. As the calendar flipped to February, eyes become affixed to some of the sport’s biggest events like the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, RodeoHouston and La Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Tucson, all part of the Playoff Series.

“I try to bank on these winter rodeos as my set up for the entire year,” said bareback rider Caleb Bennett, a 10-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier. “To be able to capitalize, win the right amount of money, it is huge. You want to be able to come out of winter run with as much money as you can in as few rodeos as possible.”

The big events, so competitor friendly with their hospitality, purses, and convenience, make the winter a fascinating proposition. Houston is nearly a $2 million rodeo. San Antonio is a whisker behind at nearly $1.5 million. A good four or five days at winter events can change everything for a young cowboy and allow them to plan strategically in the summer.

“For sure,” said 19-year-old tie-down roper Riley Webb. “There’s a lot of money to be won before the summertime grind starts. I had $20,000 last year in Reno and $19,000 after Denver (this year). It’s huge. I am definitely not even close to relaxing. I want to keep the hammer down and keep going at it. But it obviously helps the confidence.”

An interesting dynamic surfaces in the winter. Time off has left cowboys ready and driven. Some are motivated after watching the NFR on TV. Others are poised to put their stamp on the sport. And a bevy are finally healthy. It proves a delicious mix at events that allow for multi-day stays and reward consistency.

“The competition is stiffer. As far as the mindset, you are aware that guys are coming out hungry. Maybe they just missed out on some goals. So, you must have the hammer cocked and ready to go,” said veteran steer wrestler Kyle Irwin. “And it’s not just the competition. There are some unique things with the cattle. Some are fresh, and others are stiff. You have to be ready for a lot.”

Bennett agrees. The freshness of the season brings him back to the beginning.

“You get a little bit of both with young guys coming into the sport and others who are determined to improve,” Bennett said. “But for me, it fuels my fire. A lot of these guys want it badly, and it makes me want a championship that much more.”

The winter also is a reminder not to change for some competitors. Steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack is a four-time world champion. In some ways, the calendar has days not months, competitors have faces not names.

“I feel like the competition is the same every year. It’s just as hard at Cody, Wyo., with one bullet as San Antonio. But I really do like to pull up to a rodeo and know you have multiple options to make money,” Waguespack said. “San Antonio is one of my favorites. You get multiple times to compete. And these winter runs, you can spend several days in a row there and have the average accumulate. But, for me, the mindset doesn’t change. You still have to make your best run.”

Kaycee Feild is a six-time world champion bareback rider. The winter has provided rocket fuel for some of his best seasons, creating “momentum and confidence.” Last year, he won the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, with a 91.5-point ride on Calgary Stampede’s Agent Lynx. It’s a memory impossible to forget.

“That was a horse that dips, dives, and swoops. I was able to win that ride,” Feild said. “Something like that really tees you up for the season.”

All the competitors rave about the hard work of the winter rodeo committees. They made it clear the little things impress them in a big way – having rides to the airport, places for family to hang out, food and even autograph sessions. Those are things – besides the big payouts – that make the winter feel a lot less cold.

“The winter is where it all starts. And I just really enjoy the process,” Feild said. “You go to these rodeos, and we’ve seen the great competition and the horses change so much. I love training and knowing I will get a chance to get on a horse that can deliver a score in the 90s. To get on that ride and look at those full grandstands, it’s the best feeling. It’s like going to Disneyland.”

courtesy of the PRCA