LAS VEGAS – At the National Finals Rodeo, momentum can swing in either direction.
It’s trending upward for steer wrestler Stephen Culling, who grappled his animal to the ground in 4.3 seconds to finish in a tie for second place during Sunday’s third round. That was worth $21,296 and pushed his Sin City earnings to nearly $34,000 in three days of work.
He also has the fourth-fastest cumulative time on three runs. All told, his season earnings have risen to $137,799. He is 10th in the world standings.
“I wanted to get a good start, and I knew I had a pretty good steer,” said Culling, 30, of Fort St. John, British Columbia. I got a good start, and the steer was just laid up toward (hazer) Tanner (Milan) just a little bit. Tanner did a good job of getting in position and getting him picked back up. It just strung me out just a hair, and I was scrambling for a second.
“The steer was great, and I managed to pull a little bit of a check.”
Actually it was a pretty good check, a nice chunk of change for a few seconds of work. Competing at the NFR for the first time, the cowboy who attended Western Oklahoma State College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships is learning about the championship as he goes. Milan offers a bit of help. In addition to being the hazer and owning the horse Culling is riding, he has some inside information to share when necessary.
The mount is Eddie, the 2023 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year. Having that kind of equine power under him is also a blessing for Culling.
“Riding Eddie and having Tanner on the other side is huge,” Culling said. “Tanner is riding that great horse, Kirk, which is owned by Matt Reeves. It’s a great combination. I never think twice about having Tanner over there. He puts more confidence in me than anything, and he’s been there for me pretty well from the get-go when I started.
“Tanner’s helped me out for forever, and I’m just pretty awed to get the opportunity to get to travel with them and rodeo with them and have a guy like Tanner standing in your corner. That’s huge for someone’s confidence.”
There are 60 steers for the bulldoggers in Las Vegas, and they have been separated into pens to try to give each of the competitors as even of a chance to win as possible. Sunday’s pen was the stronger set of steers. The cowboys will run them again in the sixth and ninth rounds.
“We knew they were going to be a little stronger, but they weren’t as strong on the run as we were thinking,” he said. “They were just a little bit wild on the ground, and there was a little bit of everything that showed up.”
Culling has had some big wins in his career, including the title at the 2022 Ponoka (Alberta) Stampede. By sharing second place Sunday, he caught the biggest one-run paycheck of his career.
“I’ve won quite a bit out of Ponoka, but this one has a little different feel to it,” Culling said. “We get to do it seven more times to make it more exciting.”