Culling off to a good start at NFR

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LAS VEGAS It wasn’t much, Stephen Culling was able to exhale just a little.

It was a sigh of relief, and it matched the intensity he has felt over the first two nights of his first National Finals Rodeo. Culling wrestled his steer to the ground in 4.4 seconds to finish in a tie for sixth place in Saturday’s second round, pocketing $2,476.

“The nerves are a little bit higher than your normal rodeo, and the heart’s pounding pretty big in there,” said Culling, 30, of Fort St. John British Columbia. “I’m excited to get in there and get a little better start tonight. I didn’t know that a 4.4 would be good enough to hold on for a check on this kind of steers.

“This was supposed to be our softer pen of steers, but I was fortunate enough to sneak in there and grab a check.”

Each contestant earned a $10,000 bonus just for qualifying for the NFR, so Culling has pushed his season earnings to $116,502. He’ll have eight more chances to improve upon his annual salary. He just missed out on a paycheck in the opening round.

“I’m just happy right now,” he said. “To go out there and be making good runs and win a little bit of money here, then after Round 3, we can have a little more of a game plan and go at them a little more and hopefully win a few bigger checks.

“At this point, you always want to be going after it every round, because the rounds pay so good, but getting 10 qualified times is very important, too. My game plan is to try to win in the rounds and just be happy with getting good times and staying consistent.”  

Consistency is the key to success in just about any sporting endeavor. Culling has an advantage in Eddie, the 2023 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year owned by Canadian bulldogger Tanner Milan.

“Tanner and I talk a lot, but the game plan never really changes,” Culling said. “You’ve got to go at the barrier; missing the barrier is your biggest enemy.”

The start is vital, but steers are allowed a head start. A barrier line is placed in front of the steer wrestler and is released when the animal reaches the point necessary. The right start is having the horse’s chest hit the barrier line as it is released.

“You want to know if the steer is going to step right or left or pick his head up, and that’s where you game plan with your hazer. I just want to blow out the barrier every night and try to get as good a start as I can. “ That horse is amazing. I don’t have any confidence problems with him. I know that if I get the start, he takes care of everything else and tries so hard, and he makes it pretty easy.”


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