LAS VEGAS – When Stephen Culling backs into the timed-event box to make his runs at the National Finals Rodeo, he has all the confidence necessary to win at an elite level.
That’s why he’s here. He was one of the top 15 steer wrestlers in ProRodeo when the season closed Sept. 30, and he’s proving why he is in this field. He has placed in five rounds and has slowly been adding to his pocketbook. His latest came with a 3.9-second run during Thursday’s eighth round.
That’s fast, and it will likely win a lot of rodeos. At the NFR, he finished fifth and earned $7,924.
“Yeah, it’s better than sixth,” said Culling, who has finished in that spot three times since arriving in Las Vegas. “I’m not going to complain about money. A check is a check.”
It adds up. He’s earned $51,602 in Sin City with two rounds remaining on this year’s championship. It was his second-biggest payday of the week – Culling finished in a tie for second place in Sunday’s third round, worth more than $21,000.
“It’s been good, and we’ve been consistent,” said Culling, who has an eight-run cumulative time of 44.0 seconds for sixth in the aggregate race. “The horses are working awesome, and Tanner (Milan) is doing a great job over there hazing. Everything’s coming together. We were on the stronger end of the steers on that run, so I knew I’d have to drill the barrier to have a chance to win something.”
Steers are allowed a head start, and the barrier system provides the starting blocks. The best starts happen when the bulldogger’s horse arrives at the barrier as it is released once the steer reaches the starting line. It’s vital to make a good run, especially at the Thomas & Mack Center, which has an arena roughly the size of a basketball court.
“They were longer on that steer in the first two rounds he was run,” he said, pointing out that the pen of steers had been run in both the second and fifth rounds. “I knew if I drilled the barrier and did my job that the steer had a lot of action, and a guy could win something on him.
“We pretty well have a solid idea of what these steers are going to do and know the steers you have a good chance of winning on and the ones that you just have to get by on and try to win something. I knew that one ran a little too hard to be a short 3 (seconds), but I’m riding a fast horse. I hit that barrier and let the horse do his job.”
That’s Eddie, the Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year owned by Milan; the hazer is riding Kirk, a horse owned by fellow bulldogger Matt Reeves. Riding a Canadian bulldogging horse and placing on Canada Night at the NFR was something special for the Fort St. John, British Columbia, cowboy, who is 10th in the world standings with $155,628.
“It’s awesome,” Culling said. “It’s pretty cool to have as much representation from Canada as we have. There are 10 of us, and every day before the grand entry, we visit and talk about the bulls and the broncs and the steers and the calves that we all have drawn. We’re a pretty tight group of guys all from Canada, so it’s pretty fun to represent Canada with that bunch of guys.”