Vegas, baby. Story 1 – Floyd, Lockhart, Erickson
November 6, 2017
In the rodeo world, December brings one of the most fun times of the year.
For ten days, the eyes of the rodeo world are on Las Vegas and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The Tri-State Livestock News area has ten qualifiers headed to the bright lights of Vegas, and in this first of three stories, three of those contestants will be highlighted: steer wrestlers Chason Floyd and Ty Erickson, and barrel racer Lisa Lockhart.
This will be the first trip to the WNFR for Chason Floyd of Buffalo, S.D. The 28-year old cowboy had his best year ever, with a solid winter, followed by a "terrible" spring, then an up and down season. "I started winning in June and had a really good Fourth (of July)," he said. He'd do well at rodeos for a week or two, then go without winning for a week or two. "It was a little nip and tuck," especially when the end of the rodeo season came around.
Two weeks before the end of the season, in mid-September, Floyd found himself in nineteenth place in the world standings, then seventeenth. When midnight, September 30 came, Floyd had made the top fifteen – the qualifiers for the WNFR –by a mere $87 over the number sixteen man, Josh Peek.
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He jokes that barely making it to the WNFR has caused his stress level to rocket. He got a hair cut in early September, and "it's not coming back very well," due to the stress. "If I make (the WNFR) again," he said, "I don't ever want (the race) to be that close."
To prepare, he will spend a few weeks in Oklahoma at the home of former WNFR qualifier Sean Mulligan, a steer wrestler. Mulligan's timed event boxes are set up exactly the same size as those at the Thomas and Mack Arena, home of the WNFR. "We'll practice the NFR start, the quick start." WNFR qualifiers Jon Ragatz, Tyler Pearson, and Kyle Irwin will join him. They'll run a pen of steers that will go to the WNFR, sorting off the ones they don't want in Vegas.
Floyd and his wife Jesika will celebrate another first next February: the birth of their first child, a boy. Knowing a baby was coming motivated him as well. "When I found out I was going to be a dad, I thought I'd better bear down and do it. It gave me some incentive." He's glad to welcome a baby, and the timing is right. "I was afraid if I had a kid before I made the Finals, I don't know how hard I'd keep going, so I'm glad it happened this way."
He joked about his wife, who will be about seven months pregnant, making her first trip to the WNFR. "She finally gets to go to the Finals, and she's pregnant."
Floyd enters the WNFR in fifteenth place, which is fine by him. "I like going in in fifteenth. There's no pressure on me, I don't have to safety up. I get to go at it every night, and what happens, happens." He has earned $71,191 throughout the season.
The man who's been in the number one spot in the steer wrestling since February 1 is Ty Erickson.
The Helena, Mont. cowboy won the Wrangler Champions Challenge in Rapid City that day, to move into the top spot, and he's held that position all year.
He had an exceptional winter, splitting first in Denver, and doing well at San Antonio and Tucson. "I had an unbelievable winter," he said. "Everybody dreams about the winter I had last year."
And it kept rolling. "I kept the momentum going throughout the spring and summer. I had a great year this year."
He will prepare for the Finals by practicing in three different places. He'll start in Cheyenne, Wyo., running some steers, then head to California to the home of world champion Luke Branquinho, then go to Louisiana to practice. In Cheyenne and California, the steers will be part of the pen going to the WNFR.
Erickson likes to practice alongside his fellow competitors. "I like to practice with other guys who've made the Finals. When I'm around those guys, they push me to be better."
This is the fourth trip to the "big show" for the 27-year-old, and last year, like this year, he dominated the standings for most of the year.
He went into last year's WNFR in first place, but missed his steer in the first round, which threw him off for the rest of the Finals. "I thought I was done," he said. "In reality, if I had won as much as I could have, I'd have had a chance (at a world championship). It affected me a little bit."
Erickson has a game plan for this year. "This year, I'm going at it different. A lot of guys will tell you at the Finals, just go one steer at a time, and don't think about the average at all." Erickson plans on doing just that, but he knows it won't happen easily. "It's a lot easier said than done, when you get out there."
