Curtis Cassidy has been at this steer wrestling gig for 20 years on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour, and surely years before that honing his craft as a kid.
At 40, though, this Canadian cowboy is a long way from being a kid, and steer wrestling is certainly a tough way to make a long-term living for these guys molded like NFL linebackers. Cassidy’s career demonstrates that. He made it to his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2002, took six years to get back as he qualified three consecutive times from 2008 to 2010, then took another four years to earn a return trip to Vegas in 2014.
This year marks the end of another Wrangler NFR hiatus. Cassidy has been banged up a bit since 2014 and didn’t rodeo as much because of that, competing mostly closer to home in Canada.
But with so much money on the line at the Wrangler NFR, since the total prize purse went up to $10 million in 2015, Cassidy knew he had to get another shot. It finally came this year, and in a big way, as he qualified No. 1 in the world with a solid $116,009 in regular-season earnings.
“When the pay went up so much, I set a goal to make it back,” Cassidy said. “But I’ve also got a good horse again. I’ve finally found another one I’ve been winning with.”
Back in 2010, Cassidy’s best year, he was atop a horse named Willie that had delivered multiple world titles to other cowboys, including Rope Myers in 2001. Willie was well into his 20s in 2010, yet Cassidy won the final two NFR go-rounds on him to not only finish second in the world in steer wrestling, but in the all-around too, as Cassidy had some success in tie-down roping that season, as well.
Cassidy is now aboard Tyson — “He was named after Mike Tyson, because he’s tough, but he’s sweet, as well” — and is in the midst of very successful run. He also rode Tom Lewis’ horse Maverick to quite a bit of money in 2018.
“In 2017, I came up a little short of the NFR (26th), but I carried that momentum over to this year. By the end of October (2017), I had a little money going into the winter rodeos, and that’s why I decided to keep rodeoing,” he said. “Everybody hopes to win $10,000 to $15,000 at the winter rodeos. To have $18,000 before they even start is crazy.”
Cassidy ended up with nine solo wins over the course of the season, along with a tie for first in a 10th rodeo. That and plenty more strong finishes helped the veteran steer wrestler nab the top spot in the standings as the rodeo kicked off Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. He wasn’t surprised to make it back to Vegas, but it was a little shocking to do so at No. 1.
“My goal to start the year is to be in the top 15, never to be in first position,” Cassidy said. “Obviously, you have to have big wins in big rodeos. I was lucky enough to have those. A little luck here and there let me slide into that No. 1 spot.”
It was a bumpy first go-round Thursday night, as Cassidy got a no-time, but he bounced back with a solid 4.3-second effort Friday, just one-tenth of a second out of the money. And Saturday night, he threw down a 4.10 to take third and earn his first check of the week, for $15,653.
He said he’s not feeling any pressure, despite leading the standings entering the Wrangler NFR.
“I guess I just relish it. It’s harder to be the season leader than it is to win the world,” Cassidy said. “I don’t feel like I have a target on my back. There’s so much money in Vegas, a guy could move from 10th to first. It’s all about being aggressive and competitive – bring the heat every night.”
After Saturday night’s effort, Cassidy stood third in the world standings with $131,663, about $10,000 behind first-place Scott Guenthner, who won the third go-round. Cassidy has some work to do to overcome his world-class peers, but he doesn’t see it as him against the other 14 steer wrestlers.
“Yes, you are competing against the rest of the field, but honestly, you’re competing against yourself,” Cassidy said, adding there’s already plenty to be proud of this season, no matter how he finishes up. “Anytime you can make it to Vegas and be competing, it’s the highlight of anybody’s career. That’s what I look forward to, more than anything. It’s like competing in the Super Bowl. It is the Super Bowl of rodeo.”