With July Winding Down, Here’s Who’s Heating Up
Tyler Boxleitner calf roping at the 2023 Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, Colorado.
A win at the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, Colorado, helped Tyler Boxleitner take the lead in the circuit standings. | Avid Visual Imagery

End-of-July calf-roping circuit update:

While guys like Haven Meged, Ty Harris and Caleb Smidt are stealing the headlines on the national stage in ProRodeo during the mid-point of July, the weekend warriors are plenty busy grabbing the cash, too.

The rodeo season is not created equal in all circuits and while regions like the Southeastern and the Turquoise Circuits go quiet in July, places like the Wilderness turn red-hot and Columbia River and Montana get the party started for their compressed summer seasons.

Here’s a look at how the circuit races are shaping up as July winds to a close.

Momentum Creating Moves

At the beginning of July, Loveland, Colorado, cowboy Tyler Boxleitner was ranked 14th in the Mountain States Circuit. A good check at the Cody Stampede helped him move up the ranks but things really got going for the 23-year-old with a win at the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, just about 30 miles up the mountain from his home.

Full circle

In addition to the $4,120 he won there, the win was special because of the rodeo’s place in Boxleitner’s rodeo origin story.

“I went to that rodeo with my family and was watching the calf roping,” he said. “After watching, I said, ‘I think I might want to do this.’”

Just a couple months later, he had his first calf roping horse.

Boxleitner grew up around horses with a mother and sister who were—and are—avid barrel racers. While he didn’t have much interest in what they were doing as a kid, the passion hit him in junior high.

“Right before eighth grade, I decided I wanted to start roping so I got into breakaway and calf roping,” he said. “I haven’t looked back.”

“That horse”

Already a veteran of three RAM Mountain States Circuit Finals rodeos, which incidentally are held in his hometown of Loveland, Boxleitner missed the season-ending championship last year.

“I placed in a few rounds there but never did that great and then I missed it in 2022,” he explained. “I never found a horse to fit those shorter setups so it has been a struggle.

“But I’ve worked on that and I think I’ve got the horse now that should fit.”

That horse is Slick, an 8-year-old gelding that came from Wrangler NFR-qualifier Justin Maass. Boxleitner has committed the 2023 season to improving the overall team of him and Slick.

“I just made it my plan to stay on him all year and see if he was worth keeping my rig,” Boxleitner said. “From June first on, I said I would rope every calf on him. In the last two months,he has gotten so much better in the last two months.

“He’s just done a phenomenal job,” he added. “It makes such a huge difference.”

One calf at a time

With the big check in Estes and steady checks at the weekly offering in Steamboat Springs, Boxleitner has leapt over the veteran cowboy Riley Pruitt to take the lead in the circuit standings.

“Goals are important,” he said when asked if winning a circuit title was on his list. “But I think progress is more important, just getting better every time I nod my head.”

That being said, a circuit championship is a dream that hadn’t been “feasible” for the young roper until now.

“I’m just going to take it one calf at a time and try to keep making the runs we’ve been making,” he said.

“The next three weeks are the best time to rodeo for us—the Colorado Fair run,” he added. “We’ve got at least one run a day for almost the whole three weeks. During the Fourth of July, you might get three or four, but during the fair run, you can get all you want and more.”

A Whole Lot of Shuffling Going On

With seasons cranking up in the Montana, First Frontier and Badlands circuits, the standings are seeing shuffling, sometimes weekly.

In Montana, Matt Gutierrez kicked off July by crawling out of the silver position to take the lead after good showings in Stamford and Browning. He added earnings from Wolf Point to make his lead a couple thousand over Jesse Medearis.

The weekly rodeos in Woodstown, New Jersey and Lake Luzerne, New York, dominate The First Frontier’s early season run. Multi-event cowboy Zane Kilgus missed a week while competing at the NFR Open in Colorado but took a pair of wins in New York to leapfrog over Ty Rumford as that race is just beginning to unfold.

In the Badlands Circuit, Arthur, North Dakota’s Chase Lako has used a barrage of checks to take the year-end title lead from Ty Moser. Lako won Steele, North Dakota, took second in Burke, South Dakota, and added a shared win at the co-approved Wahoo, Nebraska, to earn nearly $3,000 in the last two weeks.

The Wilderness is Wild

Pioneer Week in Utah means big bucks for ProRodeo cowboys with over $2 million in total purse offered at Ogden, Spanish Fork and Salt Lake City alone. Throw in the Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho, and the Wilderness Circuit cowboys found themselves up against every roper in the country.

Though the group did not get blanked, the bulk of the winnings went to ropers from other places (though Shane Hanchey picked up a good check in Spanish Fork).

Because of the many lucrative Wilderness Circuit rodeos in the summer, many non-resident cowboys claim it, like Ryan Thibodeaux. After setting an arena record in Elko last week and winning Nephi, the Stephenville, Texas, cowboy sprinted to the lead when he won more than $7,000 that weekend.

Many-time champion Matt Shiozawa is right on his heels, though, with Oklahoman Chance Thiessen also close at third. All three men are within a couple thousand dollars of each other.

Game On

The race is on inside the Columbia River Circuit standings. Rookie Joel Braden Harris jumped to the lead after strong placings at Cheney (Wash.) and Elgin (Ore.) right after the Fourth of July. Harris is about $2,000 ahead of Bo Pickett as the circuit goes quiet before a big month in August with Playoff Series stops in Hermiston, Canby, Bremerton, Walla Walla and Ellensburg along with big rodeos like Kennewick.

Likewise, the Prairie Circuit hasn’t had a lot of change-up with Wrangler NFR cowboy Ryan Jarrett still leading the way with some space for comfort. As July winds down, however, things will get hopping again in August with big rodeos like Dodge City and Phillipsburg, which can provide standings shake-ups.

The Maple Leaf Circuit is proving that the heat isn’t just affecting those south of the border, with Kyle Lucas and Logan Bird virtually tied. According to RodeoCanada.com, just $230 separates the two ropers. With more than a dozen Canadian Pro Rodeo Association rodeos still to come before September 30, along with a handful of U.S. rodeos that are co-sanctioned, this race is definitely too close to call.

Great Lakes Circuit cowboys will be racking up the miles in the coming weeks with plenty of co-sanctioned rodeos in neighboring circuits from New York and Pennsylvania to Kansas and South Dakota. This race is looking like a duel between Cody Huber and Blake Ash, who have traded the No. 1 spot back and forth in the last month, with Jesse Hinkle hanging tight in the spoiler position at third right now. Ash holds the edge by a few thousand dollars—and there’s still plenty of rodeoing to be done.

Awful Quiet Around Here

Several circuits have seen no significant changes since the Fourth of July run with few or no rodeos on the schedule. The Turquoise Circuit remained unchanged with Hayden Ford still leading the way while Cole Clemons continues to lead in Texas with only the weekly Mesquite rodeo giving Texas circuit ropers an outlet this sweltering summer.

While California hosted its largest rodeo of the year—California Rodeo Salinas—the out-of-state crowd hogged all the money, leaving Jordan Ketscher’s $7,000 lead over nationally ranked Brush Minton intact.

With the action moving north, the Southeastern Circuit also gets desolate when it comes to ProRodeos, with just a pair on the docket since the Fourth of July. Blake Chauvin remains in a tight race with Michael Otero and Macon Murphy.