Eldridge earns gold (plenty of it) in Tucson dirt | TSLN.com

Eldridge earns gold (plenty of it) in Tucson dirt

One of Eldridge's greatest assets is his 15-year-old horse, Rusty, who was trained by Eldridge's grandfather. Photo by James Fain

TUCSON, Ariz. – An enthusiastic snowboarder and skier back home in Nevada, Dakota Eldridge took some inspiration from watching the Sochi Olympics into his day job at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros.

Eldridge earned gold – lots of it – when he edged reigning World Champion Hunter Cure in the finals of the steer wrestling at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds Feb. 23 and parlayed that into a win in the three-head average standings.

“I like all that (Winter Olympics) stuff,” Eldridge said, “and it’s amazing what those guys can do. To see the American team do that well was awesome. It shows you what a great country we live in, and it makes you want to work harder and be as good as you can possibly be.”

It’s tough not to like his progress thus far. Eldridge, 22, was the PRCA Resistol All-Around and Steer Wrestling Rookie of the Year in 2012. Last year, he qualified for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, finishing second in the WNFR average standings and fifth in the world.

With his Tucson win worth $6,282, and a couple of nice bulldogging checks in San Antonio, Eldridge finished with a total of $10,590 for the weekend and $17,725 for the 2014 season.

(He also won a tie-down roping check in Tucson to win the all-around title with $6,799).

“It’s great to have that much won so early,” Eldridge said. “I made maybe $7,000 all of last winter. There are still some big winter rodeos left (San Angelo and Austin) and I’ve got the Wrangler Champions Challenge in Scottsdale (Ariz.) coming up this week.

“It should make things easier on me when we get to summer,” where he struggled last year to qualify for Vegas in the 15th and final position.

One of Eldridge’s greatest assets is his 15-year-old horse, Rusty, who was trained by Eldridge’s grandfather.

Eldridge earned $91,121 on the horse while competing on a short score in Las Vegas in December, and Rusty performed perfectly over Tucson’s long score in the final round.

But while Luke Branquinho rode Rusty through to the finals of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, Eldridge had to borrow traveling partner Sterling Lambert’s horse, Bullseye, for the first two rounds in Tucson. Branquinho hauled Rusty over from San Antonio and both Eldridge and Branquinho rode him in Sunday afternoon’s final.

Ninth up in the go, Eldridge and Rusty put down a time of 5.9 seconds to beat Cure by three-tenths of a second, and Eldridge finished with a margin of 1.2 seconds over Jule Hazen and Dirk Tavenner in the average standings (18.6 to 19.8).

“I had the right horse for the finals, and I had a steer that Jake Rinehart had been 5.1 on (in the second round),” Eldridge said, “So I felt if I could score good, I’d be OK.”

The other champions in this $324,178 rodeo were bareback rider Kaycee Feild (176 points on two head), team ropers Dustin Bird and Paul Eaves (19.6 seconds on three head), saddle bronc rider Chad Ferley (175 points on two head), tie-down roper Tuf Cooper (29.7 seconds on three head), bull rider Cody Hancock (85 points on one head) and barrel racer Ann Scott (52.32 seconds on three runs).

The rodeo broke its attendance record with more than 60,000 spectators for the Feb. 15-23 event, including 11,000 for the Sunday finale. F