Photo by Phil Doyle
LAS VEGAS – Stetson Wright capped his Wrangler NFR season for the ages Saturday night.
Wright set the single-season PRCA earnings record ($927,940), all-around single-season record ($758,829), bull riding single-season record at $592,144 and bull riding earnings at the NFR at $271,545, counting ground money before 17,788 spectators at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge.
“This year has been the best and the hardest year I have had in the PRCA,” said Wright, 23. “It started off really hot, moving to No. 1 in the world in broncs and bulls. And it kind of didn’t slow down from that point on. But I had a few injuries where I had to have surgery, sit out and miss some rodeos. When you are missing stuff like that, you don’t feel like you are doing your best. I had to learn a lot of patience. I had to trust everything my mom and dad said when I needed to sit out. I learned that if you wait and get healthy, you will do a lot better.”
The Milford Utah, cowboy now has seven career world championships – four in all-around (2019-22); two in bulls (2020 and 2022) and saddle bronc riding (2021).
Wright also placed in 15 out of the combined 20 rounds he competed in saddle bronc riding (seven) and bull riding (eight) at the Thomas & Mack Center. Wright finished fourth in the saddle bronc riding PRCA | RAM World Standings with $335,797.
“I didn’t think it was,” said Wright when asked about winning more than $900,000 in one season. “I feel like I have shocked myself a lot this year. It came with patience and trusting that everything would be all right. That was what this year was about.”
Wright was quick to point out he has no plans of taking his foot off the gas pedal.
“I love breaking my own records because that means I did better than I did the year before,” Wright said. “That’s my goal to be better. I feel like what I have done this year, I feel like I can do even better if I stay healthy and don’t miss anything. I really feel like I can do better and break more records.”
Tie-down roper Caleb Smidt collects fourth world and average titles
Caleb Smidt doubled his pleasure at the 2022 Wrangler NFR. The Bellville, Texas, cowboy won his fourth world title and fourth NFR average honor.
Smidt, a model of consistency, earned a PRCA tie-down roping single-season record $374,737. He also earned an NFR tie-down roping record of $225,221.
“It’s unbelievable. Just what I have accomplished is beyond my imagination,” Smidt said. “My belief in God and the horse I have, and my family pushed me to be better every day. It’s a tough sport to even do this. To leave your family in the summer to make it here is hard, and it’s a long 10 days here. It’s an unbelievable blessing to do this. And to have the success I have had and great friends I rope against every day who encourage me to be who I am, it’s amazing. I am happy for my family. They have been supporting me all week. I do it for them, for the fans and I give all the glory to God.”
Smidt won the average with an 82.5-second time on 10 head. He also won world and average titles in 2015, 2018, 2021-22. Smidt is tied with tie-down ropers Olin Young (1959, 1962-63, 1971); Roy Cooper (1976, 1979, 1983, 1995); and Fred Whitfield (1991, 1997, 1999, 2002) for most NFR average wins.
“I don’t even think I would have a gold buckle without him,” said Smidt of his star horse Pockets. “That’s how good he is. The consistency he gives me every time I nod my head. It’s unbelievable. When I am back in there, and I know it’s all on me to win something, it’s pretty easy. I don’t have to worry about my horse. A lot of guys this week were switching horses to try to find something that works. When I ride on him, I know I have a chance. When you have a horse that does the exact same thing every time it gives you a chance. He’s going to do his job.”
Steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack claims fourth world crown
Tyler Waguespack is no stranger to winning world championships – but his fourth world title on Saturday night was a bit improbable.
The favorites to win the world – Stetson Jorgensen and Will Lummus – stumbled. Jorgensen received a no time in Round 10 and Lummus broke the barrier. In came Waguespack to win his fourth world title. Waguespack also was the world champ in 2016, 2018 and 2021 and 2022.
Waguespack finished atop the world standings with $268,881. He narrowly defeated Lummus who finished with $266,188. Waguespack split fourth in Round 10 (4.0 seconds) and was third in the average with a 57.1-second time on 10 head.
“I feel undeserving of this world title,” Waguespack said. “That was the craziest round of steer wrestling I have ever seen. Will Lummus bulldogged great all week long. The steer he had tonight actually took me out of the average earlier in the week that’s the steer I got the barrier on. I would have never thought that would happen. Will should be sitting here instead of me. I was the lucky one who came out on top at the end. That was one of the craziest rounds I have ever watched.”
