GUNNISON, Colo. – On the verge of his first National Finals Rodeo qualification, Tegan Smith needed every dime he could muster.
He found it in the Rocky Mountains town of Gunnison, a community of nearly 6,700 people with the most established history of rodeo in Colorado, now celebrating 122 years this summer. He won the saddle bronc riding title at Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo, and the more than $2,000 he earned helped him earn a spot among the top 15 on the money list and advance to ProRodeo’s championship event.
“It was great timing for me,” said Smith, who finished 10th in the 2021 world standings. “All the other boys were in Calgary winning big money, and we decided not to go up there, so it was nice to win some money stateside.”
The Calgary Stampede is one of the best-known rodeos in the world, but it offers its purse to just 20 contestants in each event. That leaves a lot of cowboys and cowgirls out of the loop, so those can take advantage of events like Cattlemen’s Days, set for Thursday, July 14-Saturday, July 16, at Fred Field Western Center in Gunnison.
Smith wasn’t the only contestant to take advantage of the Colorado cash. Bull rider Ky Hamilton and barrel racer Molly Otto also utilized their earnings in Gunnison to advance to the sport’s grand finale in Las Vegas.
“Every little bit helps when you’re in a situation like that,” said Smith of Winterset, Iowa. “You have to get what you can when you get the chance.”
While he didn’t advance to the NFR for the 16th time in his career, three-time world champion Will Lowe made his trip to Gunnison pay off. He rode Hurst & TNT’s Casino for 88 points to snag the bareback riding title last season. It was the first time in his storied career that Lowe had claimed the Cattlemen’s Days crown and the trophy rifle awarded to bareback riding winners each year.
The team roping tandem of Rhett Anderson and Cullen Teller stopped the clock in 4.0 seconds to win their event, while Blane Cox posted a 7.4-second run to win the tie-down roping title.
“The crowd was really good,” Cox said. “They packed the stands. The cooler weather makes it really nice, too.”
Cox is from Cameron, Texas, and also is a past NFR qualifier, so his trip to the Rockies paid off in more ways than one.
A couple of steer wrestlers – Wyatt Jurney and NFR qualifier Jace Melvin – stopped the clock in 3.5 seconds to share the bulldogging title. It was a big move for each as they were building to their seasons, and they appreciated the opportunity to run at good money while also enjoying the community’s hospitality.
“This is a great rodeo; I’m glad to be here,” Melvin said. “It’s a good-paying rodeo, adds great money and has a lot of guys here. It just helps toward the end goal.
“This is a neat rodeo. You get to drive through good country to come here. It was great to see a rodeo with standing-room only. It was a perfect rodeo.”
It’s a stop on the calendar for many of the top contestants in ProRodeo, and there’s a lot to offer them once they arrive. Cowboys like Smith realize they have a good chance to make good money. He rode Hurst & TNT’s Charlie’s Angels for 88 points to win his Gunnison title, but he gained a true appreciation for what he witnessed in this community.
“That rodeo has great hospitality, and they’ll do just about anything for you,” he said. “That’s a great committee. It’s a good rodeo all the way around.”