"I feel like that's how I approached the first three years (at the WNFR), but I didn't have any success. Now, I get what they're saying and that's how I'm going to approach it this year."
"It's a head game," he said, of the mental preparedness the WNFR requires.
He is engaged to be married to Cierra Kunesh in October of 2018, and enters the WNFR with $163,151 won.
Look away from the TV for a minute during the WNFR, and when you hear the song "Louie, Louie" play, you know exactly who is about to come barreling into the arena.
Fan favorite Lisa Lockhart, aboard her buckskin named Louie, is making her eleventh trip to the WNFR.
Louie, who is a familiar name among rodeo fans, was not Lockhart's only mount for the year. He was out after the 2016 WNFR, for surgeries for torn cartilage in his stifles.
His injuries this year were not new to Lockhart. "When you've been at this as long as Louie has," she said of her 14 year old gelding, "he has not been short on the injury list."
In his place Lockhart ran another buckskin, this one a mare named Rosa who is seven. Lockhart chose not to rodeo hard till the summer, because of Rosa's youth and inexperience. "We got a late start, and had to cram in July and August," she said. "I figured we'd make a run at (a WNFR qualification) and either it'll work or it won't."
And it worked.
Louie was back in business by the end of June, with his first run at the pro rodeo in Dickinson, N.D. Lockhart has a nickname for her famous steed. "I've termed him the Comeback Kid. It seems like it's been something yearly we've had to deal with, and he comes back."
Their biggest wins were in Calgary, where they finished in sixth place, and Salt Lake City, where they won the third round and finished third in the gold medal round.
The Oelrichs, S.D. cowgirl has gone to more rodeos than usual this year. Lockhart has counted 59 rodeos for her official count, about twenty more than normal. "We did whatever it took to get to that goal" of making the WNFR.
She goes into the WNFR in ninth place, a little lower than she normally does. But it doesn't bother her. "The way I look at it, it's just a number, and we're glad to be there, regardless of the position, and to get the same opportunity as the other girls every night."
When Louie is sidelined due to injury, Lockhart has learned "not to push the panic button." Her husband Grady, a team roper and tie-down roper, helps her keep her perspective. "Thankfully my husband keeps me grounded and says, don't worry about it and go and do your job. I live by his words of wisdom."
Rosa, whose registered name is Rosas Cantina CC, looks very similar to Louie, both being buckskins with blazes. She is owned by Woodbury Performances Horses of Dickinson, N.D., and "she has an amazing amount of talent," Lockhart said. "She's definitely tapped into that talent this summer. She's probably won at least a third of my money. She's stepped up, and has done everything I've asked of her. When I've depended on her, she's been there, especially this summer."
The one way fans can tell the difference between Rosa and Louie is at the first barrel. Lockhart takes Louie to the right, and Rosa goes left. Both Rosa and Louie will go to Las Vegas for the WNFR.
Lockhart and Grady have three kids: a daughter, Alyssa, a sophomore at Black Hills State University, and two sons, Thane, age seventeen, and Cade, who is fourteen.The boys are involved in sports and Alyssa competes in college rodeo in the barrel racing, breakaway roping and goat tying.
Lockhart has won the average at the WNFR twice, in 2014 and 2016, and was reserve world champion in 2014 and 2015. She enters this year's WNFR with $96,454 won.
The accolades aren't the biggest part of the rodeo. "I love the accomplishments, but on the same token, the whole ride is amazing.
"It's fun to get to play the game and be part of it."
The WNFR kicks off Dec. 7 and runs through the 16th, with rodeo performances each evening. Total payoff for the rodeo is $10 million. First place for each round pays $26,230.77; first place in the average pays $67,269.23
It will air nightly on CBS Sports Network at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT. It will also be available for a fee on http://www.ProRodeoTV.com for a fee twelve hours after the CBS Sports broadcast.