Timeys head to Texas: Regional rodeo athletes to compete at Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
Three pro rodeo timed event cowboys from the Tri-State Livestock News area will get the chance to compete on pro rodeo’s biggest stage.
Jace Melvin, Ft. Pierre, S.D., Bridger Anderson, Carrington, N.D., and Levi Lord, Sturgis, S.D., are all first-time qualifiers for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), pro rodeo’s world championship, to be held Dec. 3-12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
All three men did well over the winter rodeos, before the COVID-19 pandemic caused more than half of the year’s pro rodeos to be canceled, and all three are grateful to be headed to the WNFR.
Steer wrestler Jace Melvin won second place in the average at Odessa, Texas, won Colorado vs. the World in Denver, and did well in Denver, Ft. Worth, and Houston, (before it was postponed), to set himself up well for the year.
It was a good thing he had some money won, because “you’re not expecting what came later in the year (the pandemic shutdowns) to happen.”
His goal this year was to win $90,000, as he knew that would put him in the middle of the top fifteen in the world standings. He finished the regular season with $46,225 won, good enough in a pandemic-stricken year to sit in seventh place.
When rodeos began canceling, he worked for a friend, baling wheat hay into baleage for a dairy. It was good money, and he put it away for rodeo season, if it should ever begin again. “I don’t know how many bales we made,” he said, “but we were in tractors all day, every day and most of the night. It was a super great job and allowed me to build a nest egg.”
By late May the rodeos slowly started opening back up, and Melvin was back on the road again. Fewer rodeos, many of them the small ones instead of the big ones, meant more travel but less money to run at. “We were driving all over in June and July, trying to win $1,000 and we’re spending $2,000 to do it, but we stayed hooked,” he said.
For most of the year, Melvin traveled with fellow steer wrestlers Cody Devers and Jule Hazen. Hazen also qualified for the WNFR, going in fourteenth place. Hazen is a WNFR veteran and a mentor for Melvin. “With his knowledge and experience,” Melvin said, “he’s been around a long time and he’s really taught me and can give a bit of guidance. I respect him and take into consideration everything he says.”
Melvin will ride Hazen’s horse Corona and take his horse, Cocoa, as a backup. Hazen will haze for Melvin as well. “He’s part of my success this year,” Melvin said.
The 28-year-old has prepared for the WNFR. “I’ve spent the last month practicing, getting ready, losing weight, and getting in better condition. I’m excited.”
His parents, Mark and Diana Melvin, along with his sisters, nephews, nieces, and other family will be in Arlington to cheer him on. “It’ll be fun,” he said. “I’m excited to get everyone there. I’ve had a lot of people in my life who have helped me get to this point and I can’t thank them all but I hope all of them know how much I appreciate everything that every single person has done to help me. To me, it’s been worth it.”
Another bulldogger from the Dakotas will make his first trip to the WNFR.
Bridger Anderson, who is 22 years old, is headed to the “big show” in tenth place in the world standings, with $43,876 in regular season earnings.
“It’s pretty exciting, pretty surreal,” he said, of his first-time qualification. “I don’t think it will actually sink in until we run (a steer) in there, but it’s pretty awesome.”
Like Melvin, Anderson had a good winter, doing well in Denver, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and San Angelo to have a stockpile of earnings before rodeos were shut down. It helped. “There were four weeks in there where I didn’t win a check,” he said, in the summer. “But I only got bumped to eleventh” and he was able to move back up to tenth.
He had calculated that $40,000 would be the benchmark to win to make the Finals this year; in a normal year, it would be $75,000 to make the WNFR.
With fewer rodeos this year, competition was stiffer at each one as more contestants were entered. “In a normal year,” Anderson said, “you don’t have to beat the top 80 guys at every rodeo. They disperse and spread out and you don’t have to go against them every single time. This year, the top guys and the best horses were at every one. It was crazy. I was 3.9 (seconds) at Baker (Montana) and finished thirteenth. The rodeos got super fast and you dang sure had to be on the top of your game.”
