Bull riding? Nope.
While those roughstock events show the thrills and spills of the sport of rodeo on a regular basis, the real rough and tumble event at Cheyenne Frontier Days is steer wrestling.
Steer wrestling? You betcha.
Due to the distinctive timed event rules at Cheyenne, which include fresh steers, bigger steers and longer head starts (30 feet as opposed to the standard 10 feet), the steer-wrestling action is as fast and furious as it gets.
“The thing about Cheyenne is, it is so unique there is nothing like it,” described Frank Thompson, CFD arena director for the last two years. “We run daisy fresh steers, so they’ve never been run. We let them out 30 feet. It is absolutely the most unique steer wrestling rodeo there is.”
When it was pointed out how even roughstock cowboys will take time out to watch the steer-wrestling event, Thompson smiled before answering.
“It’s a crowd favorite,” he acknowledged. “It is all by itself as far as the amount of difficulty. It takes horsemanship and strength and steer-wrestling skills that is unsurpassed.”
Due to the longer head start and the bigger, faster steers, cowboys will frequently reach speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour in order to catch up to their steer.
As you can imagine, a good-sized cowboy jumping off a galloping horse in order to stop a 400-plus pound steer can produce wrecks of impressive magnitude when everything doesn’t go just right.
Those wrecks have become a famous part of steer wrestling at the “Daddy of ‘em All,” as well as a cause of sleepless nights for more than a few competitors.
“I was scared to death three times,” said 2013’s champ Matt Reeves with a smile, when he described his feelings before every one of his trio of successful runs in Cheyenne. “When I realized I had to run a third one (after qualifying for the short go), I was, ‘I’m going to have to do this again?’” he added with another grin. “I didn’t sleep very much.”
Last year’s winner, Gabe Ledoux, shared his thoughts on the similarities at CFD between steer wrestling and a roughstock event.
“(Will Lowe and I) were just talking about that,” said Ledoux after his victory last year. “Now I know what it’s like to be a roughstock rider one rodeo out of the year.”
“It’s funny,” agreed former world champion bareback rider Kelly Timberman about the roughstock comparison. “We joke about that quite a bit. A lot of my friends are steer wrestlers. I tell them if they were my size they’d probably be bareback riders. They’re extreme. Don’t get me wrong. Those guys are big guys, but man they’re athletic.”
Timberman continued his train of thought when chatting about the event a few years ago.
“In most rodeos, (the steer’s head start) is anywhere from 10 feet to 15 feet maximum,” he said on the topic. “At Cheyenne it’s a good 30 feet. So those steers have 30 feet of advantage on the cowboys before they leave the chute. So they are running full blast. At a normal rodeo, they’ll be lucky if that steer gets to half speed. That’s why it makes Cheyenne so extreme in the timed events.”
Colorado steer wrestler K.C. Jones pulled the curtain back on how steer wrestlers themselves view competing at the “Daddy of ‘em All.”
“It’s awesome because, it’s kind of back to the Old West where there is one (steer) out in the pasture and you’ve just gotta go see if you can catch him and tackle him so you can doctor him,” Jones began. “It’s kind of pretty close to that, giving them a bid old head start and the steers have never been chased, they’ve been never been touched, so it’s hard to read farm animals, they’re hard to predict. There are a lot of different variables that can happen, but it’s a lot of fun.
“It brings some of the cowboy and horsemanship in the bulldogging to where you don’t have to draw a good steer,” he added. “In most of the bull doggings, the cattle are trained and it’s a fast start, so it’s a lot faster. Cheyenne is a little more western.”
Asked about the big wrecks, he described nerves that happen behind the scenes.
“There are a lot of people getting nervous,” said Jones in a previous interview about steer wrestling at the historic venue. “You see some guys losing their cookies before they go at Cheyenne. I still get my old heart rate up (there). You just can’t wait to go. You feel that way and there’s sand in your face as you’re chasing them … but still you just want to catch (them) and make a good run.”
While the rules at the Cheyenne rodeo might be unique, event officials also believe they represent a true flavor of Western heritage to everyone who visits.
“We take great pride in our rodeo and what we do,” said former CFD General Chairman Rod Hottle in a prior interview. “It shows what they do out on the range. You get back to that Western heritage and the way of life on the ranch. These are the skill sets that those cowboys use on the ranch, so we’re really portraying that to the visitors here in the rodeo.” ❖