LAS VEGAS – Forgive Stephen Culling if he was hoping for more from his first National Finals Rodeo.
He’s placed six times, which is an incredible feat considering only the best in ProRodeo play on this stage, but he’s finished at or near the bottom five of those nights. His only five-figure payout came Sunday night, when he finished in a tie for second place in the third round.
In all, he’s earned $56,555 since he arrived in Las Vegas. All those payouts are critical.
“I’d say $5,000 a night adds up if you do it every night, but I still want to win a little better check than that,” said Culling of Fort St. John, British Columbia. “We’ve got one more chance to still move up a little bit in that average money, and I moved up a spot with Dakota (Eldridge) having some bad luck.
“I’m just staying consistent. With the steer I had, they broke a barrier on him and missed him once, so I knew if I drilled the barrier, he would be a chance to win something.”
Steers are allowed a head start, and the barrier system allows for that. A rope is placed in front of the timed-event box, and once the steer reaches the starting line, it releases. The best runs are to have the horse at the barrier at that moment.
“There were lots of good steers out tonight, and all these guys are doing their jobs, too, so I had to be sharp,” he said.
He was, and he added another $4,952 to his annual salary. He is 12th in the world standings with a little more than $160,000, but he’s also fifth in the aggregate race with a cumulative time of 48.0 seconds on nine runs. Should he remain in that spot by the time the rodeo ends Saturday, he’ll add $26,744. If he moves up a spot, fourth in the average pays $37,445.
“Fifth place in the average pays a lot of money, so it’s in the back of a guy’s head,” said Culling, who was one of four former Northwestern Oklahoma State University bulldoggers to place Friday. “You can’t start thinking of the average and miss the barrier on purpose, because that’s when you end up missing a steer or getting outrun.
“The game plan never really changes, but the average is starting to come into factor a little bit more coming down to the final round.”
Most ProRodeo cowboys ended their season two and a half months ago, so being able to still battle for big bucks in Las Vegas is a blessing. The final night of the campaign ends Saturday, and he’ll finish among the top 15 in the world standings, if not in the top 10.
Culling has proven his rightful place at the NFR, and he’s looking to utilize it to build on what he’ll do in the future.