ARLINGTON, Texas – The competition featured at the National Finals Rodeo brings out the greatest from the elite field of contestants.
That’s especially true in steer wrestling, where most of the field of 15 cowboys still has a chance to win the 2020 world championship. Each dollar makes a difference, but so does each run. Bridger Anderson of Carrington, North Dakota, is making every run count.
“We’re super excited for how we’ve been doing,” said Anderson, who bulldogged his steer to the ground in 3.7 seconds to finish in a tie for fourth place in Tuesday’s fourth go-round. “We haven’t got caught up in the world standings or the average, but the world championship race is definitely on my mind.”
It should be. With his run, Anderson added $8,885 and pushed his NFR earnings to $60,558 and is fifth in the world standings with $104,434, less than $22,000 behind the leader, Texan Matt Reeves. While that may seem like a big sum, he can make up that ground in one night – go-round winners pocket $26,231 each night.
“We just need to be smooth and do our job,” Anderson said. “As long as we’re doing our job, we’ll let the rest of it play out.”
He sits third in the NFR average race with a cumulative time of 27.2 seconds on six runs. Should he remain in that spot through the end, he would collect a bonus of $43,154. Of course, he’d like to move up that list; the contestant with the best aggregate score when the 10th round is complete will add $67,269. That could make all the difference in who claims the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
Anderson has been solid. He earned a share of the second-round victory, then placed again the following night. In rounds he hasn’t cashed in, he’s still maintained a solid standing.
“It’s been good, but we had a few things we had to get around,” he said. “We drew a steer we didn’t necessarily like, but we got him laid down. We’ve missed the barrier, and that set us back in the round a bit. We had a good one (Tuesday). I got close to the barrier. It was a tough round. I’m happy to be amongst the money-earners in a really good pen of steers like that.”
Anderson split fourth place with South Dakotan Jace Melvin, and the two have a bit of history. During the final two months of the 2020 regular season, Anderson traveled with Melvin, Cody Devers and Jule Hazen, the latter of whom is also an NFR qualifier and who also placed Tuesday; Hazen was 3.6 to finish third.
“It was really awesome that we were all having some luck,” he said, noting that Northwestern Oklahoma State University alumnus Jacob Edler shared the round victory with Stetson Jorgensen with a lightning-fast 3.3-second run. “I was really pumped for ‘Eddy’ and Stetson. Eddy and I have been practicing together. It’s also neat that all four (NFR) rookies got a go-round buckle this week.”
In fact, no cowboy has won more than one go-round through six nights of competition. In all, 11 men have earned at least a share of a go-round victory.
“The bulldogging is definitely tight this year, and almost everyone is getting a piece of it and everyone is in the race,” Anderson said. “The steers are good and the barrier’s fast. There’s a lot of things happening, and it looks to be a fight to the finish. There are so many contenders for the world title right now that it’s crazy.
“We’ll see how we get separated over the final four nights, but it really looks like it’s gong to be a tight race.”
That makes it fun for the fans and the contestants alike. When he’s not bulldogging, he is watching it. He celebrates the good runs anyone makes, but that’s one of the things that makes rodeo different than other professional sports: The comradery between the combatants is next to none, especially in steer wrestling, where riding someone else’s horse is the norm.
In Anderson’s case, he’s got a pretty solid mount in Whiskers, which guided him to the national championship at the 2019 College National Finals Rodeo and also got him to his first NFR.
“Whiskers likes a straight by,” he said, explaining that his equine partner prefers to take a direct shot at the steer. “If I’m not doing my jobs, he’ll sometimes let me know. For the most part, he lets me get away with a lot. His pattern is right up the steer’s back. He keeps everything in control He makes my job pretty easy. All I have to do is drop down there. It makes the situation a lot more controlled.
“Stockton (Graves) is also doing a great job of hazing, and he’s putting everything into my wheelhouse. Between Whiskers underneath me and Stockton beside me, I’m kind of set up.”