2019 World Champion Steer Wrestler
Spring 2020 Issue by Cyd Hoefle photos by Jackie Jensen
Ty Erickson Bulldogs His Way to the Top
Backing his horse into the box, Ty Erickson readies himself. With a nod of his head, the chute operator springs the gate open releasing the steer. It bolts into a full run across the arena.
Ty is careful not to break the barrier as he pushes his horse into a full run. Watching the steer’s reaction and the direction it’s headed, he knows instinctively what to do. He quickly catches up and parallels the steer. At a full lope, Ty’s left foot leaves the stirrup as he leans toward the steer. In one fell swoop, his right-hand slides along the length of the steer’s body and he catches the horn in the crook of his elbow. Simultaneously his left hand grabs the tip of the left horn. Ty’s feet hit the ground and he plants them solidly, carving furrows in the dirt. As he gains traction and comes to a stop, he lays the steer down. The clock stops. Ty jumps up, hands in the air. 3.3 seconds!
Three point three seconds! Think of it: In the amount of time it takes for someone to take in a deep breath and exhale, the tall, lanky cowboy has bulldogged a steer to the ground. Ty breaks his own record giving himself a new personal best. It is fitting that he did so during his first event of the year in his home state at the Montana PRCA Pro Circuit Rodeo held in Great Falls in January.
Ty is fast. So fast that he is the reigning 2019 World Champion Steer Wrestler, a title he claimed in December at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. It’s a title he worked hard to obtain.
“I have dreamed about being the world champion for years,” Ty said. “To have won, it’s a feeling I just can’t describe.”
When he looks back on the path that he’s taken to become the champion, it’s filled with dreams, hard work, setbacks and blessings. At 29, Ty’s been chasing the title for a decade, but through it all, it’s obvious that the humble, cowboy really does love steer wrestling- everything about it.
He didn’t start wanting to be a steer wrestler. In fact, he had hopes of making it big as a calf roper. But somewhere along the way that goal shifted.
Ty spent his childhood around horses. He grew up in Helena, where his mother trained horses and his veterinarian father practiced equine chiropractic work. Ty helped his mom out during the summers by riding the horses she was training. He learned horsemanship early and obviously well.
When he was a junior in high school, local steer wrestler, Nick Stubblefield brought his horse by for Ty’s dad to examine. Ty’s mom suggested he talk to Nick and maybe think about steer wrestling. He did both.
“I come from a physically big family,” Ty said. “We’re all athletic. My uncle played tight end for MSU and Mom was always pushing me to play either football or rodeo. Once I tried steer wrestling, I was hooked. I loved it!”
After making the switch, Ty ended up selling his calf-roping horse to Haven Meged, a young teenager in Miles City just starting out. Years later the two of them would share the stage as they both received world champion titles.
Ty threw himself into steer wrestling. “It’s like football in that it is a contact sport,” he said. “My size helps for sure, but you have to be pretty agile too.” At 6-foot-6, Ty is both.
“From that first time I bulldogged a steer I knew this would be my event,” he said. Ty practiced with Nick for years and credits Nick for a lot of his success.
“He taught me technique, but he also taught me how to win. The mental part of winning is as important as the physical.”
Backing into the box, Ty stays intensely focused and says he thinks about one thing: the run ahead of him. “There’s not much time to analyze,” he said. “My muscle memory takes over and I just do it.”
Ty works full time preparing for those few seconds in the arena. He trains daily with a mechanical steer and horse, taking very little time to do much else. He also trains with his horse but most of his training is done with the mechanicals.
“I bulldog so much I couldn’t do that to my horse. It would be too hard on him,” he explained.
Ty travels to rodeos with a couple other bulldoggers, Tyler Pearson and Tyler Waguespack. “The camaraderie among steer wrestlers is unlike any other sport,” Ty said. “We travel together, use the same horses, battle each other and cheer each other on. We want the same thing and we have the same goals. We want to win, but there's respect there too.” They even share the same first name, though they go by Ty, Tyler and Wags.
The three of them work the logistics of the rodeo schedule and strategize how to get the two horses they share to each rodeo. It’s a complicated, and expensive schedule as they work out which rodeos to attend.
But what they have seems to be working, Tyler Pearson was the 2016 and 2017 World Champion and Tyler Waguespack was the World Champion in 2018.
It isn’t just the three traveling companions that are good friends. Ty says that all the bulldoggers are comrades.
“We’re just a close group of guys,” he said, “I’d help any of them if I could.”
It’s an arduous journey to get to the finals. A strenuous schedule sometimes means ten rodeos in six days. The requirement to show $40,000 in earnings compounds the pressure. But getting there is a privilege that Ty doesn’t take lightly.
“One of the greatest moments at the NFR is when I represented Montana with the flag,” he said. “It was a huge honor for me.” Similar to the Olympics, all the states represented at the finals rodeo are carried by a cowboy on horseback at the opening ceremonies.
“I don’t take the support I get from my home state for granted,” Ty said, “I love Montana and I’m proud to be from here. I want to represent my state well. I look at steer wrestling as my job and I am blessed to be doing this,” Ty said. “I love what I do!”