The American Rodeo was not one to be missed! With both returning champions and newcomers competing for large cash prizes, there was plenty of action taking place inside Globe Life Field.

David vs. Goliath — that’s one way to think about The American Rodeo. This event is the only time when average rodeo competitors have the opportunity to compete against the best professional rodeo athletes in the world for $1 million.

How do they get there?

At the end of 2023, the top five Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association athletes were invited to compete at The American. Only invited athletes are eligible to win the $100,000 awarded to the winner of an event.

Contender athletes went through a series of regional qualifying rodeos to become eligible to compete on the big stage. If these athletes win, they are eligible to score $1 million in addition to the $100,000 they will receive for winning the event. If more than one contender athlete wins their event, the $1 million is split. If no contender wins, the $1 million prize money will roll over to the following year.

The American Contender Tournament Regional Finals began in January, one in the Western Region (held in Las Vegas, Nevada), one in the Central Region (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) and one in the Eastern Region (Lexington, Kentucky).

Hundreds of athletes in each event competed, hoping to move on. Only the top five in each event advanced from the regional contender rodeos to The American Contender Tournament Regional Finals held in Abilene, Texas. The top five from the Regional Finals moved on to compete at The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas.

Once in Arlington, all 10 athletes (five invited and five contenders) first competed in the long round. From there, the top four moved on to the finals round. By the end of the day, over $2 million in prize money was paid out.

Meet the Winners

Find all the results here.

Barrel Racing — Brandon Cullins

For the first time in 10 years, there is a male barrel racing champion. Brandon Cullins rode MJ Segers Fast Lane (The Goodbye Lane x SKS Running Faucet) to a $1.1 million payday. Cullins was the only Contender athlete to win his event, earning him the $1 million.

“This is the sixth time I’ve made it to the finals, and this is the first dollar I’ve ever won, so I’m kind of glad I got all I could,” Cullins says.

This win has been long overdue for Cullins, who has been working towards this for eight years. “This is a great deal, obviously, so much money and to run in an atmosphere like this,” Cullins says. “It feels good when this all comes together.”

Cullins was the first barrel racer to hit the pattern in the final round aboard “Seger,” a 2017 mare owned by Grant and Rayel Little, holding on to the lead with a 15.173.

Brandon Cullins rides MJ Segers Fast Lane to victory. Photo by Kailey Sullins

“The first time I got on her, you can just feel and know when there’s something good about one, and she just had that feel,” Cullins says of the mare. “It has been great.”

Originally from Maryland, Cullins is now a full-time trainer and futurity rider based in Texas. He says he will only enter a horse if he feels confident in them and knows they have what it takes to win. To qualify for The American, the team had first claimed the win at the Contender Regional Finals after winning the Central Region Finals.

“I hit a barrel in the first round [at the Central Region Finals],” Cullins recalls from his journey through the contender finals. “But they had a buy-back, so I bought back into that, and then she won the buy-back round, and she won the finals that night. Then [we] went to Abilene, and she won the finals there and then got here.”

The barrel racing at The American and The American Contender Tournament Finals is sanctioned by the Better Barrel Races. Over 250 barrel racers from across the country entered for their chance to qualify.

Bareback — Kade Sonnier

The first winner of The American to be crowned, bareback rider Kade Sonnier of Louisiana, set the tone for the day.

Sonnier rode Calgary Stampede’s Agent Lynx to the buzzer for a score of 90.5 to win the final round and take the first victory lap of the night. Earlier, in the long round, he was aboard Yippee Kibitz, also owned by the Calgary Stampede, and had a score of 88, tying with Keenan Hayes for the long round win.

“That’s one horse you see, and you’re like, ‘Man, I want to get on that one day,’” Sonnier says about Agent Lynx. “I was very fortunate to get on two horses that I have been wanting to get on for a very long time. Both horses are what could be considered two of the top bucking horses in the world.”

The American Rodeo was not one to be missed! With both returning champions and newcomers competing, there was plenty of action to be had.
Kade Sonnier aboard Yippee Kibitz in the long round. Photo by Emily Carey

Rodeo is truly a family for these athletes. As the first winner, Sonnier was able to cheer on his close rodeo friends and watch the other winners hold their $100,000.