Anderson is in his senior year of college at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva and will graduate in May of next year with a degree in ag-business. He has another year of college rodeo eligibility but won’t take it, preferring to continue his professional rodeo career.
In Arlington, he’ll ride his horse Whiskers. The eleven-year-old was purchased in 2017, Anderson’s senior year of high school, from Tyler and Jackie Schau of Diamond S Performance Horses. The horse, off the race track, carried Anderson to an appearance in Denver as a high school senior, the College National Finals title in 2019, a Junior NFR win, an American qualification, and more. “He’s had a lot of accomplishments,” Anderson said. “He’s pretty cool to ride. He’s made my job easy.”
Anderson’s college coach Stockton Graves, a seven-time WNFR qualifier, will haze for him, riding Kody Woodward’s haze horse. “I’m excited to have him haze for me, but to have my coach there, to help me make decisions, who’s been (to the WNFR), it will be awesome.”
Anderson will also have a big cheering section at Globe Life Field, ready with signs, t-shirts and cups. “I have a ton of family and friends who will be there. They’re excited. It’s been crazy, all the support I have coming.” He is the son of Glenn and Robin Anderson.
Twenty-four-year-old team roper Levi Lord heads to his first WNFR in December, “a dream come true,” he said. “It’s what we work towards. For it to happen, it’s been a long road but it’s definitely worth it.”
The Sturgis, S.D. native goes into the Finals in twelfth place, heeling for Nelson Wyatt of Clanton, Alabama. The pair began team roping together in 2019, nearly making the Finals and finishing the 2019 season in the top twenty. “Right when we started roping, it seemed like we roped good together,” Lord said.
Wyatt is great to rope with, he said. “He’s got an amazing horse, a horse he trained, and on top of that, he can go so fast. We’ve made some fast runs.”
Lord will rope on a 23-year-old gelding he calls Little Bay. Purchased ten years ago, the horse is “just an amazing athlete. He’s about to turn 24 and still the best horse I’ve got.” Lord rode him at every rodeo this year, and “he took all the miles with no maintenance. He’s been real special to me. He’s taken me from a number 5 (classification of roping ability) to now. He’s definitely built my career.”
Levi is the younger son of JB Lord, a long-time rodeo contestant who steer wrestled, tie-down roped, and still team ropes. “That’s the special thing for me,” Levi said. “Most everybody knows him and how much he’s rodeoed and how successful he’s been in the Badlands. He’s never made the Finals but he had the talent, he just didn’t rodeo far from home. For him to see our success and the sacrifice is worth it, and for him to get something out of it is pretty cool.” Levi’s mother is Kelly Lytle. His older brother, Eli, finished the 2020 season in the top twenty in the steer wrestling.
With the rodeo on a baseball field at Globe Life, the arena is an unknown for contestants. Lord said this year’s arena is definitely bigger. “It’s similar to The American (at AT&T Stadium). It’s a big open arena, We start at third base and go towards home plate. It’s not a long arena, but it’s real wide. The left fence will definitely not come into play like it does in Las Vegas.”
Melvin, Anderson and Lord are three of six first-time Wrangler NFR qualifiers this year. The others are bareback riders Jamie Howlett, Rapid City, S.D. and Cole Reiner, Kaycee, Wyo. and saddle bronc rider Shorty Garrett, Eagle Butte, S.D.
The Wrangler National Finals takes place over ten nights, from Dec. 3-12, and determines the PRCA world champions. Held at Globe Life Field, the home of the Texas Rangers, it will begin at 7 pm CT each night. It will air live each night on RFD-TV and the Cowboy Channel.
At the end of the WNFR, two champions are crowned in each event: the average winner, the cowboy (or barrel racer) who had the best cumulative time or score for that event over ten rounds, and the world champion, who finished the year with the most money won, including money earned at the WNFR.
For more information on the WNFR, visit http://www.prorodeo.com.