By: Kendra Santos
The coronavirus pandemic has brought businesses from all over the planet to a screeching halt. Yesterday, the World Champions Rodeo Alliance had to make the difficult decision of canceling the $1 million Stampede at the E, which was scheduled for the middle of May at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. On the heels of that news and so many other rodeo cancelations throughout the cowboy community coast to coast in this country right now, we thought it’d be appropriate to share how a few of our WCRA family members are coping with the cabin fever that comes with this unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown.
WCRA President Bobby Mote was more disappointed than most to be part of the team faced with facts that made canceling the Stampede at The E a must. He’s a four-time world champion bareback rider who spent most of his adult life relying on riding—and winning—at the next rodeo to put food on the table for his family.
“We’ve been all-in on planning and hosting a WCRA Semi Finals, Bullnanza (which was going to serve as the bull riding semi finals) and a $1 million major in May for a long time now,” Mote said. “With all the planning that goes into hosting such a huge event, pulling the plug was a very tough decision and one we didn’t take lightly. The WCRA is about offering additional opportunities for rodeo athletes, so shutting a major event down sure wasn’t something we wanted to do.
“Cancelation decisions are very complicated, and there are a lot of factors to consider. We tried to think of everything, including the possibility of having the event without fans in the stands. But even with athletes, staff and contract personnel only, that’s still hundreds of people under one roof. No one’s ever seen anything like what’s going on now before, so there is no playbook to pull from. We ultimately had to make people’s safety the #1 priority, and to comply with suggestions that are backed up by science. The health of our athletes and everyone else involved in producing a rodeo of this magnitude can’t be put at risk. Canceling was hard to do, but it’s the right thing to do at this time.
“I hate this decision. I know what it was like to be a 20-something cowboy who couldn’t wait to get to the next rodeo. But the 43-year-old me today can’t put that 20-year-old’s life at risk. Keeping him home right now is the most responsible thing to do. The good news about what we do and our heart for making rodeo better for the athletes is that we’re in a position to adapt and change as is needed to get back to work moving forward. In the meantime, I hope everyone in our rodeo community will enjoy spending more time with their families, and do everything they can to stay safe and healthy.”
Garrett and Brittany (Pozzi) Tonozzi are the ultimate WCRA power couple. Between Garrett’s collection of WCRA checks worth $144,837 and Brittany’s $82,460, which includes the champ’s check at the recent Royal City Roundup in Kansas City on February 28, the Tonozzis have 227,297 WCRA blessings to count.
“We were all sort of in shock when the first rodeo got canceled,” Garrett said. “Now that there have been several shut down, for at least the near future, it’s time to wake up. This is coming down. It’s real, and we just have to make the most of this time and ride it out. It’s scary for people who make a living doing what we do to not know when we get to work again. But it’s tough on everyone, and we’re all in the same boat. A lot of people in this world aren’t getting to work right now. So we all need to stick together, try to stay healthy and do the best we can.”
Garrett and Brittany are holed up at home in Lampasas, Texas, with their little girl, Tinlee, who turned 3 last Saturday, and her pony, Tiny, and dog, Zena.
“We’ve just been hanging out here lately,” Garrett said. “It’s been raining so much here in Texas that we can’t really get outside much, except for our evening walks. We’ll get back outside and ride some young horses as soon as we can.
“We’re sorry that they had to cancel the next WCRA event—especially with Brittany being in line to win the Triple Crown (which is a $1 million WCRA bonus available to anyone who can win three straight majors). But Brittany and I have both rodeoed long enough to know what new money like what the WCRA puts up means to people like us. It’s a great chance to help us make a living doing what we love, and the people behind the WCRA always go out of their way to make everything right. We know they’ll do the best and right thing for the contestants as soon as they possibly can.”
Another happy Kansas City champ who left the Royal City Roundup $50,000 richer with that first notch on his WCRA Triple Crown of Rodeo belt is bulldogger J.D. Struxness. He’s sorry to see the news of the Stampede at The E cancelation, but at the same time sees the safety of his young family as job one. Struxness and his girlfriend, Jayden Crowe, welcomed their baby girl, Everlee Grace, to the world in November, just before J.D.’s third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearance in Las Vegas.
Minnesota native Struxness, Canadian-born Crowe and baby Everlee are hanging tough in Alva, Oklahoma, where J.D. earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, with a minor in animal science, from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in 2017.
“I’m working for a guy who has a bunch of cattle at a feedlot here in Alva,” J.D. said. “We check cattle, rope and doctor the sick ones that are out on wheat, fix fence and do whatever else needs to be done. I was pretty disappointed when they started canceling rodeos. But what’s going on in the world right now goes way beyond that disappointment. People’s safety is what’s most important, especially with this baby girl to keep safe. There’s no reason to risk our health for a rodeo, no matter how big it is.
“Once I got over that initial disappointment, I started looking at all the good. I have a job outside during the downtime, and these cattle need to be taken care of. I have a way to pay our bills until they cut us loose to rodeo again, and I get to spend more time with my girlfriend and baby and be home every night with them. I’m enjoying not always having to leave. I’ll be glad when we can all get back to work at the rodeos, but everybody’s safety comes first and we will get past this.
“The WCRA already has a strong track record of doing what’s best for the cowboys. Before they came along, events that paid like the WCRA majors do were scarce. With all the additional big-money opportunities, they’ve done a great thing for us. And if you ever have a complaint or suggestion that might make things even better, the WCRA listens. I know they didn’t want to cancel this event, and that they’re disappointed just like the rest of us. But the WCRA will carry on, and make it right for the contestants. They always do.”