Nebraska horse finds place in life through sport of steer wrestling
Sometimes in life, it’s a matter of finding out what you’re good at and then doing it.
That was the case for a thirteen-year-old buckskin named Chuck.
Chuck wasn’t any good at ranch work, and he didn’t really care about tie-down roping.
But when it came to steer wrestling, he loved it.
Chuck was purchased by a Nebraska Sandhills ranch family as a weanling from the Fort Pierre, S.D. sale barn. The family brought him to their neighbor, professional cowboy Kyle Whitaker, to break.
But quickly, Whitaker found out the task came with many obstacles.
“He was pretty rank,” Whitaker said. “He liked to buck all the time.”
The horse wasn’t a bad one, but he wasn’t rider friendly, either, and Whitaker knew his neighbors didn’t ride often enough to get the buck used to it.
In the end, the family sold Chuck to Whitaker, so he could properly train him.
Chuck had a couple of vices. He liked to run and he liked to kick. Kyle decided tie-down roping might be a good start for Chuck, but that didn’t work well.
“The first three calves I’d run, I’d be holding him back, trying not to run over the calves,” Whitaker said.
The kicking was always a problem, as Chuck would do so whenever someone got close.
Whitaker — a seven-time Linderman Award winner — said the kicking was the reason he didn’t start steer wrestling with Chuck sooner.
Once Whitaker decided to risk it, football helmet in tact, it didn’t take long to realize Chuck’s instant success.
It only took a few runs for Whitaker to realize Chuck loved steer wrestling. So Whitaker started to take the buck into rodeo competitions.
In 2013, Chuck was part of a few amateur rodeos, followed by a pro rodeo in 2014 in Hamel, Minn.
Whitaker won the first round on Chuck in 3.5 seconds.
Now, nearly two years later, Chuck excels at his job. At rodeos, it’s not uncommon for steer wrestlers to share horses, and Whitaker often mounts out up to four steer wrestlers on Chuck at a performance. Fellow bulldogger Nick Guy has ridden Chuck a lot in the last six months.
Since the week after the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo WNFR, Guy has won $70,000 on him. He’s won checks at the American qualifier in Rapid City, S.D., Tucson, Ariz., San Angelo, Texas and the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver.
“It seems like every time I ride him, I win,” Guy said.
Guy, a three-time WNFR qualifier, said he loves riding Chuck.
“He gives you the same trip every time,” Guy said.
Whitaker, who hazes for Guy and also steer wrestles, warms Chuck up.
“He’s not the funnest horse to lope and warm up,” Nick Guy said. “(Kyle) rides him in one of the most severe calf roping bits you can be in, because Chuck runs. Chuck wants to go, and you have to have him bitted up. If you put a snaffle in there, he’ll just run off with you.”
If the bulldoggers must ride through the arena on the way to the timed event box, Chuck might take out anyone or thing that gets in his way.
Guy also rides Chuck to steer wrestle, and Chuck doesn’t change his ways for either cowboy.
“It doesn’t seem to affect the way he works for me or Kyle,” Guy said. “It’s one thing if you mount a guy out and you’re winning a bunch of money, and the horse isn’t working for the other cowboy. Chuck still works great for Whitaker his winnings.
When a steer wrestler rides another person’s horse, and wins money, he pays the horse’s owner “mount money.” The typical amount is 25 percent of what the cowboy earned for the run, and Guy’s been writing checks to Whitaker all winter.
“I’ve paid Kyle good this winter,” Guy said. “If you take 25 percent of $70,000, that’s pretty good money, that’s big money for him and for me.”
Guy grew up in Wisconsin and lives near Denver. Guy said he’s excited for the summer rodeo run. He and Whitaker — who was one of his early mentors in pro rodeo, will travel together this summer.
The rodeo duo said they are glad Chuck found his niche.
“(He) wasn’t very fun to ranch on, and he’s not a real great calf (roping) horse,” Whitaker said. “It was a matter of finding out what he liked to do and what he was made for.”
And Chuck was made to steer wrestle.❖