It takes 365 days to make it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and while many contestants strive to be in the Top 15 in the world come the season conclusion on the last day of September, only 124 made it in 2019. Of those 124, were two Montana cowboys with their eyes on gold - Montana Silversmiths World Champion Gold Buckles - that saw that goal achieved. They were Helena steer wrestler Ty Erickson and Miles City tie-down roper Haven Meged.
Joining the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2011 and six total NFR qualifications from 2014 on, if you could wish a world championship title to someone it would be Ty Erickson. A tall, strong, and impressive contestant in the steer wrestling, a world title was all he needed to add to a list of rodeo win accolades a mile long. However, something about the ten rounds in the Thomas & Mack arena, the host of the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), seemed to be an Achilles heel for Erickson.
Coming as close as second in the 2017 world standings and even placing in seven of ten rounds in 2015, Erickson must have felt the frustration mounting as he took on a roller coaster of emotions for the ten days of the Super Bowl of rodeo. Starting the week off, Erickson came in with $146,080.84 won, which was first place by over $40,000. Steer wrestling was the closest spread race between one through fifteen so showing up, winning a part of the $84,615.38 available paid to six places per round, as well as a part of the $253,846.15 paid out to the top eight in the average for the finals rodeo average was important.
Rounds 1 and 2 found Erickson long with 13.4 and 14.3 second runs in an event that the winner is usually under 4.0 seconds flat. In fact, despite a qualified score in ten out of ten rounds, Erickson only won money in rounds 4 and 9. At the three-quarters point of Round 8, Erickson’s motivation could have been at an all time low. He was at his highest point in the average at 9th, which was still one out of placing in the much needed average money but he hadn’t dropped passed third place yet.
Then, in Round 9, front runner and former two-time World Champion Tyler Waguespack from Louisiana, missed his steer which dropped him from first in the average opening the door for Erickson to get average money! To make matters sweeter, Erickson took the Round 9 win which meant that all he had to do was catch in Round 10 to win Gold! A 4.4 second run was good enough for a tie for 7th in the round, no day money, fifth in the average and the coveted Gold Buckle that will immortalize him in the record books of the PRCA!
Haven Meged hit the rodeo scene hard in 2018 qualifying for the NIRA college rodeo finals in tie-down roping. He went on to win the year-end for the Montana Circuit in 2018 for tie-down roping, that landed him one of the twenty-four spots available to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) in Kissimmee, Florida. At the RNCFR, he won the coveted tie-down roping title, second only to the NFR’s Gold Buckle in prestigious rodeo titles. This set Meged up for what would be a highly successful rookie year in the PRCA.
With additional wins at the Puyallup State Fair (Washington), Deadwood Days of ‘76 (South Dakota), Rancho Mission Veja Rodeo (California) and his hometown PRCA rodeo of the Eastern Montana Fair Rodeo (Miles City, MT), he found himself entering the NFR in second place behind two-time world champion Caleb Smidt of Texas. Close on his heels were three former world champions; Tyson Durfey (2016), Shane Hanchey (2013), and Tuf Cooper (2011-2012, 2014, and an all-around in 2017).
One of the tightest races of the 10 days, there were five lead changes for the projected winner over the finals. While Meged led that race after Round 8 through Round 10, there was a chance at any moment for those standings to shuffle with a missed run, a two-loop run, or the addition of a ten-second barrier penalty for breaking too early from the box. Hanchey and Cooper provided intense competition throughout the week, joining Meged in round wins and round money. A surprise contender was first-time NFR qualifier Taylor Santos of California, who swapped leads with Meged through the first six rounds.
Staying clean through 10 rounds with fast qualified times, Meged was able to win the average for the NFR. It became apparent through the first few rounds of the NFR that whichever contestant would win the NFR average in the tie-down roping would, subsequently, win the world title. Meged has made it clear that he’s going to be reinvesting his money into getting down the rodeo trail and we look forward to a big career from this young gun!
Subsequently, Meged was also named the 2019 Resistol Rookie of the Year in Tie-Down Roping, an award that was still to be decided through the 2019 NFR as fellow Rookie Shad Mayfield also qualified, finishing 12th. Meged becomes the first rookie to win the world title since the legendary Joe Beaver who also won 8 other world titles as well as color commentates the NFR on CBS Sports Network for those watching at home.
Other NFR notables are that Stetson Wright of Milford, Utah, broke Wright family tradition being the first to win the All Around World Title for his efforts in the saddle bronc riding and bull riding this season. He tried to give now six-time world title winner Sage Kimzey a run for his money in the bull riding this NFR and, while he had a great showing, Kimzey is a tough competitor to beat and a force to be reckoned with in bull riding. Wright becomes the first rough stock rider to win the all around title since Ty Murray did it in 1998 and Kimzey ties for the most bull riding world titles in a row at six with legend Jim Shoulders.
California bareback rider Clayton Biglow came in first and didn’t let up, winning more rounds than any other competitor to capture his first bareback world title. Team roping saw a unique split as a team didn’t win the world title together but, instead, two individuals. Clay Smith won his second consecutive world championship in the heading and Wesley Thorp won his first world title. Thorp was roping with Cody Snow and while Snow ended second in the world, the team of Thorp and Snow won the NFR average. Canadian cowboy Zeke Thurston won his second world title in four years. Barrel racer Hailey Kinsel won her second consecutive Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) world title buckle on her good mare, Sister, who currently holds the NFR arena record set at the 2018 NFR.
Check out ProRodeo.com and ThatWesternLife.com for more rodeo coverage of the PRCA and WPRA.
- Katie Schrock