“It was just super cool to see everyone else’s reaction,” Sonnier says. “I knew how it felt for me, but you could see that true excitement. It’s all of our passion, and that’s why we do it. You could see the passion come out in all of these faces; whether they succeeded or failed, you could see the passion come out. And it gives you an appreciation, knowing that all of us each have a different event, but we’re putting in the same time and same effort and trying to accomplish the same goals. You could feel it, and it was just truly remarkable to be a part of.”

For Sonnier, competing at The American in a baseball stadium was a full-circle moment. Sonnier played baseball in college for three years at Nicholls State University, and his mother’s cousin was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. He also has family ties to this rodeo. The first time he watched The American was when his father, Joey Sonnier, competed in the event in 2018. Ironically, he watched it on his phone while leaving a college baseball tournament. Joey Sonnier also qualified for the 2018 National Finals Rodeo in saddle bronc riding.

Sonnier joined the PRCA in 2022, and in his rookie year, was third in the world standings and added a handful of large rodeo wins to his resume.

Breakaway — Sarah Angelone

The breakaway roping saw the only female champion of The American Rodeo. Sarah Angelone walked away $100,000 richer after roping a time of 2.16. With a world title from 2022 already under her belt, she can now add winning at The American to her long list of accomplishments. Angelone finished the 2023 season ranked fourth in the WPRA.

The American Rodeo was not one to be missed! With both returning champions and newcomers competing, there was plenty of action to be had.
Sarah Angelone looked up to see her time. Photo by Emily Carey

“This is a dream come true, and it just hasn’t felt real yet,” Angelone says about her win in an interview after the announcement.

She started at The American by placing fourth in the long round with a 2.47 to secure her place in the final four. In the final round, she was the first out of the box to take an early lead, a lead she was able to hang on to. Jordan Jo Hollabaugh was close behind her in second with a 2.54.

“We prepare for this every day, so for it to end up like this and be able to get the win at this rodeo is pretty special, especially on that horse,” Angelone says.

Angelone rode her 9-year-old mare Dont Cry To Me Wendy (Hottish x Mixmeastrawberrylena). Angelone originally bought this horse intending to sell her but ended up changing gears and training her to be a breakaway horse.

“She’s the best one I’ve ever rode so I’m blessed to have her,” Angelone says about “Wilma.”

Team Roping — Luke Brown/Hunter Koch

In team roping, only two teams were able to rope clean and get a time on the board in the final round. Luke Brown and Hunter Koch were the first team to rope in the final round, and they walked away as the champions with a time of 4.94.

“This was my first time to ever make The American, so it means the world to me,” Koch says.

This team finished fifth in the PRCA world standings after finishing second at the NFR. Koch, the heeler, has been a member of the PRCA since 2017 and has qualified for the NFR three times. His partner, Brown, from South Carolina, has 14 NFR qualifications under his belt and over $2 million in career earnings.

“It was a blessing to be able to come back,” Brown says. “It’s been a few years since I’ve made it and just to be here today — I already felt like I was a winner. What a way to make a living, getting to do what we get to do. You can’t make a living if you’re not at these big events, so I was just blessed to be here, and thank goodness it worked out.”

Derrick Begay and Colter Todd finished second with a time of 9.36.

Hunter Koch rode his horse Casino and Luke Brown was aboard his horse Buddha. Photo by Emily Carey

Saddle Bronc — Sage Newman

Montana native Sage Newman walked out of Globe Life Field with $100,000 in the bank as the saddle bronc riding champion.

After finishing second in the PRCA world standings and fifth at the NFR, Newman was looking for a victory at The American. Prime News from Frontier Rodeo brought Newman an 87 in the long round to advance to the finals, where he rode Dandy Delight.

“He’s a really good horse. I’ve been on him before,” Newman says about Calgary Stampede’s Dandy Delight. “He bucked me off once before, so I’m glad to get some revenge tonight.”

The American Rodeo was not one to be missed! With both returning champions and newcomers competing, there was plenty of action to be had.
In the long round, Sage Newman was aboard Prime News. Photo by Emily Carey

Newman edged out Kade Bruno by half a point for the win on Dandy Delight in the final round with an 89.5.

“Unbelievable feeling, I can’t even explain it,” Newman says, rejoicing over his win. “I’m just very thankful to be here and blessed with the best life that I do.”

