Iowa farm boy proves to be a cowboy while earning first NFR qualification
STATE CENTER, Iowa – Four falls ago, Jacob Edler was beat up and worn down.
He’d experienced the roller coaster that is the sport of rodeo. The top of the mountain came in June 2016, when he finished as the reserve college champion steer wrestler, just behind teammate J.D. Struxness. That October, though, he suffered an injury and missed out on the opportunity to win the Prairie Circuit’s championship.
“After that season, I qualified for an amateur finals in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and ended up breaking my leg a week before the Prairie Circuit Finals,” said Edler, 26, of State Center. “It broke my heart having to go back to Iowa. I had to start over.
“Having a broken leg, I wasn’t able to do a whole lot else besides sit in a tractor. I had that personal reflection time to think and assess rodeo. It was probably the best thing that happened to me. Sitting there driving straight lines for 18 hours a day, I got to run a million steers in my head and work on things I needed to do mentally to help me with rodeo.”
That time in the tractor working on the family farm provided heeling, not only for the leg but also for his rodeo career. The result is Edler’s first qualification to the National Finals Rodeo, which takes place Dec. 3-12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Through the volatile, COVID-19-infected 2020 campaign, Edler finished the regular season with $45,607, good enough for ninth place in the world standings. That’s important, because the NFR features only the top 15 money-earners in each event.
“Making the NFR means everything,” he said. “I’ve been working my tail off to finally get to this point. I’ve gotten to see rodeo from so many different angles the past five years, what works, what doesn’t. It’s taken me some time to grow and mature and see exactly what works, but the feeling of finally getting to where I want to go is unreal.”
It’s well-earned, too, especially in a ProRodeo season that was hampered so much by a global pandemic. The winter run was winding up when the world was shut down in March. Rodeo didn’t return for two and a half months, and when it did, the schedule was limited because of health concerns and economic restrictions. More than half the rodeos in a typical year were canceled.
That changed the plan for the season. While traveling the circuit with eight-time NFR qualifier Matt Reeves, Kodie Jang and Cade Staton, the cowboys battled through the challenges and put together solid campaigns one by one. Reeves leads the world standings with nearly $87,000 in earnings and has a $25,000 advantage over the field. Staton finished the season 26th on the money list, and Jang was one spot behind.
“Kodie Jang changed my whole outlook on rodeo,” said Edler, who credits a great deal of success to his sponsors, Diamond S Performance Horses, High Stride, Glaus Angus Ranch, CINCH, R-Calf USA, Equimedic and Royal Equine Dentistry. “He’s a very positive person. He flew here from Australia with nothing but a duffle bag and a rodeo scholarship. That guy has come from being a foreigner in a new country with absolutely nothing to someone who’s starting to consistently win. He knows what it takes and the kind of attitude you have to have.”
That approach to the business of rodeo has worked well for the Iowan, now living Alva, Oklahoma, home of his alma mater, Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Two seasons ago, he finished 35th in the final world standings; last year, he was 23rd. In fact, Jang’s personality is infectious enough that the Aussie will be part of the NFR experience as the hazer for both Edler and Reeves, riding alongside them during their runs to keep the steers running straight ahead.
“Kodie has helped me mature mentally and give me the confidence that I’m supposed to win and that bulldogging is my job and my life,” Edler said. “Without him in the rig this year, it would have been hard to do everything I did.”
Besides the COVID delays and restrictions, the rig was hit another big blow in April, when Reeves’ horse, Rattle, died. The mare was the 2019 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year. After the shock wore off, Reeves reached out to Canadian cowboy Clayton Moore about utilizing Moore’s primary mount, Ditto; Canadian rodeos were under more restrictions than those in the United States, so Ditto made the move south.
“It was hard losing Rattle, because my confidence level was so high on her,” Edler said. “It seemed like every time I swung a leg over her, I was going to win something. I finally found the same amount of confidence in Ditto that I had in Rattle. She was a huge component in my success this year.”
Every step of his life has led the cowboy to this spot. From his many hours in the tractor to training under established veterans, he took the steps necessary to become one of the predominant bulldoggers in the game. At 6-foot-3, he has the frame and the footwork to manhandle heavy steers.
“My family raised corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle, and we put up an incredible amount of alfalfa,” he said. “We’d put up 10,000 small square bales of alfalfa, and now I’m really appreciative I had to go through that every summer. That was some labor-intensive work. Each hayrack would hold 120 bales. Me and another buddy or a hired hand would ride those hayracks stacking hay.
“We never ran out of hayracks. We’d load one up, then we could always hook up another one. If you want something that will teach you willpower and how to persevere through something, it’s bucking 100-pound bales of hay in 100-degree heat with 90 percent humidity.”
What lessons did he gain from those miserable days?
“It’s made me not be scared to put in hard work,” Edler said. “It’s taught me a lot about being patient and persistent and seeing things all the way through. If you’re riding a hayrack and don’t want to throw bales any more, then they’re just going to accumulate on you to the point that you have to move them around. You may as well just keep your head down and keep them moving.
“That’s how I approach every single day; keep bared down and never stop moving.”
The foundation was laid nearly 27 years ago when Eric and Patti Edler gave birth to their first child. The same work ethic and opportunities have been shared with his sister, Carolyn, 24, and brother, Emmitt, 18, now a senior in high school.
With a family that supported his path toward rodeo – “My dad gave me all the tools, resources and connections to do this, just as he’s done for my little brother.” – Edler began chasing his dreams. He carried that with him through rodeo scholarships, first to Iowa Central Community College, then on to Western Oklahoma State College and Northwestern Oklahoma State.
He was provided more tutelage by two-time world champion Hunter Cure and Northwestern rodeo coach Stockton Graves, who was a seven-time NFR qualifier himself. Since then, Edler’s built on his solid bedrock and has a chance to showcase it in the sport’s greatest spectacle.
“I know some people don’t like that the NFR isn’t in Las Vegas, but I wouldn’t care if we had 10 nights in the Alva-dome if that’s where the NFR was going to be,” Edler said, referring to the barn-size building that houses the Northwestern Oklahoma State rodeo every year. “I’ve worked really hard to fill this goal this season and finished in the top 15. It’s going to be the best rodeo I’ve ever gotten to go to, so I can’t help but be excited about it.”