Walt Arnold remembers the chocolate milk. He remembers eating white powdered donuts and sleeping in the trailer.
Watching movies. Soaking in views of the Rocky Mountains.
Those are the things he recalls most fondly about traveling with his father, Brent, during Brent’s career as a professional steer wrestler.
Walt also remembers collecting rocks no one else wanted inside the trailer.
“But I thought they needed a spot in the sink,” Walt, now a steer wrestler himself for Cisco College, said at last week’s College National Finals Rodeo. “Just a lot of traveling and a lot of good memories.”
He was an early adopter of the rodeo life. From around the ages of 2 to 5, he rode from rodeo to rodeo with his dad. Walt even got to go, on occasion, after kindergarten began.
So for Brent to sit in the stands of the Casper Events Center and watch Walt wrestle steers at the college finals — Walt reached Saturday night’s final round — was a Father’s Day present in itself.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Brent said, “because you never really dream about it.”
Brent himself competed in the CNFR in 1983, though he never reached the National Finals Rodeo, the professional equivalent of the college finals.
“I just enjoyed bulldogging,” he said. “I never was a phenomenal bulldogger by any means, but just really enjoyed it and loved the sport.”
Steer wrestling, or bulldogging, as most participants call it, is the most physically demanding of the timed rodeo events. The competitor rides his horse out of the chute, making sure not to break the rope barrier at its feet with a false start. Then, aided by the hazer — a second cowboy on a horse who keeps the target going straight — he dismounts from his horse and lands on the streaking steer, grabbing the horns and twisting it onto its back.
Walt was a latecomer to it, despite his baptism by chocolate milk. He focused more on football during his teenage years at Coleman High School in Texas. The center and defensive end, listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds on his recruiting pages, earned all-state honors and had a couple of colleges interested in him.
“Yeah, my tackling form, it definitely wasn’t the (best) technique,” Walt said. “It did look like bulldogging. But, hey, it worked.”
His father had also played football, attending Tarleton State to play for the Texans until injuries ended his football career. He later coached high school football for nine years in Texas.
“So (Walt) had a pretty good foundation in football,” Brent said.
“He came to every one of my games,” Walt said, “and after games we’d stay up until midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning talking about them, watch film.”
But Walt began to hear the dirt calling.
“I liked playing football, but I had kind of gotten tired of it,” he said. “Rodeo was something new, fresh.”
A friend of his who rode bulls kept nudging Walt to get into steer wrestling so they could go to rodeos together.
“I’d thrown some on the ground, but I really wasn’t that into it until probably I was 16,” Walt said. “And then most kids by then have chute-dogged through junior high and jumped steers before. But I’d been around it so much that it’s not like it was a new concept to me.”
His early days on the road began to pay off.
“I hauled him around to all the rodeos, and he knew all the guys and watched it and watched it,” Brent said. “You think that they’re really not paying attention, and then when he started bulldogging, it was like he kind of already knew what to do. I don’t know if it’s osmosis, but he took to it real fast anyway.”
Walt reached the high school nationals, and when he turned 18, he bought his permit to compete professionally.
“He bulldogs better than I ever did,” Brent said.
He showed Walt the ropes around the Texas rodeo circuit. And just like in Walt’s football days, the two will review film of each of his runs and find ways for him to improve. (Although, sometimes the shoe’s on the other foot, like the other day when Walt flipped on The Cowboy Channel and saw a re-run of his dad competing at a Nevada rodeo.)
Before the CNFR, Walt’s first, Brent made sure Walt put a premium on recording a time on every one of his runs.
“He just really emphasized being smart, getting them caught, scoring good without a barrier, getting one laid over,” Walt said. “Because after four head — there’s no telling what will happen on four runs.”
He followed through, notching times of 6.4, 7.7 and 4.8 in his first three rounds.
“You feel a little bit helpless because I’m used to being down there hazing,” Brent said. “Well, they’re own their own now. That’s obviously inevitable. They’re going to be on their own at some point anyway, so there’s really nothing you can do.”
But Brent has found ways to lend a hand wherever he can. For one, he handed down his horse to Walt, in a way. Becky My Loop, Becky for short, was Brent’s bay mare during his steer wrestling days. (She’s retired and in her upper 20s now.) Walt now competes at some rodeos on Becky’s daughter, Becky Jr., though he didn’t at the CNFR.
Chad Biesemeyer, who rodeoed with Brent during his career, rode Becky to an average championship at the 2000 National Finals Rodeo. The American Quarter Horse Association and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association named Becky the steer wrestling horse of the year that same year.
Now, Biesemeyer is an assistant coach for the Cisco College rodeo team. His presence is a way for Brent to make sure Walt’s still in good hands.
“I’m in the oil and gas business so I’m gone a lot,” Brent said. “So it’s been a real blessing to have Chad there involved in it.”
Still, many of Brent’s weekends revolve around Walt’s travels.
Now it’s the father tagging along with his son to make rodeo memories.
“Just fortunate to be here,” Brent said. “So we’re enjoying it. It’s a good time together.”