Experience outflanked the youth during the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo Oct. 20-21, 2023, with J.D. McCuistion taking the year-end-honors with $22,966 won.
For McCuistion, 2023 was a year to rebuild after several seasons going hard down the road.
“I set the circuit as a goal because I decided to take the year off from rodeoing full time, take time to season my young horses,” McCuistion, 31, said.
After a hard fought battle that went right down to the final calf in Loveland, he captured the year end championship by just $2,469.
“It felt good to accomplish that goal,” McCuistion.
A native Texan, McCuistion grew up around the roping pen with a dad, brothers, uncles and cousins who all rope.
“It’s just what we did,” he said, adding that cousin Clay competed at the recent Texas Circuit Finals and brother Chris just missed the cut. “It’s definitely a family affair.”
McCuistion had rodeoed hard since joining the PRCA in 2010, finishing as high as 24th in the PRCA | RAM World Standings and had made circuit finals appearances in Texas and, a year ago, in California.
“I was in California for 2019 through 2021. I like to rodeo out there, so I claimed it and it worked out last year that I won enough to make the circuit finals,” he explained.
The change in venue came with a change in address.
“I got married and moved to Colorado,” McCuiston said.
He and wife McKenzie, who also competed in Loveland a year ago, are newlyweds, marrying on September 18 and planning a family celebration in Mexico in December. In between wedding planning an helping his family and in-laws with their respective businesses, he worked the Mountain States Circuit with his roan horse Taz and a sorrel he calls Flash, gaining valuable experience for both and building his way toward the year end title.
McCuistion led going into the finals by just over $700, a lead he seized in the final weeks of the regular season.
“I placed along in June and July but I didn’t really feel like I had that much won,” he said. “Then I placed in the qualifying rounds at Cheyenne and won my quarter finals.”
Though his calf got up in the semi-finals in Cheyenne, ending his run there, and Taz got injured and had to rest following the rodeo, McCuistion was strong through August.
“I think I won $2,500 in Cheyenne, otherwise it was $1000 here, $700 there, just chipping away all summer,” he said. “When I placed at a couple right at the end of the year, I felt like I had a chance to make my way to the top of the standings.”
With the standings stacked up, McCuistion planned to get back on Taz for the circuit finals, his first rodeo back in action.
“The calves were really nice and my strategy was to use Taz,” he said. “He’s really good on lighter cattle and he’d been turned out but it just didn’t really work out in the first round.”
Though his 13-flat kept him in the average, closest competitor Tyler Boxleitner placed third in the round to jump to the lead for the year end title.
McCuistion decided on a horse change, going with the 5-year-old Flash.
“He was actually a wedding present from my parents,” McCuistion said. “He came from Chad Boggs in Oklahoma, he’s the same guy we got Marshall, the good horse my brother and I rode for years, from.”
Flash came to McCuistion in mid-June having never seen a rodeo. His first was Cheyenne Wells in late July and then he stepped up big in Taz’s absence in August.
“I used him at every rodeo from then on,” McCuistion said.
Still, he was unsure how the gelding would take his first indoor arena with a loud perf.
“In the second round, I had a better calf than the first round and the horse was perfect,” he said. “He acted like he’d been on that stage over and over.”
McCuistion roared back to the lead with a round winning 8.5 second run.
“After Friday, I knew I needed $3,000 to have a chance and that second go win kept me in the fight.”
After two runs, McCuistion had the lead in the standings but trailed Boxleitner and Peterson in the average. He knew he’d probably need a round check to keep pace.
“My third draw was a faster calf and I was in straight attack mode,” he said. He stopped the clock at 9.2 seconds, which split second in the round. When others faltered, he fought his way back to fourth in the average for another check.
Turned out he needed nearly every penny of the $4,135. He took home the year end title and punched his ticket to the NFR Open, a rodeo where he has some good memories.
In 2021, the last year Pikes Peak of Bust was a regular season rodeo, McCuistion rode away with the title, a win he calls the “biggest win of my career.”
“I get good vibes from that place,” he said. “Honestly, I was sad when they made it the NFR Open because I wasn’t qualified. The last time I roped there was a really fun night.”
The NFR Open’s big purse could provide a great catalyst for McCuistion as he returns to full time competition in 2024.
“It’s definitely a year changing amount of money that you can win in one place,” he said. “The ultimate goal is the NFR and we’ll just take the year as it comes and keep that main goal in sight.”
Mountain States Circuit Year-End Standings
Editors note: standings were pulled from the PRCA on Oct. 27, 2023, and do not reflect any updates the PRCA makes past this date. Find current standings here.