MILAN, Minn. – When the chance came for steer wrestler J.D. Struxness to ride one of the best steer wrestling horses in rodeo, the Minnesota cowboy didn’t hesitate.
“One of the biggest keys for my year is that I got to ride Curtis Cassidy’s horse, Tyson,” said Struxness, 27, originally from Minnesota but now living in Perrin, Texas, with his fiancé, Jayden, and their two daughters, Everlee, 3, and Lilly, 1. “He was voted as the Horse of the Year again this year, and he darn sure made it easy.
“Curtis and his family have had a couple of great bulldogging horses between Willy and Tyson. Tyson is super easy to get along with. He scores good, and you know you have a chance to catch and place on everything. It makes my job a little easier.”
There were a lot of simple avenues for Struxness through the course of the 2022 regular season and to his fourth qualification to the National Finals Rodeo. Because he was on the rodeo trail with Cassidy and another Canadian, Tanner Milan, the traveling posse spent a considerable amount of time competing at events north of the border that are co-sanctioned by the PRCA and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.
It served as a two-fold benefit: Not only did he, Cassidy and Milan all qualify for the Canadian Finals Rodeo, Struxness also got to spend more time with his family.
“Since my fiancé and kids were spending time with her family in Alberta, I got to spend a lot of time with them this summer,” he said. “That became a way to feed my soul. I’d see them for two or three days a week for the most part while we were up there.
“It was good to be around family a lot so you weren’t as homesick out on the road.”
When he was home in Texas, he found a way to continue to improve his game while working with Clay Volmer of Volmer Cutting and Reined Cow Horses in Brock, Texas.
“I ride some colts for him and practice with him,” said Struxness, who credits a great deal of his success to his sponsors, Arena Trailer Sales, 4-Star Trailers, Wrangler and Nutrena. “We work on getting my mindset right, back to where it needs to be where I can be on top. Clay helped me with my mental game, and we talked about the mindset you need to get back to the top.”
Through the process of riding colts raised for other disciplines, he found some other things that were helping him when it came time to compete. Because Volmer focuses on cutting and reined cow horse competitions, there are different techniques used than what Struxness normally practices as a bulldogger.
“They’ve got to train those horses for so many disciplines, and Clay’s helped me with my own horses a lot,” he said. “Riding a bunch of horses with him, I’m just more comfortable in the saddle in different situations.
“Their horses have to do so many aspects. You’ve got to have control of the horses and be very comfortable in the saddle to work in that game. It’s been a big help getting to spend time doing that. I’ve found that anytime I can get in the saddle, it dang sure helps me, no matter what event you’re competing in.”
That came into play when riding Tyson, which was named the PRCA AQHA Steer Wrestling of the Year for the third straight season.
“The main and obvious reason I’m going to the NFR and in the position I’m in is because of that horse,” Struxness said. “But being able to see my family as much as I did and working with Clay dang sure were some other contributing factors.”
Oftentimes, cowboys leave their families at home in late June and don’t return to them until the season comes to a close the end of September. Because Jayden is from Alberta, she and the girls spent much of the summer with her family, allowing Struxness to find comfort and joy while also competing at an elite level.
He finished ProRodeo’s regular season with $123,649 and enters the NFR third in the world standings. He is about $11,000 behind the leader, Idahoan Stetson Jorgensen, and will be in the middle of a world-title race when he arrives for the finale, set for Dec. 1-10 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“I think the lesson from this year I learned and took advantage of is going out and trying to win something every run,” he said, noting that he will compete at the NFR with another traveling partner, Oregonian Jesse Brown, who also rode Tyson much of the season. “I know you need to be sure to stay on edge and not back off when it’s your time to compete.”
This was the best regular season in Struxness’ career. He earned his first NFR qualification in 2016, then followed that with trips to Las Vegas in 2017 and 2019. He realized his dream of returning to the sport’s grand championship in August, nearly two months before the regular season came to a close.
“It sure enough lets you relax a little bit and enjoy yourself,” said Struxness, who competed at Missouri Valley College before transferring to Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he won the intercollegiate national title in 2016. “I think being there before and being in those scenarios will help when I get there this year. The first time you’re out there, the bright lights definitely hit you.
“It’ll also help just knowing how to prepare myself and getting myself to where I need to be when I get out there.”
He’ll have plenty of confidence in himself, in his horsepower and in his hazer, who will be Cassidy, an NFR veteran who has also hazed hundreds of runs inside the Thomas & Mack.
“We’ve got the ball rolling, so now we just need to keep the momentum,” he said. “It’s a good feeling going in this high in the standings, knowing we need to go out there and minimize our mistakes and take advantage of the opportunities we have when we get there.”