Corah Brunson from Terry, Mississippi, is the 2022 Little Wrangler All Around Champion for the National Little Britches. The 9-year-old is also the 2022 Goat […]
Written by: Michele Toberer< Back to Articles
The first man with a rope in his hands from North Carolina to qualify for the WNFR.
The 29-year-old heeler from Mocksville, North Carolina is now preparing for his first-ever PRCA National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and fulfilling a goal he’s had since he was a young child. Caleb’s path to Las Vegas has been a long one, but with each year he worked towards qualifying, his determination grew and his passion for becoming one of the best heelers in the business never waned. He will compete in Las Vegas in December, with Jake Cooper, and the team roping duo is preparing just as hard for the competition now, as they did to qualify for it.
By all rights, Caleb should have been a fourth-generation logger, as he grew up with his dad, Jeff Anderson, making his living as a logger like the many Anderson men before him. Caleb definitely knows the family business and has returned to it several times over the years, as he was making his way in the rodeo world. “My mom, Kathy Stikeleather, works for Statesville Auto Auction and ran barrels some; and my dad liked to team rope and would head at jackpots.” Caleb has an older sister, Leah Renegar, and younger brother Koda Stikeleather.
Caleb started competing as a calf rider when he was just 6 years old. When Caleb was 8, he started roping at Ricky Vaughn’s, in Harmony, North Carolina, and practiced there often, as he started competing in several junior rodeo associations. Caleb started high school rodeoing his sophomore year and qualified for national finals in Springfield, Missouri with Clint Keller, and again his senior year in Farmington, New Mexico with Brent Murphy before graduating from Davie High School in 2008. Although roping had become his main focus, his roughie spirit never left. “I was a bull rider at heart. I won steer riding titles and moved up to bulls, riding some 2-year-old bulls Mike Colyer owned; but when I moved up to the senior bulls it was a little intimidating and ended my bull riding career. I’ve always wished I would have stuck with it.”
Weatherford, Texas was where Caleb always felt he needed to end up to really make his team roping dreams realities. After high school he hoped to go to college there, but instead went to Hobbs, New Mexico after childhood friend, Maggie Moore, convinced him to try college rodeoing there. “I knew school was not something I was going to do over roping, but I knew it would give me a chance to get out on my own. I became friends with Kurt Jones out there, and he had made the finals a couple times, had won the George Strait, and I hung out with him and tried to learn as much as I could from him. There was another buddy at school that was from Canada and he talked me into going to some Canadian rodeos. I stayed up there for a month, but Canada was not for me at that age, so I came home and got a real job.”
Caleb still roped every day but worked with his dad in the Bear Creek Logging company, where he had worked off and on since he was 10 years old. “I’d start early and log until 5:00pm, then I’d go rope at Corey Honeycutt’s arena. I was a #6 heeler but didn’t completely understand the basic fundamentals of how I was roping; and Cory knew how to break it down for me. I’d load up all the horses I had, and we’d take turns heading and heeling for each other. Our friendship grew during those years, I became a better roper, and he became my best friend. Caleb had a lot of success during his younger years in North Carolina, winning a truck at a JX2 roping at 16, and started competing seriously in the IPRA in 2012. Caleb qualified for his first IFR in 2012, where he won the team roping average, and went on to win the heeling title at the IFR in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
On January 1, 2017, Caleb moved to the Phillips Ranch in Navasota, Texas. Shane Phillips gave him a job riding as many horses as he could stand and breaking in steers. “I stayed there for 8 months and rodeoed through the winter with Brady Tryan. But when April came, I didn’t go to California to rodeo like everyone else was. I moved to Hillsboro, Texas with DJ Smith and worked for his dad’s grading company to make money to keep alive. When he sold his place and moved to Weatherford, Caleb bought a camper and he and then girlfriend, Carrie Putnam, moved the camper to DJ’s new place in Weatherford, where Caleb was certain he needed to be.
Caleb roped all of 2018 with fellow North Carolinian, Cory Kidd, and was determined to compete all year without going back home. “It was kind of crazy how God works and that I had finally ended up in Weatherford. It’s like He let me know what I needed to do and worked me towards it. It took me a little longer to get there because I was kind of stubborn; but being there felt like I was on the right track. It wasn’t’ the greatest year, but it was the first year I had accomplished rodeoing from start to finish.” Caleb ended up in the top 30 heelers in the world in 2018, and although it was not enough to make it to the WNFR, it qualified him for Houston the following season, and that’s where things started really turning around for him.
