On the Bubble: As rodeo year ends, contestants vie for top 15 qualification for Wrangler NFR 

By Ruth Nicolaus for Tri-State Livestock News

It’s a tough time in the pro rodeo world, the last weeks of September.  

Or time to get tough.  

With the PRCA rodeo season ending on Sept. 30, the cowboys and cowgirls “on the bubble” – in holes fourteen through sixteen or more – are competing at as many rodeos as possible, in hopes of being in the coveted top fifteen who qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, this year held Dec. 7-16.   


Sam Petersen is one of those. 

The Helena, Montana bareback rider sits 17th in the world standings as of press time, just $4,000 away from the number 15 hole.  

If he would qualify for the “big show,” it would be the first time for the twenty-year-old man, who is in his rookie year. 

It’s been an up and down year, Petersen said. After breaking his free hand in Houston in March, then spraining it badly in Burley, Idaho, in August, he’s been rehabbing it “and riding through the pain, with a can’t-stop-won’t-stop attitude,” he said.  

In his second year at Clarendon (Texas) College, he competes collegiately and at pro rodeos. He won the National Inter-Collegiate Rodeo Association’s Southwest Region last spring, and was part of the Clarendon men’s team that won the NIRA national championship. 

Two sets of rodeos makes for a crazy travel schedule. For example, last weekend, he was at a college rodeo in Portales, N.M., on Thursday night, then drove to Denver that night, to catch a flight to Pasco, Wash., where he hopped in the rig with bronc rider Cash Wilson. The two drove to Pendleton, Ore., for the Round-Up, with no time to spare, Petersen said. “It was a photo finish.  By the time I showed up, everybody was taping” (applying athletic tape.)  

Petersen has four more rodeos at which to compete before the season is over: three in California (Poway, San Bernadino and Sonoma) Sept. 22-24, then the Cinch Playoffs in Sioux Falls Sept. 28-30. Contestants must qualify for the Cinch Playoffs, and Petersen is glad he has.  

The Cinch Playoffs, also known as the Governor’s Cup, is a new event, to be held Sept. 28-30, 2023. With large payouts, Governor’s Cup winners can make big jumps in the standings on the weekend that ends the rodeo year. In rounds one and two on Sept. 28-29, first place pays $10,000, second pays $7,500, third pays $5,000, and fourth pays $2,500. The top eight in each event come back for the Sept. 30 rodeo, where first place wins $25,000, second wins $19,000, third place wins $12,000 and fourth place wins $6,000.  

Petersen keeps going, because the end is in sight. “Just take one day at a time,” he said, “because that’s all I can really do right now. I’m going to every rodeo, expecting to win.”  

Helena, Montana’s Sam Petersen is No. 17 in the world standings, about $4,000 shy of being in the top fifteen. This would be his first Wrangler NFR, if he would qualify. Chuck Miner | Courtesy photo


In the breakaway roping, Samantha Jorgenson Fulton is working on her second National Finals Breakaway Roping qualification.  

The Miller, S.D. cowgirl is ranked sixteenth in the WPRA standings as of press time, a mere $1,170 from the number fifteen cowgirl, Erin Johnson, Fowler, Colo.  

Last year, Fulton entered the Finals in fourteenth place, but didn’t have to hustle like she’s had to this year, to qualify.  

She won big at Salinas, Calif., and Cody, Wyo. “This year, I won money at fewer rodeos, bigger licks,” she said, but hasn’t had consistent luck.  

Breakaway roping isn’t included at every pro rodeo, so Fulton will go to small rodeos across Texas and Louisiana as Sept. 30 approaches. She and her husband Cole, who is on the road with her, will go to Poway and Sonoma, Calif., then come back to Las Cruces, N.M., before finishing up in Texas. She did not qualify to compete at the Cinch Playoffs in Sioux Falls.  

Mentally, she’s prepared for the end of the season. “I’m just doing my job and not thinking about it. I’m doing my job on whatever I draw.” 

Fulton will compete at her fifth Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot next month (one qualification in the barrel racing and four in the breakaway.) She has won the Badlands Circuit breakaway title twice (2019, 2022). 

