With the flick of a wrist and the twirl of an arm, Cooper Nastri has entertained scores of rodeo audiences up and down the East […]
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
Sometimes in life, it’s a matter of finding out what you’re good at, and then doing it.
That was the case for a thirteen-year-old buckskin named Chuck.
Chuck was no good at ranch work, and he didn’t really care about the tie-down roping, but when it came to steer wrestling, he loved it.
Chuck was purchased by a Nebraska Sandhills ranch family as a weanling from the Ft. Pierre, S.D. sale barn. The family brought him to their neighbor, professional cowboy Kyle Whitaker, to break. Kyle could tell from the beginning that Chuck wasn’t an easy horse. “He was pretty rank,” he said. “He liked to buck all the time.” The horse wasn’t a bad one, but he wasn’t rider friendly, either, and Kyle knew his neighbors didn’t ride often and Chuck would require a lot of riding. So they agreed to sell him to Kyle.
Chuck had a couple of vices. He liked to run, and he liked to kick. Kyle started him in the tie-down roping, but that didn’t work well. “The first three calves I’d run, I’d be holding him back, trying not to run over the calves.”
And a person had to be careful around him. He kicked when someone walked around him.
Kyle, a seven time Linderman Award winner, would have started him earlier in the steer wrestling, but he was afraid of being kicked. He finally got brave enough to try the gelding, wearing a football helmet the first time he steer wrestled on him.
It only took a few runs for him to realize that Chuck loved steer wrestling. In 2013, he took him to a few amateur rodeos and the next summer, he tried him at a pro rodeo in Hamel, Minn. Kyle won the first round on Chuck with a time of 3.5 seconds.
Now, nearly two years later, Chuck excels at his job. At rodeos, it’s not uncommon for steer wrestlers to share horses, and Kyle often mounts out up to four steer wrestlers on Chuck at a performance. Fellow bulldogger Nick Guy has ridden Chuck a lot in the last six months. Since the week after the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), Nick has won $70,000 on him. He’s won checks at the American qualifier in Rapid City, Tucson, Ariz., the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, and San Angelo, Texas. “It seems like every time I ride him, I win,” Guy said.
Guy, a three-time WNFR qualifier, loves riding him. “He gives you the same trip every time,” he said. In the box, “he stands there, and doesn’t mess around.”
Kyle, who hazes for Nick and also steer wrestles, warms Chuck up. “He’s not the funnest horse to lope and warm up,” Nick said. Kyle “rides him in one of the most severe calf roping bits you can be in, because Chuck runs. Chuck wants to go, and you have to have him bitted up. If you put a snaffle in there, he’ll just run off with you.” If the bulldoggers must ride through the arena on the way to the timed event box, Chuck might “blow through there and take out a judge, or whatever else is in his path.” Kyle also rides Chuck to steer wrestle, and Chuck doesn’t change his ways for either cowboy. “It doesn’t seem to affect the way he works for me or Kyle,” Nick said. “It’s one thing if you mount a guy out and you’re winning a bunch of money, and the horse isn’t working for the other cowboy. Chuck still works great for Kyle, and Kyle’s winning.”
When a steer wrestler rides another person’s horse, and wins money, he pays the horse’s owner “mount money.” The typical amount is 25% of what the cowboy earned for the run, and Nick’s been writing checks to Kyle all winter. “I’ve paid Kyle good this winter,” Nick quipped. “If you take twenty-five percent of $70,000, that’s pretty good money, that’s big money for him and for me.”
Nick, who grew up in Wisconsin but now lives near Denver, is excited for the summer rodeo run. He and Kyle, who was one of his early mentors in pro rodeo, will travel together this summer. Kyle hazed for Nick at his first WNFR in 2010. “It’d be cool to make (the WNFR) on his horse, and for him to make it. It’s cool that it’s come full circle, and we’re traveling together, and I’m able to win on this horse.”
And Kyle and Nick are glad that Chuck found his niche. He “wasn’t very fun to ranch on, and he’s not a real great calf (roping) horse,” Kyle said. “It was a matter of finding out what he liked to do and what he was made for.” And Chuck was made to steer wrestle.