Editors Note: We appreciate Dan Barnes and the Edmonton Journal writing and publishing this wrap up story on the record breaking championships won by our Alberta Cowboys last weekend at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. We are proud to share this excellent article with our loyal audience here at Rodeo Country Radio.
DAN BARNES, EDMONTON JOURNAL, EDMONTON JOURNAL
Each National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas includes a Canadian Night, a polite tip of the cowboy hat to the smattering of competitors from north of the 49th and the fans who support them.
This year, the trademark one-day celebration wasn’t nearly enough to do justice to the eight Canadian cowboys who carted off more than $1 million US and world titles in team roping — Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler turned the trick — and saddle bronc, claimed by Zeke Thurston of Big Valley.
It’s the first time since 1994 and only the second time in history that Canadians have won more than one world title in a single season. The championships are the first for a Canadian since barrel racer Lindsay Sears of Nanton won in 2011. And their combined haul of $1,010,770 US, which includes $80,000 in appearance fees, is an unprecedented amount of loot for a Canadian contingent.
Simpson, of Ponoka, and Buhler, from Arrowwood, Alta., were at the head (and the heel) of this history-making class. The first all-Canadian team roping duo to even qualify for the NFR did the unthinkable by finishing atop the 15-team competition. The heavy underdogs made a statement right out of the gate by winning the opening go-round in a blazing 4.4 seconds, split the fifth go and, after posting a 4.3-second run to split the 10th round, woke up Sunday morning as world champions.
“It’s growing on me,” Simpson said Sunday afternoon, as he wheeled his pickup truck south with wife Rebecca and their daughter Annie to his parents’ winter home in Arlington, Ariz.
“It’s incredible. First-time Canadian team. First-time round win. First-time average win. First-time gold buckle. It’s pretty unreal to have accomplished that and to have all that beside my name.”
They missed just one steer, placed in seven rounds and won the average with a nine-head time of 54.2 seconds.
It was a heck of a debut for Simpson, 28, and Buhler, who is 29. They’ve been a team for just two years, but the relationship is an easy one.
“We were good friends beforehand and got along well,” said Simpson, who was born and raised in Claresholm but moved to Ponoka a few years ago. “It makes it easy to get down the road. We’re good enough friends that if we need to work on something, we can talk about it and everybody can get along. It’s just so much easier to progress and stay focused when the other guy is just as focused as you are.”
All that said, they showed few signs that a major breakthrough was imminent. They won only $8,475 apiece at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton in November.
“Our CFR didn’t go as planned,” said Simpson. “We had one go-round win and placed low in another round. Other than that we just had some tough luck. But we were able to stay focused and get prepared for this one.”
“We won the first round, split the fifth, split the 10th, placed in seven out of 10 rounds, caught nine out of 10 steers, won the average, won the world. I don’t think it really gets much better than that. But that’s what we had to do, pretty much, to climb up that ladder because we were so far behind to start with.
“I came in 14th in the world standings, Jeremy was 12th. To climb up that ladder from 14th to first is remarkable. But with the amount of money they have available in Vegas, things are definitely possible.”
A go-round win in team roping pays each cowboy $26,000, so it adds up fast, all right. Simpson and Buhler won $186,000 apiece in Vegas, which also helped them set the record for team roping earnings in a season. Buhler finished with $258,311 and Simpson with $249,133.
Fellow team roper Kolton Schmidt of Barrhead finished well down in the standings but the 22-year-old still won the ninth go-round and a total of $36,231 with American partner Shay Carroll.
Simpson, Buhler and Schmidt were the first Canadian team ropers to appear at the NFR since 2007. They made sure to leave a fine impression.
“There’s a lot of guys from Canada that rope really well, and there’s … a group of guys that actually worked their tails off to get team roping to where it is in Canada, so it’s pretty awesome to get to come down here knowing that all their hard work that they put in for us, it’s maybe starting to pay off a little bit,” Buhler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“I feel like me and Levi are kind of reaping the rewards of their hard work.”
The rewards were spread throughout the competition. Thurston, who collected $160,404, is a second-generation competitor. His father Skeeter was a six-time NFR qualifier who won two rounds in 1986.
Fellow saddle bronc rider Jake Watson of Hudson’s Hope, B.C. earned $136,006 and Clay Elliott of Nanton took home $59,712. In the bareback, Jake Vold of Ponoka finished second and took home $165,340, while Orin Larsen of Inglis, Man. finished third with $81,077.
Five of the eight Canadians were NFR rookies, the other three had qualified for just their second trip to Vegas. Combined, they won 12 go-round buckles and two events.