BAKER CITY — Jesse Brown is used to wrestling with several hundred pounds of uncooperative steer, but it turns out sitting still and watching his cellphone can be even more stressful.
And cellphones, as you’ve probably noticed, lack horns.
The date was Sept. 26.
Brown, who grew up and lives in Baker City, had wrestled the last steer of the last rodeo of a long season in which he drove more than 40,000 miles and visited several states for the first time.
He was in Stephenville, Texas.
Whether Brown, 28, would achieve his ultimate goal of qualifying for the Super Bowl of rodeo — the National Finals — depended on what other steer wrestlers were doing thousands of miles away. Specifically, whether they were earning money.
The top 15 steer wrestlers qualify for the National Finals.
With two rodeos to go, Brown was in 16th place, $500 out of 15th.
The previous two days he competed at Rapid City, South Dakota. He won the second round and claimed $2,010. That boosted his season earnings to $39,494.60.
He flew to Stephenville thinking he probably had to win some money. That didn’t happen. So Brown had to wait.
And watch as his competitors — and, he emphasizes, his friends — wrestled their final steers.
Dirk Tavenner of Rigby, Idaho, was competing in, of all places, New Jersey. Shayde Etherton of Borden, Indiana, was back in Rapid City.
“I was more nervous watching them than anything else,” Brown said. “Those last two days were everything. Every dollar counts.”
His win at Rapid City ended up being enough.
Brown finished 15th, $1,560 ahead of Tavenner in 16th place. Etherton was 17th, another $978 back.
“It was tough — I’m friends with all those guys,” Brown said.
But feeling badly for his buddies didn’t diminish Brown’s excitement at realizing his dream.
After competing in more than 60 rodeos during the past four months, after living out of a horse trailer and returning to Baker City barely long enough to wash his clothes, Brown qualified for the ultimate competition.
But of course this being 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, that competition is nothing like normal.
The National Finals, scheduled for Dec. 3-12, won’t take place in the traditional venue, the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Due to the pandemic, the rodeo has been moved to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Trading the Vegas Strip for the Lone Star State isn’t the most significant change, though, Brown said.
Globe Life Field is an outdoor baseball stadium. The Thomas & Mack Center is an indoor basketball arena.
More importantly for a steer wrestler, who leaps from a horse galloping at more than 25 mph, the two venues are much different in size and layout.
Brown said the set up in Texas is different from most rodeos, including the location of the chutes where competitors start their runs.
He said he’ll set up his practice arena in Baker City with dimensions as close as possible to those in Arlington. Not that Brown is complaining about missing out on glittering Vegas.
“I don’t care where it is,” he said. “I’m just glad to be in the Finals.”