ROBERTSDALE, Ala. – Kyle Irwin has an infectious smile the shines brightly under the cowboy hat he wears.
He loves to laugh and share that smile with just about anyone. He’s had plenty of opportunities in 2017, both at home and on the rodeo trail. He’s hoping it all pays off over 10 December nights in Las Vegas, where he will compete at the National Finals Rodeo for the third time.
“I love to smile, and I love to have fun,” said Irwin of Robertsdale, now living in Westville, Fla., with his wife, Randa, and their 10-month-old son, Tripp. “When you smile, something comes over you. I enjoy that, and it makes me enjoy the whole day.”
He has plenty of reasons to smile. He and Randa just celebrated their two-year anniversary. They kicked off the new year with Tripp, who was born Jan. 17. In business, he was toward the top of his game, earning just shy of $80,000 and finishing the regular season 11th in the world standings. That’s not too bad from the Alabama-raised steer wrestler who attended both Western Oklahoma State College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships.
“I really believe consistency was the key for me this year,” said Irwin, 27. “Even though my year was sporadic, it was pretty consistent. I didn’t win a whole lot early but stayed in the hunt. Over the Fourth (of July), I won $24,000 and was the highest steer wrestling earner. I jumped from 36th to 11th in the standings.”
That was a pivotal time. Cowboy Christmas is based on a number of lucrative rodeos around the July 4 holiday. Irwin won in both Cody, Wyo., and St. Paul, Ore.; those two rodeos earned the Alabama cowboy more than $16,000. He also placed well in Prescott, Ariz.; Livingston, Mont.; and Ponoka, Alberta.
“It was one of those weeks where I could do no wrong,” he said. “I believe it gave me the momentum to finish out.”
Besides momentum, Irwin had a couple other things going for him with traveling partner Tyler Pearson of Louisville, Miss., and Scooter, the bulldogging horse they co-own. Pearson is also heading to the NFR, going in No. 3 in the world standings; it’s his second qualification. This will be Scooter’s first trip to Las Vegas with the tandem, but they expect big things.
How vital was the 12-year-old sorrel gelding? Pearson picked up at least a share of the victory at eight rodeos, and Irwin had 12 titles. Scooter was the driving force behind the duo’s $190,000 in combined earnings. For that, the steer wrestlers voted him as the 2017 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year.
“I actually think it was both horses,” Irwin said, referring also to Pearson’s hazing horse, Metallica. “He can literally fly. The hazing horse has to run just as hard, if not harder, than the bulldogging horse. That horse is very athletic, and he makes my job easier, funner.
“It doesn’t matter what that steer does, we have the horses that can catch him.”
That type of confidence goes a long way; Pearson and Irwin now have the opportunity to showcase their horsepower at ProRodeo’s grand finale, set for Dec. 7-16. It’s important for their business as bulldoggers, because they will be battling for their share of the $8 million purse – go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds.
Irwin knows all the possibilities that await him in the Nevada desert. In his first NFR adventure, he earned $88,000 over 10 nights and finished as the 2014 reserve world champion. A year later, he placed in just three rounds and pocketed $34,000. He’s excited to see what 2017 offers.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned since my first NFR was patience,” he said. “I think it comes with age and maturing some. Things are going to happen that are sometimes out of my control. When things are in my control, I need to grab them and take advantage of them.”
He’s found great benefit in his team of sponsors – CINCH, RCI Oilfield Services, Zesterra, Seminole Feed, Resistol, Foy Reynolds Cattle Co., Best Ever Saddle Pads and Coats Saddlery – that help him get up and down the road. They all are a major part of the team returning to Las Vegas.
“In 2014, I was excited and like a little kid in a candy store,” Irwin said. “I enjoyed every minute and won a bunch of money. In 2015, I had the same thoughts, but I relaxed a little more and thought I was just going to win. I told myself after 2015 that if I get the opportunity again, I was going to treat it like ’14. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
“I want to go in there and win money so I can help my family, buy some land and set myself up for the future. I want to go a bit hungry and take advantage of every opportunity I get. For the opportunities I don’t have, I want to be smart and just knock the steers down.”
Family is his priority, as it should be. He and Randa were newlyweds the last time he rode in Sin City, and now they’ve added Tripp to the family.
“They matter more than anything,” he said. “As many times as I want to get upset when I make a mental error, I can just look at a picture of my wife and son on my phone and feel better about everything.
“Being a dad makes me want to try more, make me want to be a good dad and the dad my son can grow up and be proud of. I want to take advantage of every day to its fullest.”
It has worked all season long, so he has good reason to be excited when he lands in Las Vegas.