Top steer wrestler keeps battling during down season

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 25, 2013 

25 Lynden rodeo feature

Billy Bugenig, of Ferndale, Ca., tries to grab a steer during the steer wrestling event on the first night of the Lynden PRCA Rodeo on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 in Lynden.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Rodeo success can arrive and leave quicker than a bulldogger's evening go-round.

Ferndale, Calif., cowboy Billy Bugenig is learning that unfortunate fact this year, but the three time National Finals Rodeo steer wrestler is hoping a strong 2013 finish will produce his fourth straight trip to the Super Bowl of rodeo.

Less than four seconds.

Within that elapsed time, a steer wrestler needs to ride out of the gate on horseback, dismount, grab the fleeing steer and wrestle it to the ground for a strong run. It's a microscopic moment defining a steer wrestler's career. An instant packed with a combination of both skill and luck.

Bugenig has become accustomed to putting himself on the winning side of the steer-wrestling world, especially the past three years. He finished ninth in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings in 2012 and placed 14th at NFR. His highlight of the national 10-day rodeo was a day-two run of 3.6 seconds - good enough for first place. His success generated $116,433 in season earnings.

"It's a great experience," said Bugenig of competing with the world's best at NFR. "It's something you look forward to your whole life and work to get there. It's a good feeling to be there, but at the same time you have to win something."

Winning hasn't been so simple this year, though.

Ranked 42nd in the PRCA steer wrestling standings, Bugenig sits 27 spots outside the top 15 bulldoggers who qualify for NFR.

"It's been pretty slow," he said. "I need to get going these next couple of weeks. I've been to the NFR the last three years, but if I don't shape up here pretty quick, I'm going to be watching it this year."

Luckily, he still has almost a month before the season ends. That's valuable time to climb the steer wrestling standings, but it's running out.

Like many cowboys competing within the PRCA circuit, Bugenig was born into the sport. His family hosted amateur rodeos, and his athletic prowess showed as a high school football, basketball and baseball standout in California. Rodeo, though, became his top high school sport.

Bugenig's father, Lou Bugenig, was a bareback rider, and his cousin, Adam Bugenig, rides saddle broncs. Billy gravitated to bareback riding initially, but later decided his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame was too big to ride rough stock, and he moved on to steer wrestling in college.

Billy attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural business management. His classroom accomplishments were matched with rodeo success. He won the 2002 West Coast Region College steer wrestling title and was a reserve champion the following year before claiming a 2004 California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association steer wrestling championship.

Assimilating into the PRCA was slow at first, but after four seasons finishing outside the top 15, Bugenig enjoyed a breakout 2010.

"The better horses you ride, and you travel with a good bunch of guys, everything seems to work out," he said.

Bugenig finished seventh in the 2010 world standings and placed in four of 10 NFR rounds, including a Round 1 win with a 3.4-second run.

But on Friday night, Aug. 23, during the first evening of the Lynden PRCA Rodeo, wins continued to elude Bugenig, who seemed upbeat about his chances hours before his go-round.

His uncooperative steer darted out of the chute, sprinted towards the middle of the arena and the California native couldn't gain a strong enough grip to keep the steer in his grasp. Another no score.

"Oh, here lately, not many," Bugenig laughed on how often a steer wrestler records a qualifying time, "but usually a guy will place at least half or so."

In a sport of ups and downs, Bugenig has encountered more downs lately, but he knows, more often than not, it's only a matter of time before a little rodeo luck begins working in his favor again.

"Just regroup and kind of start over, that's what I've kind of done lately," he said. "So I got two more weeks to try to kind of catch up. That's the plan - to try to put all the other stuff behind you and just go from there."

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862.

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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