CASPER, Wyo. – The dreams of national championships came crashing down for two Northwestern Oklahoma State University cowboys during last week’s College National Finals Rodeo in Casper.
Bridger Anderson, the 2019 college champion in steer wrestling and a three-time CNFR qualifier, and Riley Westhaver watched their intercollegiate rodeo careers end on the third day of the seven-day competition. During the second round, the two seniors watched their steers – and hopes of a coveted title – escape their grasps.
“That one hurt a lot,” said Anderson of Carrington, North Dakota. “The ground by the bucking chutes is really hard (and at the opposite end of the Ford Wyoming Center). I missed and hit pretty hard, but catching a steer clear down there didn’t look very fun down there either.”
“Missing that steer hurt quite a bit,” said Westhaver of High River, Alberta, who also goes by the nickname, ‘Canada.’ “Knowing you’re out of it is what sucks the most, but that’s part of rodeo; it doesn’t always go as planned.”
No, it doesn’t, but they made the most out of it. There were some great things that happened while in Casper. Anderson earned a share of the first-round victory after tilting his steer over in 4.5 seconds. He also gathered a bit of redemption in the third round, finished second with a 3.9-second run, just moments after Westhaver stopped the clock in 4.0 seconds; the Canadian finished in a tie for third place in that round.
“I thought the college finals went good,” Anderson said. “I thought Canada and I had a good showing. We slipped up in the second round, but we did well in the other two rounds.”
The biggest win came after the final performance ended, when Anderson’s horse, Whiskers, was named the College National Finals Rodeo’s AQHA Men’s Horse of the Year. Whiskers, which carried Anderson to the college title and to his first National Finals Rodeo qualification in 2020, was ridden by five cowboys during each of the first two rounds.
“After we got done with our runs, Whiskers had to hit the pro trail,” Anderson said of competing at PRCA rodeos. “He was more vital outside of the college finals for what we have going on right now.”
That’s because Anderson, Westhaver and Northwestern alumnus Jacob Edler, the reigning bulldogging world champion, are all riding the talented 12-year-old gelding; all have the same goal of advancing to the NFR, and they realize the horsepower that’s needed to get there.
“Whiskers is crucial for my success,” Westhaver said. “He is a special kind of horse. He walks in the box, and you feel the confidence he has in himself. He makes the rider have confidence, too, knowing he’s going to give you the best go he possibly can. There are not a whole lot of horses that are like him.”
While he didn’t have as much fortune as Anderson, he found out just how special it was to make it to college rodeo’s marquee event.
“It was a pretty quick trip over there,” he said with a laugh. “I was hoping to hang out there a little bit more, but that didn’t happen. When we got to the third round, we were just looking for the round win. I had the lead for a bit, but then Bridger got the better of me. It’s always good to be winning with your teammates.”
That’s how the regular season went for the two Rangers. Westhaver won the Central Plains Region, and the North Dakotan finished second. They both have fantastic memories of their time at Northwestern.
“Alva’s been something special for me,” Westhaver said. “It’s a place where I’ve learned so much and met so many great people. The atmosphere at Alva is like no other, because you’re surrounded by guys that prove to you that you know you can win. It’s amazing how much it could change for me. I’m living a dream come true, and Alva’s the place that did it for me.”
During his tenure at Northwestern, Anderson added the school’s second national title, following in the footsteps of J.D. Struxness in 2016. He’s joined people like Struxness, Edler, Kyle Irwin and coach Stockton Graves as Northwestern bulldoggers who have made ProRodeo’s biggest stage, the NFR.
“I feel like I had a really good college career, and I learned a lot,” he said. “I accomplished what I could, and I learned as much about steer wrestling and rodeoing as I could while attaining a degree. I’ve learned from Stockton about a lot of things, but I think we got a lot accomplished. I’m really looking forward to applying the school knowledge and my rodeo knowledge for my next step in life.
“I’m really thankful for everything Alva has given me.”