Tie-Down — Shad Mayfield

Shad Mayfield is no stranger to The American or the winner’s circle. He had a time of 7.45 in the long round to advance to the finals, where he earned his win with a 7.06. Mayfield can now add the 2024 win to his list of successes at The American. In 2020, when he was just 19, he split $1 million prize money with saddle bronc rider Wyatt Casper.

Shad Mayfield is no stranger to success at The American. Photo by Emily Carey

“I feel amazing,” Mayfield says, celebrating winning the tie-down roping. “A win like that, winning $100,000, is so awesome. And in front of this crowd, in this stadium where I won my first gold buckle, is a surreal feeling. I love every second of it.”

Mayfield won the NFR in 2020 in Arlington, Texas, and returned for The American in 2023, where he was just short of making it to the final round.

“This year I had a little chip on my shoulder to come back to compete and be a little tougher this year,” Mayfield says.

Mayfield was riding his trusty gray horse “Platinum,” who recently helped him win at the 2024 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

“It’s awesome to have a horse you can trust, and he’s going to do his job every time,” Mayfield says. “That’s why I’ve had so much success on him. I know he’s going to do his part, I just got to do mine.”

Steer Wrestling — J.D. Struxness

The steer wrestling is always an exciting event to watch, and J.D. Struxness made sure no one wanted to miss it. Struxness finished 2023 ranked fifth in the world standings. From Minnesota, Struxness has been a member of the PRCA since 2014, having qualified for the NFR five times.

“That’s a rodeo everybody wants to win in their career at least once, and to finally be able to get it done is just awesome and a great achievement to add onto the list,” Struxness says about his victory at The American.

This win is a huge confidence boost for Struxness. This hopefully sets up for a very successful year, he says.

The American Rodeo was not one to be missed! With both returning champions and newcomers competing, there was plenty of action to be had.
J.D. Struxness said the most stressful part of The American was waiting to see how everyone else did. Photo by Emily Carey

For Struxness, he felt the most pressure in the long round rather than in the final four round. To advance to the next round, Struxness says you must beat 60% of the best guys in the industry. He was the first one out in the long round to set the standard for the evening and was only surpassed by Dalton Massey, who won the first round with a 3.91. Massey finished third in the final round.

“Going and setting the bar and then having to wait, that was probably the more nerve-wracking part — the waiting,” Struxness says about the long round. “And then when it came to the final four, you just back in there and take care of business, and you’re going to get paid — it’s just how much [will you get paid].”

Everyone in the building was cheering for Struxness as he ran down the fence to take his victory lap, and his fellow steer wrestlers reached out for high-fives as he went past them.

Bull Riding — Creek Young

“The American definitely gives us rodeo contestants a great opportunity to win a ton of money, and I was blessed enough to win first,” says Creek Young, the champion bull rider.

Young, a Missouri native, finished sixth in the 2023 PRCA world standings with his third consecutive trip to the NFR in December.

Creek Young was the last champion to be crowned at The American Rodeo. Photo by Emily Carey

“I just went in [to the American] with a pretty open mindset,” Young says. “It’s not PRCA affiliated, and my main goal is a gold buckle, so it was just another win for me. If I didn’t perform well, it didn’t really have any negative effects. I just went in there and drew two bulls that fit my style really well. It just worked out in the best way it possibly could.”

The first bull, Guess Who, from the Championship Pro Rodeo, ended up going right into his hand to win the long round with an 87.5. His second bull, Glory Days, from the Frontier Rodeo, proved more of a challenge.

“At first, I didn’t really know if I rode him to the whistle,” Young says about his second ride. “He bucked me off right there at it. I wasn’t terribly excited because I didn’t know if I was going to get a score at all. I was just wondering if it was going to be enough. It felt like he was bucking me off the whole time. I just knew it felt like it was harder than it probably should have been.”

Young was the last bull rider out of the shoot and the only invited rider to reach the final round. Ahead of him, Cody Teel and Jeff Askey, both contender athletes, had tied with scores of 88.25 aboard FC Red Eye and County Jail, respectively, earning each of them $17,500.

The audience waited with bated breath alongside Young to see if he rode clean and what the score would be. You could see the clear sigh of relief coming from everyone in the audience when it was announced he had ridden through the whistle for a score of 89.25.


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