In the world of rodeo and equine sports, 2019 will be remembered as the year of exceptional younger and older athletes.
Among the group of exceptional younger competitors were Stetson Wright, 20, who clinched the world all-around title on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit; Haven Meged, 21, who snared the PRCA’s tie-down roping gold buckle; and Jess Lockwood, 22, who wrangled his second world title in three years on the Professional Bull Riders circuit.
Both Wright and Meged were PRCA rookies when they competed at the PRCA’s Dec. 5-14 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Wright competed at the NFR in bull riding and he also was an exceptional saddle bronc rider throughout the 2019 regular season. The Utah cowboy entered the NFR with the lead in the world all-around title race and stayed in the No. 1 spot throughout the 10-day rodeo.
When the dust settled, Wright clinched the world all-around title with $297,922. Roper Clay Smith finished second with $279,671.
Though he should have ridden more consistently throughout the NFR (he stayed on only five of 10 bulls), Wright clearly demonstrated throughout the year that he could become pro rodeo’s next big star.
Had Wright not sustained a head injury in late July that sidelined him for about a month, he might also have qualified for the NFR in saddle bronc riding. Had he competed in the NFR in two events, he probably would have won the 2019 all-around title by a much bigger margin. If Wright qualifies for future NFRs in two events, he probably will be very hard to beat in the all-around race. If he can win numerous world all-around titles in the near future, he will be the PRCA’s next big star.
During the past two decades, for the most part, roping superstar Trevor Brazile has been the world’s No. 1 rodeo cowboy. But Brazile entered into semiretirement last year when he clinched a record 14th world all-around title. With that in mind, fans began looking for pro rodeo’s next leader this year.
Wright said he'd like to become that guy.
"I'm going to try to do that," Wright said. "That's what I've dreamed of my whole life. But I have to take it day by day and bull by bull and hopefully one day I'll get there."
Meged, a Montana cowboy, had unusual success this year. In June, he clinched the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) tie-down roping title for Tarleton State at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.
When he clinched the world tie-down roping title at the PRCA’s 2019 National Finals in Las Vegas, Meged became the fourth person in history to win an NIRA (collegiate) and a PRCA (pro) title in the same year. The others are Ty Murray (all-around in 1989 when he competed for Odessa College), Matt Austin (bull riding in 2005 when he competed for Hill College) and Taos Muncy (saddle bronc riding in 2007 when he competed for Oklahoma Panhandle State).
“I’ve set big goals... to be able to achieve all of those goals is a dream come true,” Meged said.
During the 2019 NFR, Meged clinched the average title with a 10-run time of 85.7 seconds and earned $126,134 throughout the Las Vegas championships. He edged second place finisher Shane Hanchey in the 2019 world title race, $246,013 to $244,831.
Lockwood, another Montana cowboy, has had tremendous success as a younger competitor over the past four years. In 2016, he clinched the PBR’s Rookie of the Year title. In 2017, at age 20, he became the PBR’s youngest world champion. When he clinched his second PBR gold buckle on Nov. 10 at the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas at 21, he became the PBR's youngest bull rider to win two world championships.
Lockwood earned $1,873,731 throughout 2019 on the PBR circuit. Lockwood’s total earnings over the past four years (2016-2019) at PBR shows were $3,918,473.
There are other younger cowboys on the PBR circuit who have great potential such as Dalton Kasel, a Farwell High School graduate who has homes in the West Texas towns of Muleshoe (where he grew up) and McCamey (where he works for a rodeo livestock firm). At age 20, he clinched the PBR’s 2019 Rookie Of The Year title. Kasel also finished No. 8 in the 2019 PBR world title race. He earned $206,735 at PBR shows throughout 2019.
There also was 20-year-old Daylon Swearingen who is from New York (state). He won the 2019 NIRA bull riding title (while competing for Panola College in Carthage) and then qualified for both the 2019 PBR World Finals and the 2019 PRCA National Finals. He also clinched the 2019 PBR Canada title.
There also was Shad Mayfield of Clovis, N.M., who clinched the National High School Rodeo Association’s tie-down roping title at Rock Springs, Wyo., in July at age 18 and then competed in the PRCA’s December National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in tie-down roping as a 19-year-old PRCA rookie. He’s the son of two-time NFR tie-down roping qualifier Sylvester Mayfield.
The remarkable success of older competitors also made great story lines in 2019. One of them was 41-year-old Matt Reeves who clinched the National Finals event title in steer wrestling. Reeves, a Pampa native who is from Cross Plains in the Abilene area, clinched the NFR average/aggregate title with a 10-run time of 48.40, 6.4 seconds faster than second place finisher Riley Duvall who is 27.
Reeves made his seventh NFR appearance and showed competitors who are much younger how to bulldog well consistently.
“I don’t think I’m done,” he said.
One older cowboy athlete who is not totally done is Brazile. Though he was in semiretirement this year, Brazile diligently competed in steer roping events on the PRCA circuit and clinched the 2019 PRCA world title at age 43 at the National Finals Steer Roping on Nov. 23 in Mulvane, Kan.
For Brazile, it was a record 25th world title. All in all, Brazile, who is from Decatur, has earned 14 world all-around titles (2002-04, 2006-15 and 2018), seven steer roping gold buckles (2006-07, 2011, 2013-15 and 2019), three tie-down roping world championships (2007 and 2009-10) and one team roping heading title (2010).
With 25 world titles, Brazile, who became a PRCA member in 1996, ranks No. 1 for the most PRCA gold buckles, seven more than Guy Allen who has 18. All of Allen’s world championships are in steer roping.
Brazile’s 25 world titles are the most in multiple categories. Allen’s 18 steer roping titles are the most in the single event category.
Asked if he thought he would earn 25 titles when he began competing, Brazile said: “No way. Not even close. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I would never have pretended to see this coming.”