Waguespack is joining some elite company in steer wrestling world title circles. Only Homer Pettigrew (six) and Luke Branquinho (five) have won more world titles than Waguespack. The Gonzales, La., cowboy is tied with four world titles with Ote Berry, Everett Bowman and Jim Bynum.
“This is so awesome,” Waguespack said, “I grew up watching all my heroes and dreaming about having one gold buckle, you know. Ote Berry is one of my biggest role models and biggest supporters and helped me out so much. I can’t wait to see him here in a little awhile because I have got the same amount he does, and I get to rub it in that I am still going so maybe one day I will get lucky and get one more on top of him.”
Saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston nabs his third world crown
Canadian Zeke Thurston made it a hat trick on Saturday night.
Thurston won his third career gold buckle in 2022, thanks to earning a PRCA single-season saddle bronc riding record with $399,316. Thurston of Big Valley, Alberta, also won world titles in 2016 and 2019.
“This one was probably the hardest one I have ever had,” said Thurston of title No. 3. “I had to work for this one. The other 14 guys in the room are crazy talented and ride awesome. I had quite a bit of money to make up coming in here. I knew if I just made the best ride I could on every horse and kept placing in the rounds I would give myself a fighting chance. And that’s what I did. Having my family and everybody here, it is really cool. I have won a couple of others. To have them all here for this one is really special.”
Thurston earned an NFR saddle bronc riding record $256,078. He earned $74,150 for winning the average with 876.5 points on 10 head.
“I am not usually an average-kind-of guy,” Thurston said. “I darn sure didn’t come here with the mindset to win the average. When it comes down to it, it can make-or-break you. To be the guy leading it coming in, I would almost rather not have been in that position because it starts playing tricks on your mind. I just blocked it all out and went and made the best possible ride tonight.
Team ropers Driggers/Nogueira wins second straight gold buckles
Make it back-to-back for team ropers – header Kaleb Driggers and heeler Junior Nogueira – who won their second straight world championships.
Driggers/Nogueira finished atop their respective world standings with $340,708 each. They earned $112,830 each at the NFR and finished second in the average with a 71.4-second time on nine head.
“This is what we’ve always dreamed about, being here and winning a gold buckle,” Driggers said. “This week we had a lot of trials and tribulations. We had to overcome them. It didn’t go exactly as we planned. At the end of the day, we kept our faith in the Lord and our faith in each other and we persevered.”
Nogueira echoed his partner.
“It was one of the toughest finals (without winning a round), especially for me,” Nogueira said. “Kaleb did an amazing job of keeping me up. A great job. Perhaps, I just humbled myself a little bit, I guess. We had to fight through it. There’s nothing easy. We always compete against the best guys in the whole world, and they don’t make it easy on anyone. We were blessed to be good in average, and we really had to catch that last one, a tough steer. We were able to do it. And you have to give all the glory to God.”
Bareback rider Jess Pope snares his first career world crown
The wait is over for Jess Pope. After finishing third and second in the world standings in 2020 and 2021, respectively, the Waverly, Kan., cowboy is a world champion in 2022.
“This is awesome. The emotions right now, there isn’t anything like them. It is just so rewarding. I worked my whole life for this, and it finally came true.
“I knew I had it in me. It was just letting the cards fall right and drawing right where I was supposed to and doing what I was supposed to when I was. God’s plan, the way it was supposed to be I guess.”
Pope also won his third consecutive NFR average crown with 860 points on 10 head.
“Man, I was just showing up and taking it one horse at a time, being a cowboy,” he said. “When your day working or anything whatever you have in front of you, you have to do your job and that’s what I was able to do. This feels incredible.”
Barrel racer Hailey Kinsel wins her fourth world title in five years
Hailey Kinsel concluded her 2022 season with her fourth world championship in five years.
The Texas cowgirl finished as the world standings leader with $302,172 to capture her latest world title. She also won world titles in 2018-2020.
“Oh gosh. This is so much to put into words,” Kinsel said. “(Sister) is amazing. I really don’t know how and why she loves this so much and wants to be better every time. She got stronger as the week went on. She came into the last two rounds like she could go 10 more. I felt really good that I could tell her we are quitting while we are ahead. It’s good to give her a day off as a reward when she’s done that well. She’s so special to me. She’s like family. All our horses are. It’s been an incredible time to be with these ladies. We have a wonderful group of women and amazing horses.”
Kinsel edged 2021 world champion Jordon Briggs, who finished with $274,520.