Rodeo family saddles up for Calgary Stampede success

From left: Jake Wright, Jesse Wright, Cody Wright and Spencer Wright at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Dec. 12, 2014. On numbers alone, the Wrights, who hail from Milford, Utah, are well-positioned for Calgary Stampede success.
(Josh Haner/NYT)

ALLAN MAKI

CALGARY — The Globe and Mail

Whenever they check in at the local rodeo office it never fails to draw a laugh.

“Really?” the person behind the counter will ask. “You’re all here to register as Mr. Wright, Wright, Wright and Wright?”

“That’s right,” Cody Wright will answer. “With a ‘W.’”

Imagine then what it was like at the Calgary Stampede rodeo office earlier this week when a truckload of cowboys dropped by to register as Mr. Wright, Wright, Wright, Wright and Wright. That would be five Wrights and a plus for the history books because never before have five family members competed at the Stampede in the same event.

The Wrights and saddle bronc riding are very much a package deal; you don’t get one without the other. For the uninitiated, saddle bronc is a rodeo tango that begins when a cowboy and his horse burst out of the chute. The horse bucks and kicks its hooves high in the sky while the cowboy, holding on with one hand, tries to last eight seconds and impress the judges.

On numbers alone, the Wrights, who hail from Milford, Utah, are well-positioned for Stampede success. As part of the 20-man field, the Wrights have a one-in-four chance of putting someone in the $100,000 finale. It could be Cody, the two-time world saddle bronc champion who cashes in. It could be Jesse, Cody’s brother and the 2012 world champion. It could be Jake, Jesse’s twin. It could be Spencer Wright, another brother and 2014 world champion.

It could even be Rusty Wright, Cody’s 19-year-old son who recently won the San Antonio rodeo and took home more than $20,000. Rusty has ridden in Calgary before but as a novice in the under-20 event. This will be his first go against the big boys in front of 20,000 people, and that has Cody keeping a watchful eye on Rusty’s rides.

“I do care about him,” the father lovingly says of his son. “But I want to win, too.”

The Wrights are all about winning. While their father Bill competed in saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding, he had only a brief run as a professional cowboy. Instead, he started ranching in Southern Utah and built a makeshift rodeo arena so his boys – all seven of them – could learn to ride and rope.

Cody took to it like a Sutter to a frozen pond. He enjoyed the saddle bronc – it was safer than bull riding – and did well enough at high school and nearby rodeos to take a step up to the pros. Once that happened, the rest of the Wright cartel vowed to follow their older brother. It has proven to be a smart and lucrative decision.

Cody Wright, 38, has won more than $2.2-million in in his rodeo career. Included in his portfolio are two victories at the Stampede (2006, 2008). His brother Spencer has been quoted saying, “Attitude plays a big part in rodeo. [Cody] is a real positive guy. You can’t get him down.”

Rusty Wright has found his dad to be the right person to talk and listen to as they travel the rodeo circuit together. One thing Rusty had to learn the hard way was staying clear of bull riding. In Grade 8, he was good enough to make it to the state final. Then the injuries started coming: he suffered a broken humerus bone in his right arm after being tossed to the dirt. And in a follow-up mishap, he was bull-stomped on the chest with enough force to collapse one of his lungs.

“Right after that,” says Rusty, “I went to my dad and said I wanted to try saddle bronc.”

Not that sitting atop a bucking horse proved to be easier to learn. Saddle bronc takes strength and balance and doing a lot of little things right. Rusty says he had to learn how “to stay back [in the saddle], get my feet out, turn in my toes. I got bucked off six times in a row. A lot of that was really frustrating. I was expecting to get on and know how to do it.”

Fortunately for him, he was born into the Wright family. Pick a time – morning, noon or night, off-season, in season – and chances are the Wrights are talking saddle bronc. They talk about it during the long commutes to the next rodeo. They talk about it at the rodeo. And when it is dinner time, it doesn’t take long before the conversation goes once around the table and settles on everything you wanted to know about saddle bronc, even if you hadn’t bothered to ask.

“Yeah, we’re always talking about it,” Cody says with a chuckle. “I don’t think you can ever get good enough at this.”

Rusty has been getting better with every bronc he rides. He was a two-time national high-school champ in 2012 and 2013. In those same two years, he competed in the Calgary Stampede’s novice division, finishing second then first. He skipped the 2014 Stampede but was celebrated as the rookie of the year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

All of that has taken Rusty out from the shadows and plunked him under a Stampede spotlight. He acknowledges feeling “real nervous” because he’ll be trying to match rides with the best saddle bronc cowboys north of the Pecos. So how does he do that? How does he react to the pressure?

“I plan to stick to the basics,” he says. “I can’t start thinking about all that other stuff [the crowd, the money, his mom ShaRee sitting in the stands and watching]. I want to do my best and I want to win. I want to come out first.”

So do those four other guys, the saddle bronc riding brothers who can take on any bucking horse in any rodeo and transform it into a money maker. That would be the Wrights, all right. With a ‘W.’