Ominously staring back at roughstock riders before they saddle their way into the chutes is a laminated poster. If those about ready to mount animals weighing upwards of 2,000 pounds weren’t motivated before, they need only look at the North fence of the contestants’ area under the grandstands.
“Somewhere around Frontier Park, there is a child who wants to be just like you someday,” the sign reads. “You owe it to them to be the best you can be.”
Stetson Wright taps his chaps and gives the sign a nod before heading out to the blistering mid-day sun for the championship short go-round at the 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. Following an introduction that includes naming nearly every famous brother, cousin, uncle and anyone adjacent with the famed Wright surname, Stetson climbs aboard Dakota Rodeo’s Safety Meeting. The gate swings out and the teenager stays the course. He scores a championship-winning 93 points as just the fifth rider to cover his bull that day. In an instant he wins both Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo’s Bull Riding Championship and its All-Around Championship. He pumps his fists toward the crowd.
The young Wright says his wisdoms to Frontier Park and returns under the grandstands. There’s a few scattered young cowboys, none older than 5. They each ask Stetson for his autograph. He gladly signs their hats. When one doesn’t have a hat, the all-around champion takes off his 1059 entry number, signs it, and hands it off. He knows the impact that has on a young cowboy.
Stetson grew up around rodeo as part of the famous Wright family. His father, Cody, is a two-time world champion saddle bronc rider. His brother, Ryder, won the saddle bronc world championship in 2017. Uncles Jesse and Spencer each hold saddle bronc world championships as well. Uncles Alex, Calvin and Jake all compete on the circuit as well. And yet, in addition to being the first of the family to ride bulls professionally in addition to broncs, Stetson set himself apart from the family with his championship ride at Cheyenne. His successful ride meant he was the first of the Wright family to ever win a Cheyenne Frontier Days Championship.
With that accomplishment recited, Stetson let out his boyish smile.
“I thought for sure one of them would have done this before,” he says. “To be the first one to do it means just as much as winning Cheyenne.”
He’s asked about his saddle bronc ride aboard Smith Pro Rodeo’s Utopia from 2 hours earlier, which ended when he was unceremoniously thrown. How, after getting bucked off and thinking the all-around money boost was escaping him, could the 19-year old rider wipe the slate clean? Well, Stetson’s always gotten a kick out of bulls. He likes broncs, but riding them is more of a family enterprise.
“Bulls fire me up,” Stetson responds. “You get bucked off one (horse) and you get a chance to redeem yourself. That really helps you out.”
He’s then asked about how winning the all-around sets him up for the final two months of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season. Stetson says it’s a confidence boost, as if he needed one. Cheyenne gave him the PRCA world standings lead in the all-around and moved him into second in the bull riding. (He currently trails Sage Kimzey by just over $1,000 in the bull riding standings while holding a $31,000 lead in the all-around.)
Cheyenne proves that Stetson belongs with the big names and all the good cowboys, he smiles as if to remind himself that’s the case. This is his first season off his permit. He finished first in saddle bronc and second in bull riding in the permit standings in 2018. There’s no sense in self-applying pressure, Stetson says, even when you do you typically don’t do too well.
So he sets his eyes forward. His father does all his scheduling and entering so the youthful cowboy only has to worry about the next ride.
“I only ever know where I’m going the next day and he does the hard work for me,” Stetson says. “So I kind of got it easier than most since I don’t have to strain my mind on where I’m supposed to go.”
After Cheyenne would bring a few days break before the Dodge City, Kansas, Roundup Rodeo — a 20th birthday present from his father. So Stetson poses for some more post-rodeo pictures, never turning down an offer. Eventually he hits the horizon, destined for whatever comes next.