“That’s the reason we play the game.”
Broken hearts can come from not only lost loves.
While he wouldn’t readily admit such, and didn’t experience a crushed body organ, one of the best college cowboys in the country acknowledged intense emotional pain of similar sort.
“I had a great year on the college rodeo circuit, won the Central Plains Region, and things were really going well until my last steer,” reflected Tanner Brunner, who just returned from the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming.
“It really was a heart breaker for Tanner. He’s been bulldogging good all year, and only had to be seven (seconds) on his last run. That didn’t pan out the way we’d all hoped, but Tanner was still ninth in the yearend college steer wrestling standings,” credited Doug Muller, coach of the Kansas State University Rodeo Team, of which Brunner is a member.
“Tanner is truly one of the top young steer wrestlers in the country. He has another two years of college eligibility to make the college finals. I’m confident he’ll be there and win the yearend steer wrestling title. Tanner has the potential to make it on the professional circuit, too,” Muller continued.
Set for the third year on his college rodeo team, competing in National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association events, Brunner, at six-foot-two, 225-pounds, is a Ramona, Kansas, ranch native studying animal Science at K-State, where he’ll be a senior this fall.
Despite the initial college rodeo finals letdown, Brunner referred to his opening comment. “You win some, and, even though it’s generally hard to swallow, you lose some, too. That’s the reason we play the game,” he evaluated honestly.
“We came home, revamped and are headed to a rodeo in South Dakota. We’re entered in a lot of rodeos in the next week and a half. Fourth of July is considered the Cowboy’s Christmas, because of the number of rodeos a cowboy can enter. I sure want to take full advantage of that,” Brunner enthusiastically recognized.
“I can’t let one run hold me back. Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes to win the next rodeo,” he added emphatically.
Rundown of Brunner’s college finals bulldogging action was related by Muller. With a 5.4 seconds run in the first go-round, Brunner split seventh three ways. He was in a three-way tie for third with 4.7 seconds on his second steer, and outright won the third go-round with a 4.1 seconds run.
“A well below average run on that last steer would have made Tanner a world champion. He got out good, but just wasn’t able to get down after the steer moved too close to his own horse,” Muller critiqued.
Brunner has again run that getaway steer a thousand times in his mind since the finals action. “On my short go run, the steer stepped into me and my horse. I should have got down a stride sooner, if I was going to have a chance to catch that steer,” the young cowboy reflected.
It’s far from a disgrace to not attempt bulldogging a steer when it doesn’t appear to be ideal for a winning run. Yet, that is still truly a quite unusual scenario for this college steer wrestler.
“I’ve bulldogged at more than 60 rodeos in the last year, and there have only been a handful of steers that I haven’t got down on,” Brunner calculated.
Yet, he adamantly clarified: “There are a lot of factors that come into play. There is a legitimate reason when a contestant doesn’t get down on a steer Now, I’m younger, and am willing to take more chances.”
Competing at 10 college rodeos in Kansas and Oklahoma, plus the finals, this circuit year, Brunner bulldogged 19 college rodeo steers, making the short go-round in all except one rodeo, and was 20 points ahead of the runner-up to claim the regional championship.
Not the biggest win of the season, but an important one for Brunner was on his home turf. Captain of his college rodeo team, Brunner won the steer wrestling competition at the annual Kansas State University Rodeo in Manhattan during February.
There were 42 college cowboys in steer wrestling at the K-State Rodeo. Brunner threw his steer in 6.9 seconds in the long-go-round, then was first in the short-go-round finals with 5-seconds flat, to win the average in 11.9 seconds.
While that was a most significant accomplishment for the college cowboy, Brunner had collected major checks steer wrestling at Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeos just days earlier.
During January, Brunner won the steer wrestling at a PRCA rodeo in Lincoln, Nebraska, dropping his bovine in 5.3 seconds, to collect $1,200 prize money, and rank him in the early year standings among the very best professional rodeo cowboys in the world.
In the PRCA steer wrestling at the Southwestern Livestock Exposition Rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, during late January, Brunner was second in the second-go-round, flattening his steer in 3.8 seconds.
While Brunner wasn’t anxious to admit it, the $4,600 paycheck moved him into the top 20 PRCA steer wrestlers at that time. “That was the biggest win in my career to date, but the standings change about every day. I really don’t keep track,” conceded the cowboy, who still has competed in about15 pro rodeos this year, collecting checks at several more.
To compete successfully in steer wrestling at these levels requires ability, practice and good horses. “I’ve worked with lots of cowboys in my career, and Tanner has the talent to be a champion wherever he competes,” Muller evaluated.
“Chancy Larson, a professional steer wrestler at Manhattan, has an arena, dogging steers and good horses, so we practice a lot at his place,” Brunner noted.
Starting out in junior rodeos, Brunner credited: “My parents helped me as much as they could. I started throwing steers on the ground in junior high with Dad teaching me the basics. I ended up winning the chute dogging my last year in the Kansas junior high division,” related Brunner, who culminated by winning the Kansas high school steer wrestling finals his senior year.
Frequently when competing at PRCA rodeos, Brunner will use a bulldogging team being hauled by another cowboy. “I was fortunate at the finals to be able to bulldog on a 23-year-oldl gelding owned by Cody Woodward, assistant coach of the Northwestern Oklahoma State Rodeo Team at Alva. I sure do appreciate that,” Brunner noted.
“I often do travel to rodeos with Chancy. He’s a good hand, one of the top steer wrestlers in the PRCA Prairie Circuit every year,” Brunner said.
“I started coming to Chancy’s to practice at the end of my sophomore year of high school and have learned all of the little things that make a good bulldogging run from him and a few other guys who have helped me,” Brunner appreciated.
Rodeo runs in Brunner’s veins as his parents had successful rodeo careers. His dad Tracy, mom Yvonne and sister Cat all competed on the K-State Rodeo Team, as did an aunt and an uncle.
Looking to eventually being involved in extensive Brunner family ranching operations in Marion County, that may be decades away.
“I practice every day when the weather allows. I’ve been practicing hard, and it’s paid off, but my education comes first,” the humble cowboy contended
Accomplishing a goal set earlier in the year, Tanner was the college regional champion steer wrestler and made a most admirable effort at the National Finals College Rodeo.
Next in line for the cowboy’s plans: “I will go to PRCA rodeos through the Midwest this summer, compete in some United Rodeo Association events, too, and try to qualify for the URA Finals this fall in Topeka. Back to college in August, I hope to again win the region and then win the college finals a year from now.
“My intentions are to rodeo professionally fulltime after I graduate. I’d like to compete at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, and become a world champion,” the outstanding college steer wrestler summarized.