After the season was over in 2018, Caleb began working for Luke Brown as he built his new ranch in Lipan, Texas. “Carrie works as a cost analyst for Patrick Smith’s company, Driven, and I’d drop her off at work, and work at Luke’s all day. “We started building the NFR arena at Luke’s so they could practice for the 2018 finals, and it was really cool because if Luke’s partner wasn’t there I’d get to fill in and rope with him. I would work turning steers out, raking the arena, basically everything they didn’t need to do so they could just rope. Just being around those elite ropers was like being at school, watching the pros and how they did things. I was fortunate to get to be around them and tried to pay attention to every detail.” Caleb fed for Luke, Paul Eaves, and Clayton Hoss, while they competed in Las Vegas last December, and after the finals were over, he and Carrie moved their camper to Luke’s ranch, where they now reside. “it’s been a blessing being at Luke’s, we have a Texas family and it has been a great thing for us.”
Caleb wasn’t sure who he would rope with for the 2019 season, but after some success at jackpots during the winter with Jake Cooper, the ropers agreed to team up together. “I was broke and trying to do anything I could to make money that winter, and although we started out with a few successes, it was a little shaky. But we agreed we were going all the way and not giving up on each other. When we went to Houston, we were in 80th position, and after winning $30,000 each there, it shot us up 77 places. It was the most money I’d ever won at one time, and we had confidence that we could keep going.” Towards the end of the season, Caleb’s position to qualify seemed fairly solid, but Jake had dropped to 16th after Pendleton. “It was tough towards the end because he was on and off the chopping block, and I really wanted to qualify with him for finals. I couldn’t really take a deep breath until the final steer was roped that season and I knew we had made our goal and qualified together. It wouldn’t have been as sweet if we hadn’t both made it; but it worked out the way the good Lord wanted it to, and we’re blessed with that.”
Caleb and Carrie recently came back to North Carolina in October, and surrounded by family and friends, were marred after 5 years of dating. Caleb’s groom cake was a replica of an NFR back number. Although Carrie is a competitor herself, she’s put off her rodeo aspirations these past few years to support Caleb’s goals. “Carrie won the IPRA barrel racing title in 2015 and has given up quite a bit for me. I look forward to getting to a point where she can start going for herself again.”
Caleb will compete on his sorrel mare that he’s been riding since 2012, “My aunt, Ronda Beaver, gave me Sugar Bear. She’s a 2006 model and has taken me through all of my competition so far. I have a second horse I ride occasionally, but when it’s game time and big money is up, I ride Sugar Bear. I’m looking forward to being at the finals on her because I’ve always felt if I could get her in that building that she’d do well. In the east, the set-ups are short in small pens and we rope a lot of big steers, so I think she’ll be right at home. I think she’ll be one of the best heel horses there.”
Caleb is all about setting goals and staying disciplined to reach them. “I’m big on being prepared and working hard. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. If something isn’t right, I work to fix it. I’ve been studying tapes from prior finals and watching how other teams go about it. It hit me the other day, that I’m not just going to be watching it on tapes; it’s going to be me backing into the box. I don’t think it will sink in fully until I’m there.” In 2017, when Caleb moved out to Texas for his first real attempt at qualifying, he saved a screenshot of a Facebook post before turning off his social media. “The post was a picture of the Thomas & Mack that said, ‘Set a goal so big that when you achieve it, it will blow your mind.’ I quit Facebook when I moved out there because I knew I had to full heartedly be in it. I didn’t want distractions, I figured I could be roping a dummy or riding my horses rather than wasting time looking at things that weren’t going to get me to my goal. But I’d open that screenshot often to remind myself of exactly where I was trying to get.”
Caleb has had the chance to go to the WNFR several times over the years, and although the stands are often filled with many aspiring rodeo athletes, hoping to be on that arena floor one day, for Caleb he declared at a young age that he’d never go to the WNFR until he was there to run a steer himself. So, although over the years he passed on many trips to attend as a spectator, he held fast to his goal and has saved the special moment of walking into the Thomas & Mack, for this December, when he rides in as a 2019 WNFR competitor, mind blown.