LAS VEGAS – A big part of rodeo is the random draw on the animals with which the cowboys are matched for each night.
While the steers, calves, bulls and broncs are placed in pens to make them as even as possible. Still, there are some animals that stick out as the better ones. It’s those that the contestants want when the draws occur, and it’s part of what’s changed for steer wrestler J.D. Struxness.
“I’ve been drawing on the better end of the steers than I was at the beginning of the week,” said Struxness, a four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Milan, Minnesota, who has placed five times at this year’s finale, including each of the last four nights. “I’m knowing things are going to work out. I do my job, and my hazer is going to do his, and we just meet in the middle. Then I will go take care of the rest of it from there.”
It’s working. On Friday night, he knocked down his steer in 3.9 seconds to finish third in the ninth round. With that, he added $17,255 to his NFR earnings, which are just shy of $61,000. For the season, he has pocketed $184,636 and is sixth in the world standings with one night remaining on the ProRodeo season.
After suffering a no-time in Round 4, he made a horse and hazer change. He enlisted the assistance of Monroe, a palomino owned by fellow bulldogger Ringo Robinson, and Matt Reeves. The combination of things is working wonders.
“Matt definitely makes your confidence high in him,” said Struxness, who won the 2016 intercollegiate national title while competing at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. “He has been riding a good horse and, has hazed hundreds of steers in this arena. He is a very aggressive hazer. That fits my style here, because I’d rather be aggressive here than laid back. It has been working out so far.”
An NFR qualification is a big deal for a cowboy, an even bigger deal for his family and friends. Many make the trip to Las Vegas to take in ProRodeo’s grand championship to offer support. In Struxness’ case, that includes his fiancé, Jayden, and their daughters, Everlee, 3, and Lilly, 1.
“Even with the first half of the week being shaky, it has been fun,” he said. “My girls are starting to get old enough to know what this is. I’m just hanging out with them and letting them enjoy this. When they come to the rodeo, they just have a blast.
“My parents have been out here all week, and that has been a lot of help.”
His experiences through his first 28 years have helped him become one of the best steer wrestlers in ProRodeo. When he was younger, he was a tie-down roper, team roper and bulldogger. He also competed in other sports and excelled in football and wrestling; he was a two-time runner-up to the Minnesota state champion in the 220-pound weight class.
“Football and wrestling taught me my work ethic, because you’ve got to put it all out there,” Struxness said. “With wrestling, especially, you are out there by yourself, almost similar to the rodeo arena. You’ve got your hazer helping, but you’re out there by yourself, so the only blame you’ve got is on yourself. That helps you look for the right criticism that you need to find mistakes to help you win.”
He’s winning and adding to his bank account at the same time.