Big Sky Country: Montanans Ty Erickson and Haven Meged claim two gold buckles
The Big Sky Country counted two world champions, Ty Erickson and Haven Meged, plus a reserve world title, with Bridger Chambers, and a third place finisher, Chase Tryan.
For steer wrestler Ty Erickson, it was a long time coming.
The Helena, Montana man has qualified for the Wrangler NFR six times, finishing at least once as reserve champion.
This year, the dream came true. “It makes the all night drives, all the time on the road, the hours in the practice pen, all the tears, worth it,” he said.
The past few years, he’s ridden Scooter, the AQHA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year owned by Kyle Irwin and Tyler Pearson, at the Wrangler NFR.
This year, he rode his own horse.
Crush, an eight-year-old black gelding, has only been steer wrestling since March of this year.
“My wife (Cierra) spent a lot of time riding him,” Erickson said, “and my father-in-law spent a lot of time on him, getting him broke. When I got him, he took to it. It’s pretty exciting, that he was able to go out there and work as well as he did.”
Erickson’s biggest fan, his older brother Josh, was there to cheer for his brother. Josh, who has special needs, got to Las Vegas in time to watch rounds seven through ten. “I was really happy that I was able to win a round so he could experience it with me,” Erickson said.
He finished fifth in the average, with a time of 62.7 seconds on ten head. He placed in three rounds, with year-end earnings of $234,491.09, including Wrangler NFR earnings of over $88,000.
Another Montanan wears a 2019 world champion buckle.
On his first qualification to the Wrangler NFR, Haven Meged, of Miles City, won the tie-down roping title, and the average as well.
“It’s just a dream come true, honestly,” he said. “Growing up, I’ve dreamt of going out there and competing, and coming out on top.”
Winning the average, the fastest combined time on ten head, was also special. “I set my goal to win the average, to go out there and make ten good runs,” Meged said. “To be able to accomplish that goal is something really cool.” Meged was 85.7 seconds on ten head.
The twenty-one-year-old, a senior at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, rode a black mare named Beyonce, who he gave credit to. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
The tie-down roping world title wasn’t wrapped up till round ten, with five cowboys within striking distance of it, depending on how they roped in that round. Meged won fifth place with an 8.0 second run, enough to secure his average win, while Shane Hanchey tied for first place with Adam Gray. If Hanchey had won first place without tying, he’d have won the world title; instead, it went to Meged, who finished with year-end earnings of $246,013, $1,182 more than Hanchey.
He didn’t feel the pressure in round ten, he said. “You don’t try to put pressure on yourself. If you do that, you’ll mess up. Our job is to do what we do every day. (In round ten) I went out, made a run, and left it, to see what would happen.”
Being a world champion was special. “When I got to hold that gold buckle, I about cried,” Meged said. “It’s something you’ve dreamt of your whole life, and then you hold it in your hands.”
Meged also finished as Rookie of the Year in the tie-down roping, and is only the fourth cowboy to have won a PRCA world title and a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association title in the same year. The other three are Ty Murray (all-around in 1989), Matt Austin (bull riding in 2005) and Taos Muncy (saddle bronc riding in 2007).
On his second qualification to the Wrangler NFR, Bridger Chambers finished as reserve world champion in the steer wrestling, for the second time.
The Stevensville, Montana cowboy placed in six rounds and finished third in the average (55.2 on ten head) to finish in second place and make more than $138,000 at the Wrangler NFR.
“I had a game plan, and I felt like I stuck to it, and that was to go at them every single round. Sometimes it worked, a couple times it didn’t. It ended up good overall,” he said.
At the Finals, the thirty-year-old cowboy rode Tyson, a horse owned by steer wrestler Curtis Cassidy of Donalda, Alberta. Tyson, a two-time Canadian steer wrestling horse of the year, “is just easy to ride,” Chambers said. “When you get on him, you know you have a chance to win.”
Chambers was delighted to finish second to Erickson in the steer wrestling. “It was pretty special,” he said. “I’ve known Ty since he was a freshman in high school. To see it all come together, it was pretty cool. I’m happy for him.”
Chambers ended the year with total earnings of $217,361.00
In the tie-down roping, Nebraskan Riley Pruitt left Las Vegas with a fourth place finish.
The twenty-eight-year-old started out slow, but got hot in rounds four through eight, placing in each round: second place in three, fourth place in one, and splitting first in one.
This was his second trip to the Finals, and it wasn’t the same as in 2016. “It was way different, completely different,” Pruitt said. “The first year I went, Tyson Durfey won the world off go-rounds and I learned a lot. Those rounds pay so much money. Every chance you have a good (calf), you have to use them. You can win so much.” With a logjam amongst ropers at the top of the standings, this year’s Finals “came down to a one-header,” he said.
He started riding his sorrel, but at round three, switched to his gray horse, named Graybird, who was purchased by Pruitt’s dad Troy, this fall. The horse “is really good if I can rope them fast,” Pruitt said. “If I have to run a calf down, he likes to duck and he’s good at it.”
Pruitt finished the year with $226,445 in earnings.
Montana’s Chase Tryan finished third in the world as a team roping heeler and second in the average, with a combined time of 56.7 seconds on nine head. The Helena roper placed in seven rounds.
His cousin, four-time world champion Clay Tryan, who headed for Jake Long at this year’s Wrangler NFR, finished tenth in the world.
Barrel racer Lisa Lockhart, at her thirteenth Wrangler NFR, ended the season fourth in the world and third in the average. Jessica Routier, on her second trip to the Wrangler NFR, was eighth in the world standings.
On his first trip to the Wrangler NFR, steer wrestler Cameron Morman ended up thirteenth in the world, placing in four of ten rounds. Fellow North Dakotan Ty Breuer, a bareback rider, rode seven of ten horses and ended up thirteenth in the world.
JJ Elshere came off a broken leg suffered in late September to qualify for his fifth Wrangler NFR. The Hereford, S.D. man rode three of ten horses in the saddle bronc riding and split second place in the first round.
Nebraska’s Steven Dent was at his tenth Wrangler NFR, but didn’t have the rodeo he’d have liked. He had eight qualified rides in the bareback riding, but never won a check. On his Facebook page, he said, “I have always said I will never let what happens in the arena define who I am, I won’t start now.” The 33-year-old has said he will not rodeo full time next year.
Bareback rider Orin Larsen, who lists Inglis, Manitoba as his hometown but who now lives in Gering, Neb., had a good Finals, winning the reserve world title, checks in six rounds and placing fourth in the average.
The 2019 world champions are Clayton Biglow, Clements, Calif. (bareback riding); Erickson in the steer wrestling; Meged in the tie-down roping; Clay Smith, Broken Bow, Okla. (team roping header); Wesley Thorp, Stephenville, Texas (team roping heeler); Zeke Thurston, Big Valley, Alberta (saddle bronc riding); Hailey Kinsel Lockwood, Cotulla, Texas (barrel racing), and Sage Kimzey, Strong City, Okla. (bull riding). Kinsel Lockwood is married to PBR world champion Jess Lockwood, of Volborg, Montana.
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