Struxness breaks the ice at NFR

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J.D. Struxness transitions to his steer during a 4.6-second bulldogging run to finish in a tie for sixth place in Friday’s first round of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS For steer wrestlers at the National Finals Rodeo, it’s all about the start.

In order to post fast times, they need to time the beginning of their runs in conjunction with the steer leaving the chute. The better the timing, the better the run.

In Las Vegas, it also is important to get the ball rolling early in the 10-day championship. J.D. Struxness did that, knocking down his steer in 4.6 seconds to finish in a tie for sixth place in Friday’s opening go-round.

“I didn’t think that a 4.6 would catch a check, but it hung in there and we got the ice broke,” said Struxness, 29, originally from Milan, Minnesota, but now living in Perrin, Texas. “I’m glad it did.”

For his feat, the 6-foot-2 cowboy earned $2,476 and maintained his sixth-ranked spot in the world standings. The first-round steers were strong, and the evidence came in the times. At the NFR, bulldoggers need to be closer to 4.0 seconds or faster to be in the money; only two cowboys managed to have runs less than four seconds. They will see this grouping of steers three more times over the course of the final nine rounds.

“This pen of steers is more of the middle-of-the-road pen,” he said. “I think there were some jitters in the first round and a couple of guys struggled, but once everybody gets that lined out, that pen will be more of a 3.5-second or short 4-second pen.”

While riding Crush, a horse owned by fellow steer wrestler Ty Erickson, Struxness has found the comfort necessary to compete at a high level inside the Thomas & Mack Center, the NFR’s home since 1985.

“That horse works great,” said Struxness, the 2016 national champion bulldogger while competing at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. “That’s the reason I picked him.”

There are 15 steer wrestlers competing at this NFR, but there are only a handful of horses they will ride. The cowboys rely on the best horses in the game to give them the best opportunity to cash in each night. Go-round winners will pocket nearly $31,000 for 10 nights. Crush will have just two jockeys, Struxness and Erickson, the latter of whom was 4.3 seconds to finish in a tie for third Friday.

“Having just two runs a night on that horse is just about right,” Struxness said. “Any more than two, you start dealing with fatigue and the horse getting wound up, so I think two runs helps with that.”

Now competing at the NFR for the fifth time, the Minnesota man has gained a keen understanding of what it takes to be successful in Las Vegas.

“Catching a check in the first round is awesome, because it seems like you need to break the ice out here,” he said. “If you can’t get that ice broke in the first round, it just add a little bit of pressure. I feel like that weight has been lifted off.

“We’ve got that first one out of the way, and it went good, so now, we’ll just keep rolling from here.”


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