LAS VEGAS – The times are fast at the National Finals Rodeo every year. Even though he’s never played on this stage, Stephen Culling knew what to expect.
He wanted to be one of the fastest steer wrestlers in the field, and earning a spot among the top 15 is a major accomplishment. He has pride in the work he did through the regular season to get to Las Vegas, and now he’s hoping to build off a modicum of success he’s had inside the Thomas & Mack Center so far.
He was fast during Wednesday’s special, stopping the clock in 4.1 seconds to finish sixth in the sixth round, earning another $4,953. It was his the third time he’s placed in Las Vegas, pocketing $38,725 for it. He is seventh in the aggregate race with four rounds remaining.
“It’s a learning curve right now,” said Culling of Fort St. John, British Columbia. “I broke the barrier one night and then missed the barrier the next night, so I kept bouncing back and forth. I need to get back to the game plan and just try to blow the barrier out every night and not worry about that broken barrier the other day and just go after these go-rounds the next four nights.”
The special performance came about after last Thursday’s opening night was canceled because of the shooting on the UNLV campus. It was a way to have all 10 rounds without disrupting the rest of the schedule. The seventh round is scheduled for Wednesday evening.
“We’re used to running in slack,” he said. “It’s a little different feeling being in a slack in Vegas and a quarter-full Thomas & Mack, but I know we’re fortunate that we were able to make up that lost performance, so we’ll take what we can get.”
The bulldogging steers the cowboys ran in the morning session were known as the “strong pen,” and times showed.
“This pen of steers is a little trickier,” said Culling, who has pushed his season earnings to $142,751. “They’re all over the map, so getting a check out of here is another step in the right direction.”
As he plans for the remaining four rounds, he’s looking to build to his NFR resume.
“My NFR has been all right,” he said. “I’ve been picking a way and placing in three rounds. Obviously I would have liked to be placing a little higher in these rounds than the bottom half, but there’s still a lot of rodeo left.”