Hard Work and Humility Deliver Dividends for North Dakota’s Joe Nelson

By Kendra Santos

North Dakota bulldogger Joe Nelson brought the house down here at the $562,500 Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City with a sizzling 3.62-second slam dunk in the big man’s event last night. But instead of bragging on himself, he stayed true to steer wrestler code and praised all the guys around him.

“(Tanner) Brunner and Bridger (Anderson) making great runs (4.22- and 4.53-second runs, respectively) right before me fired me up,” said Nelson, who calls Watford City, North Dakota, home. “Canada (their nickname for Canadian Riley Westhaver) hazed, Tristan (Martin, who was a close second at 3.81) got in the corner with me, Hunter (Cure, the two-time champ of the world, who’s on his farewell full-time rodeo tour in 2022, and got his shirt torn off last night) got on his head and (Joshua) Hefner pushed my steer.

Left to right, that’s Ryan Nettle, Bridger Anderson, Tristan Martin, Hunter Cure, Tanner Brunner, Joe Nelson, Riley Westhaver and Joshua Hefner. Kendra Santos Photo

“Bulldoggers are famous for helping each other. We’re all in each other’s corner wanting the other guys to win. I think it’s because we all need a lot of help on every run. Our event is physical and tough, and I also think it brings out old-school guys and an old-school way of thinking.”

May the best man win is the bulldoggers’ mantra, and Nelson got the job done last night on his own team of horses. Both his bay bulldogging horse, Shortcut, and his sorrel hazing horse, Daisy, came from Tyler and Jackie Schau’s Diamond S Performances Horses in their shared North Dakota home country.

This is Nelson’s first time to compete at a World Champions Rodeo Alliance event, and he likes what he sees.

Nelson made the 3.62-second run of the rodeo last night. Andersen CBarC Photo

“I was here helping Cody Devers last year,” Joe said. “This is my first time being entered, and I think it’s awesome. I got in through nominating Dru Melvin’s jackpot (the Melvin Swanson Halligan Memorial Steer Wrestling in Sutherland, Nebraska). Bridger and Canada told me to nominate it, and it was enough to get me here. It’s awesome coming to compete for this amount of money. It goes a long way toward diesel fuel. Every rodeo in Utah is awesome, and they pack the house. This is a great deal.”

Nelson stole a start, and in fact thought he broke the barrier before his bulldogger buddies gave him the welcomed “you’re out!” yell. He comes from oilfield country, and has historically worked day jobs as an electrician and horseshoer. With the end of an epic drought back home, he’s taking his shot out on the rodeo road. That, of course, is never possible without people holding down the fort.

With the victory lap comes advancement to Monday’s Gold Medal Round here in Salt Lake City. Andersen CBarC Photo

“Thanks to everybody at home,” Joe said. “Without my parents (Tim and Lisa), and all my friends and supporters back home, there’s no way I could be out here. I’m pretty pumped, and can’t wait to come back for the Gold Medal Round Monday night.”

As for Nelson’s mustache, it’s not part of the recent facial-hair fad.

“I had mine before Top Gun came out,” he grinned.


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