Samantha Fulton, Miller, S.D., is one spot out of making it to her second National Finals Breakaway Roping. She competed at the 2022 NFBR.  Jackie Jensen | Courtesy photo
Fulton will compete at her fifth Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot next month. Jackie Jensen | Courtesy photo


If Kansas tie-down roper Luke Potter makes it to the “big show” in Las Vegas in December, it will be his first trip.  

The Maple City, Kan. man is ranked sixteenth in the PRCA world standings, less than $1,000 from Zack Jongbloed, in fifteenth place.  

The year has been up and down for the 23-year-old. At the Reno, Nev. rodeo, his horse sustained an injury, putting it out for the rest of the season. 

He roped on borrowed horses till Cheyenne, when he picked up a new mare to try, and won the rodeo on her. He bought that horse, and has been riding it ever since. 

Like Petersen, Potter said the year has been a roller coaster, “a lot of highs and lows and no in-betweens. 

“There were some weeks it felt like I could throw my rope straight up in the air and it would fall on a calf’s neck. Then there were weeks it felt like there was a hole in my rope.”  

Potter will compete at the Cinch Playoffs in Sioux Falls and will hit the Edmonton, Alb. rodeo in between. He’ll rope in Sioux Falls on Sept. 28-29, then drive from Sioux Falls to Winnipeg to catch a flight to Edmonton on Sept. 30, then head back to Sioux Falls for that evening’s performance.  

It’s not cheap, but it’s the price to pay to make it to the Finals. “At this point, as much as I’ve spent to get this far, I might as well make sure I get all the way,” he said. “I’d be pretty upset if I missed it by a couple hundred bucks because I chickened out.”  

He is keeping things in perspective.  
“I’d love to get this deal done, (qualifying for the Wrangler NFR) but I have my family and my faith, and that’s really what we need. Everything else will fall into place.”  

Luke Potter, the Cheyenne Frontier Days tie-down champ, is headed to his first Wrangler NFR if he can win enough money to be in the top fifteen in the world by Sept. 30. Jackie Jensen | Courtesy photo


Bridger Anderson, Carrington, N.D., is knocking on the door of his second Wrangler NFR qualification. 

The steer wrestler is fifteenth in the world standings, with more than $81,000 won.  

The last weeks have been good, as he pocketed $6,500 out of Pendleton and has had a slower pace with the rodeos in the Northwest.  

“We’re easing around in the Northwest,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve been running around with our hair on fire like we do in the middle of the summer.” The cowboys and the horses alike have more downtime, which is good. “In the summer, we put a lot of miles on (the horses,)” Anderson said. “The (steer wrestling) runs don’t wear them out, it’s the miles that get ahold of them.” 

He will compete in Poway, San Bernadino, and Sonoma, Calif., before going on to Edmonton on Sept. 30. He won’t compete at the Sioux Falls rodeo, as he didn’t qualify.  

Steer wrestler Bridger Anderson is anxious to qualify for his second Wrangler National Finals. The North Dakota man is ranked fourteenth in the world standings. Chuck Miner | Courtesy photo

Anderson competed at the 2020 Wrangler National Finals, which were held in Arlington, Texas. If he makes it to this year’s Finals, it will be his first time to the Thomas and Mack Arena.   

He’s been to the Wrangler NFR as a spectator: once with his mom, for a day trip, and once as a high school kid. He’s excited to be there as a contestant.  

“I know I sure don’t like watching it from the stands,” he said.  

Other area contestants who are on the bubble and rodeoing hard to make the Wrangler NFR include saddle bronc riders Q Taylor, Casper, Wyo., #16, and Tanner Butner, Daniel, Wyo., #17; team roping header Jr. Dees, Aurora, S.D., #19; and barrel racer Summer Kosel, Glenham, S.D., #14. 

Bull rider Jestyn Woodward, Custer, S.D., was ranked 17th but suffered a stage 4 kidney laceration in Pendleton when he got stepped on, so he is out for the rest of the year.  

An injury sustained at the Pendleton Roundup will keep Jestyn Woodward from working towards his first Wrangler NFR qualification. The South Dakota cowboy had a lacerated kidney. Chuck Miner | Courtesy photo