LOUISVILLE, Miss. – As a competitor, Tyler Pearson has always hungered to be better.
Steer wrestling wasn’t always an easy venture for the 6-foot-2 cowboy, but he worked at it. He continues to work at it with a simple process: Practice, practice and more practice. That’s why the Louisville man is in the hunt for the 2017 world championship.
“I started bulldogging in high school,” said Pearson, who recently transplanted his family to the tiny town of Atoka, Okla. “My buddies were doing it. I was trying it and trying to be competitive. My competitiveness made it to where I didn’t want to be the worst one there. I found a little success.
“I started rodeoing with (former world champion) Herbert Theriot and started winning some. I got addicted to it.”
He continues to feed that addiction, and through the 2017 regular season, Pearson earned just shy of $110,000. He is third in the world standings and is heading to the National Finals Rodeo for the second time in his career. He last played on ProRodeo’s biggest stage in 2013.
So how good was he this year? His regular-season earnings surpassed all that he earned four years ago, including the $38,000 he earned in Las Vegas.
“I was pretty stoked this year,” he said. “I had some ups and downs, for sure, but I had a really good winter. My summer was a tick slow, but then I won $8,000 over the Fourth of July.”
His summer kept getting better. He had remained among the top 15 in the world standings much of the season, then he found a windfall in mid-July, thanks in large part to a new format at an old rodeo. The Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City offered a great pay scale, and Pearson cashed in.
He placed second in his preliminary round to pocket $2,400 and advance to the high-paying championship round. There he was the runner-up again, and a $25,000 payday came his way. He moved into the top five on the money list and never left.
What was the key to his success in 2017?
“The horse of the year,” he said of Scooter, a 12-year-old sorrel gelding he co-owns with fellow bulldogger Kyle Irwin, also a traveling partner. “He just lets you win, and he’s a winner, too. That horse just gives you a chance to win.
“On a slow steer, he can get you in the right place at the right time. If the steer is a runner, he can run hard enough to get your feet on the ground.”
That’s important in steer wrestling. The faster bulldoggers can get their hands on the steer and their feet on the ground after making the jump from their horse, the better the time. In a sport where the fastest times win most of the money, it’s critical. That’s why fellow cowboys voted for Scooter to be the Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year.
“He had probably 15 different guys on him,” Pearson said. “I think Luke (Branquinho) had won $35,000 on him before (Branquinho) got hurt.”
So just between five-time world champion Branquinho, Pearson and Irwin, Scooter helped the three earn a combined $225,000. Between Scooter and Pearson’s hazing horse, Metallica, they were a solid team throughout the regular season. In steer wrestling, a good hazer with a solid hazing horse is vital to help keep the steer running in a straight line.
“Metallica has been a real blessing,” Pearson said. “My other horse, Poco, is really good, but he’s starting to get some age at 17. It’s just going to show. It’s good when Metallica can run as fast as he can and can race Scooter. It makes both horses work well.”
That kind of teamwork is vital in rodeo, where there are no guarantees. In order to earn money, cowboys must finish better than most, plus they have all the expenses that come with the game that features tens of thousands of miles a year, sleeping on overnight drives from one rodeo to another and having only a chance to cash in.
Those 120 contestants that have qualified for the NFR have earned the right one dollar at a time, and now they will compete for the biggest prize money in the game, an $8 million purse where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 each night for 10 rounds. That’s why he’s excited to see Scooter and Metallica work inside the Thomas & Mack Center, home of the championship since 1985.
“I think they’re going to be great,” he said. “We ran Scooter at those fast starts this year, and Irwin and I did well. Those rodeos are on a level that’s close to the NFR on the start. That’s why they give us a chance. We just knew we had to get to Vegas.”
When Pearson competes, Irwin will be his hazer; when it’s Irwin’s turn, Pearson will ride Metallica. They’ve done it all year long, and it’s worked pretty well, but the two have been important parts of each other’s lives for several years. For the first time, though, they will compete in rodeo’s grand finale together.
“It’s everything, and it means so much to have good traveling partners,” said Pearson, a University of West Alabama graduate who credits much of his success to his sponsors: Metal Fab LLC, Classic Equine, CINCH, 12 Gauge Ranch, Platinum Performance, Cowboy Classic Saddlery, Purina Feed and RCI Oilfield Services.
“That keeps me going. If I hated being out there or hated the people I was around, I’d just come home. Iron sharpens iron, and we do that for each other. When everybody’s doing good, you feed off that. I think that’s what makes a group of guys go winning.”
Every teammate is important to competitors. For Pearson, that includes his family: wife Carissa, son Stetson, 4, and daughter Steelie, who will be 2 in December.
“They are the reason I do this,” he said. “Carissa is the support system. When I have bad days, she tells me that I can do this. When I need her, she’s the one out there popping the chute so I can practice. She’s just a positive person and a positive influence.
“Every time I’ve ever won anything been, she was with me.”
She’ll be in Las Vegas this December, and that’s a good thing for her husband.