After finishing last year’s Rodeo Masters Ultimate Cowboy Challenge in a second/third place split, bull rider Clay Elliot came back for the second annual event and claimed the Ultimate Cowboy title.
Elliot, 19, of Nanton, was only one of two Ultimate Cowboy competitors returning from last year. “I kind of had a better idea of what to expect.”
“I love this kind of event. There’s a select few that can do it and I’m proud to be one of them,” he added.
Second to winning, Elliot’s crowning moment of the event was getting onto a bareback bronc, which was also where most of his pre-event nerves came from. “I guess Bar C5 has some pretty good ones. I’ve never been on a bareback horse before.”
Despite knowing what lay ahead of him as he helped ring in the New Year, Elliot figured the evening would be a “fair deal” for everyone, as each cowboy has their own strengths and weaknesses around the six mandatory rodeo events.
The compulsory participation rule was new this year, along with a deduction of five points from a cowboy’s standing for each event they chose not to ride in as a counter-consequence, was added the morning of the event during the competitors pre-event meeting by event organizer Scott Wyzykoski.
“I like the six event thing. I think it’s really impressive how much they’ve added. I’d say keep building it up,” said Elliot.
Wyzykoski was just as impressed with Elliot’s return for the title as Elliot was with the expansion of the New Year’s Eve event. “I expect him only to get better,” said Wyzykoski.
Elliot beat second place winner Garrett Smith, an 18-year-old bull rider, by 1.67th of a point. For Wyzykoski, seeing two of the youngest cowboys, who also attend the same university—Panhandle State in Oklahoma—take home first and second place was an event highlight.
Garrett and his steer wrestling brother Wyatt, 25, signed onto the event only four days before it took place, after Wyzykoski lost three competitors, last year’s champion Jeremy Harden and his brothers Josh and Colter, to more pressing family matters.
The Smith brothers hail from Rexburg, Idaho but they’re no small potatoes in the sport of rodeo. Garrett won the National High School Rodeo Finals All-Around Cowboy three consecutive years, making him the first person in history to do so. They’re also the only set of brothers to have won the All-Around title at those finals.
After receiving a call from Wyzykoski the boys immediately flew from Phoenix, Az., where they had just arrived to prepare for winter rodeos, to Edmonton. “We hadn’t even got the stuff unloaded yet,” said Wyatt.
“We were both pretty excited, our dad had told us about it before,” he added.
Although he was hoping for a win Garrett loved the event and is already hoping to be asked back for the 2014 Ultimate Cowboy Challenge. “This was a lot of fun, it was worth being in the cold for.”
While Wyatt wishes his night had gone better he also had a “blast” and agrees the challenge beat spending New Year’s in warm Arizona. “I wish we had something like this in the states.”
When they received the call both boys knew this type of event was for them. “It kind of fits us, we like to do more than one event,” said Wyatt.
The brothers know many cowboys spend their careers focusing on one or two events and were looking forward to just watching everybody try something new. “I think it’s going to be the most fun watching the other guys. I hear guys come here and just have a good time,” said Garrett.
The only event the brothers weren’t looking forward to was bareback, as both had decided to retire from the event after high school. Wyatt explained he didn’t like process of bareback riding and shoulder injury from football played into Garrett’s decision. “I had all the other events so I just kind of let that one go to waste,” he stated.
The same couldn’t be said for saddlebronc rider Lane Watt, 20, who was tugging at the reins to get the event started, climb down onto a bareback horse and compare the two events. “I’ve always wanted to try bareback . . . It might go a little rough at spots.”
Ty Ellis, 18, of Sonningdale, Sask. had also never tried bareback and hours before the challenge began the steer wrestler and bull rider could feel his anticipation growing. But for him the events weren’t about competing against the other cowboys. “I like to compete against myself and do the best I can.”
The other Ultimate Cowboy competitors included: Branden Dillman, 22, a roughstock cowboy from Rocky Mountain House, Travis Reay, 34, who lives in Mayerthorpe and competes in steer wrestling and saddlebronc, and Logan Hodson, a 29-year-old bareback and saddlebronc rider from Telkwa BC. Hodson was also the only challenge competitor to also ride in the Rodeo Masters section of the event, a new portion added this year by Wyzykoski.
In order to expand the event, Wyzykoski decided to bring in between four and seven professional riders for special Rodeo Masters, side-pot showdowns in each of the three timed events, the roughstock events and barrel racing. “It was a much higher calibre of competition,” said Wyzykoski, referring to the new format of the event.
Some of the Rodeo Masters included last year’s Ultimate Cowboy competitor Jake Vold, last year’s side-pot challenger Curtis Cassidy, of Donalda, and barrel racer Shannon Leguerrier, also of Donalda.
“It’s a good warm up practice session before the winter rodeos in the States,” said Cassidy, referring to his involvement in the evening. He added it’s also a good opportunity to run younger horses.
“It’s a good event and a good deal. (It’s) a way to bring the rodeo community together for New Year’s.”
Cassidy, who came in fourth in the timed events challenge, with Baillie Milan taking first, Tanner Milan in second and Trygve Pugh coming in third, likes trying his hand against the other timed event professional and coming out for a good time.
With the Rodeo Masters special events each holding a pot of only $1,000 he chuckled and said he was just there for fun and the practice.
Vold agrees his participation this year made a perfect practice round for his upcoming rodeos. He feels “it’s a good deal” and having more riders makes for a better show.
Last year’s other second/third place winner, bull rider Steven Turner, also found a way to stay involved despite a recent hip surgery. Turner returned as a judge. “It just sucks being hurt, not being able to ride, but it’s a fun event.”
For future Ultimate Cowboy challengers Turner says the best ways to win are to remember to have fun and keep an open mind. “Just because everyone here is good at one or two events but you have to do them all . . . Mainly it’s just to have fun. That’s what it’s all about for us cowboys, we’re all friends.”
With an attendance of 1,100 Wyzykoski says one of the biggest challenges of the evening was the weather and already he’s thinking of how to make the challenge even better for next year. “We still have some improvements to make, some fine tuning.”
“Next year we’re going to streamline it; just a straight rodeo event.” Wyzykoski feels the Calcutta interrupted the flow too much and doesn’t believe the 2014 challenge will include a live Calcutta. Instead he’s thinking of holding in an online forum.
Wyzykoski had a few other changes in mind and is excited to present the continually growing Ultimate Cowboy Challenge again next December.