Road to the NFR: Cochrane bulldogger Tanner Milan

 Cochrane steer wrestler Tanner Milan, seen at the Calgary Stampede in July, is headed to his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this week. JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS


Tanner Milan follows brother's footsteps to Vegas

More from Jefferson Hagen, Calgary Herald

Published on: December 1, 2015 | Last Updated: December 1, 2015 9:14 PM MST

Two years ago, Tanner Milan sat in the stands at Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center wearing out his vocal chords.

Cheering on the first entry from the storied Cochrane Milan family to make the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo — his brother Straws — he was able to soak in the unique experience.

Unfortunately for Straws, the bulldogger was blanked — one of just two WNFR competitors shut out of the money that year.

“It’s just the way it goes sometimes,” said Tanner of his brother’s misfortune. “It was just unfortunate for him, but that’s in the past now and we don’t dwell on it. Just keep positive vibes going.”

And for Tanner this season, there have been plenty of those.

Among several highlights this season — including a steer wrestling title in Brooks at the end of September that officially secured the first WNFR spot of his career — he pointed to big paydays at the Ponoka Stampede (third) and Cody (Wyoming) Stampede (second) as big reasons why he’ll be in the ring in Vegas when the competition starts on Thursday instead of in the stands.

“I’m feeling pretty good about it,” said Milan, who also had a red-hot run during July’s Calgary Stampede but came up short in the final when he didn’t get a qualified head catch on his steer.

“I’ve got a really good set of horses right now and got my brother coming to haze for me (Baillie) and lots of support from the family. Yeah, just confidence is pretty high and I’m really looking forward to it.”

His last action, after all, netted $20,889.64 at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton. Not quite the championship he won in 2014, but pretty solid.

“I had a really good shot to win the whole deal on Sunday, but I ended up missing my last steer,” he said. “Other than that, I was happy with it. It was pretty good.”

Milan isn’t entirely sure what to expect when he gets in the ring in Vegas, but he draws a nice comparison to the CFR.

“Just from what I’ve heard it’s a lot more amped up, it’s a lot smaller building — you don’t have to give the steer near as much of a headstart,” he said. “It’s a fast start and you catch it really quick.

“Just from what I hear from everyone else, it’s pretty much a rock concert and the Canadian finals is a country music concert.”

In that regard, having brother Baillie in his corner can only help to settle the nerves. The fellow steer wrestler has WNFR experience hazing for Straws in 2013.

“I think it’s damn sure going to help,” said Tanner. “He kind of knows what’s going on and what he has to do. He’s hazed a million for me ever since we got started. We both know each other what’s going on. It’s just a great combination.”

His parents, including father Murry Milan, the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association president and a past steer wrestler, will also be there to lend support.

“It’s absolutely amazing the support I’ve gotten from my mom and dad. Geez, whatever it takes, he’s in our corner,” gushed Tanner. “I just can’t thank him enough. If it wasn’t for him, I damn sure wouldn’t be rodeoing or even be out on the road because he’s our No. 1 supporter. He’s very, very great to have.”

And if he needs any more support, having five other Canadians is something else, too. Straws, when he went in 2013, was a lone wolf flying the Red and White.

“I think it will be nice,” said Tanner. “We’re damn sure going to be cheering each other on. It’s always good to have support from Canadians down there because you can talk to them and just see how they’re doing.”

Ultimately, though, he knows the WNFR, as big as it is, is just another rodeo. He needs to focus on the fundamentals.

“I just want to make sure I catch all 10 steers and get ’em all (thrown) down and don’t break the barrier. It should be good if I can get all 10 of ’em down and see how she ends up at the end of ‘er.”


Road to the NFR: Guelly banks on new horses in sixth Vegas appearance

More from Jefferson Hagen, Calgary Herald

Published on: November 30, 2015 | Last Updated: November 30, 2015 7:29 PM MST

Deb Renger (now Deb Guelly) had much of her early success with longtime star mount Buck, whom she is riding, above, at the 2009 Calgary Stampede. The Okotoks barrel racer is back at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in seven years. GRANT BLACK / CALGARY HERALD

You can pretty much hear Deb Guelly wincing over the phone.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere courtesy of a broken-down truck, she is begrudgingly reaching for her chequebook.

“I’m supposed be in Texas tonight and I’m in Arizona and I ain’t going to get there,” the Okotoks barrel racer grimaced in a phone interview with the Herald last week.

“I’m sitting here and I get a nice $5,300 US bill tomorrow.”


She does, however, have a chance to make that up in a hurry.

When the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo begins in Las Vegas on Thursday, she’ll be one of six Canadians competing for their piece of the $10 million pie, a money total that’s dramatically up from the $6.735M purse a year ago.

Formerly known as Deb Renger, Guelly will enter her sixth WNFR — also competing there in 1995, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2008.

That experience is important for the 47-year-old, who has had to adjust to a constant stream of new rides in recent years. Ever since her longtime star horse Buck died in 2012 — which led to her string of consecutive Canadian Finals Rodeo appearances being snapped at 20 — she has gone from horse to horse to horse in search of past glory.

“My horse (Scooter) got hurt in Canada about a year and a half ago,” the 2004 Calgary Stampede champion said of the new mount she owns. “I was riding a lady from California’s horse all summer.

“My horse can make some runs, but he’s had several injuries in Canada this last year and a half. He can’t make that many runs, so I just need some other horses lined up.”

After recently parting ways with the California horse Commander, in part because of his temperamental nature — she was tossed on her head at the Pendleton Roundup in Oregon in September — Guelly rode Bobbi Goodwin’s horse Sonny at the CFR in Edmonton in October, netting $27,125, third-best at the meet.

But Goodwin’s horse isn’t making the trip to Vegas, which means Guelly went after more new mounts. Eventually she (and her fixed truck) made it to Texas to rent Oscar and Bud Light from Kathleen Collier.

Guelly planned to lean on her ever-growing experience of quickly learning the tendencies of new horses.

“I’ll make a couple of practice runs on them and just ride them,” she said, outlining plans to train in New Mexico before Tuesday’s first practice run in Vegas. “I watch videos to make sure they fit my style first. And then if they fit the way I think I ride …

“A lot of it’s just the mental part of it and figuring them out and figuring out how you need to ride them and what works for you.”

The constant changing of horses has taken a toll on Guelly, who fought through a six-year drought before finally making it back to the WNFR this season. Buck, she notes, was a big reason for so much success early in her career.

“Buck to me was like if you’re married with your wife and your kids. My horses are more family to me than anything and Buck was the best thing that ever happened and it was … I lost him in February (2012) and it just was a shitty year and that was the first time I didn’t make it (to the CFR).”

But optimism reigns with the fresh horses. Christine Laughlin rode Bud Light in Vegas last year and would have won a round if not for a tipped barrel, so Guelly is confident he has the goods to win money there.

“Just believing in yourself and your horse,” she noted as the key to winning in Vegas. “It’s like anything else. I always tell people at the clinics I teach ‘if you want something bad enough you’ll get it. You just have to believe in what you’re doing.’ Yeah, only one person is going to win, but I think so much of it is mental.

“The only control you have is you and your horse,” she added. “You don’t have control over what anybody else does. A lot of people get kind of tied up in ‘this person’s doing that and this person’s doing that.’

“You know what? You just go in there and worry about what you’re doing and try to make the 10 best runs of your life.”

If they are truly her best, Guelly just might win that elusive first world title … and pay off that truck repair bill.