Bridger Anderson was having a tough fall last year.
The freshman at Northwestern Oklahoma State University was sitting sixth in the Central Plains Region steer wrestling standings and had admittedly struggled in the Prairie Circuit season to that point.
Anderson, however, had already done enough earlier in the summer and fall to qualify for the inaugural Ote Berry Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship at the 2017 Junior National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“I was kind of having a tough fall,” Anderson said, “but I knew I had the ability to do well in Vegas.”
Anderson did very well, winning the average title with a three-run time of 13.2 seconds. The Carrington, North Dakota, native, who was making his first trip to Las Vegas, pocketed nearly $14,000, won a saddle and earned a $1,000 scholarship to Northwestern Oklahoma State.
“I bought a hazing horse and some other stuff,” Anderson said. “The money kind of went into the entry fee and fuel fund. It seems like you never get ahead, but it all helps.”
But that wasn’t all Anderson got from the Junior NFR.
“Winning last year definitely fed my confidence,” Anderson said. “After that I went to South Dakota and won (the Allen Good Qualifier for The American) there. And it carried over into the spring to help me qualify for the college finals and get rolling into the summer.”
At the College National Finals Rodeo in June, Anderson won the second go-round with a 3.5-second run and, despite a no-time on his first run, finished 22nd in the average. In early August he picked up his first career win on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, taking the title at the Dodge City (Kansas) Roundup.
Anderson ended up fourth in the 2018 Prairie Circuit steer wrestling standings, finishing behind Riley Duvall, world champion Tyler Pearson and Blake Mindemann. He’s currently leading the Central Plains Region, although he isn’t concerned about where he sits right now.
“The college finals are made in the spring,” Anderson said. “In the fall I just try to get my hands on ‘em and make good runs. I finally got my first college win in the fall so that was nice. We’re just trying to chip away at it and not get too excited or too bummed out.”
As for this year’s Junior NFR, Anderson, 19, won’t be back to defend his title. He’s sure happy he made it out to Las Vegas last year, however.
“The Junior NFR is an outstanding event,” he said. “They did a great job with it and I hope it just keeps growing.
“And the event ran really well. We were on a time frame and I didn’t know if we were going to make it, but we made it with time to spare every day. We were able to run 26 bulldoggers in half an hour. Usually, you’re going to have some horses that you’re going to struggle with, but they ran it off really efficiently.”
Anderson has been around rodeo his whole life, and regularly competes against the top bulldoggers in the nation on the PRCA circuit. And Stockton Graves, his rodeo coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State, is a seven-time NFR qualifier. Having a chance to be around Berry, a four-time world champion and a 1998 inductee into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and other current and former world champs at last year’s Junior NFR was just an added bonus.
“It’s always cool to see a lot of the top guys and learn from them,” Anderson said. “Guys like Tyler (Pearson) and Wag (Tyler Waguespack) would come over and hang out at the arena. Luke (Branquinho) was at the Junior NFR. It’s great having those influences around.”
College finals will keep Anderson away from Vegas this year, although he wouldn’t be here even if his finals didn’t fall on the same week as the NFR.
“I have a rule against going to the finals unless I’m competing,” Anderson said. “Maybe next year or the year after, somewhere in that time frame I’ll be out there.
“I’ve got a long ways to go to be where I want to be, but I’ve definitely gotten a lot sharper. I’ve dang sure improved and put a lot of milestones on the map. It’s all part of the process is how I see it.”
And last year’s Junior NFR was a big part of that process.