Tyler Houle Makes Plans To Return To Montana
By JOE KUSEK
August 27, 2020
Being in Helmville, Montana the first weekend of September was not exactly on Tyler Houle’s list of to-do things.
He was more likely to get in a few steer wrestling practice runs with his Odessa College teammates and hang out with friends the rest of the time, trying to stay cool in the west Texas heat.
But when the Northern Rodeo Association and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association board of directors decided to cancel the 2020 NRA/NWRA Finals because of the financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, Houle’s plans took a dramatic change.
“I will be in Helmville,” said the 21-year-old cowboy from Ronan.
And he has a good reason to return to his home state and make his way to the small unincorporated community in western Montana.
Houle will be trying to hold on to his lead the steer wrestling standings and win his first NRA year-end championship.
Powell County will be the center of the NRA/NWRA universe the last two weekends of the regular season.
Deer Lodge hosts a rodeo this weekend, followed by Helmville – 49 miles north -- Sept. 6-7 to finish 2020.
With leads of less than $1,000 separating first from second in six events, both rodeos will play pivotal roles in determining this year’s champions.
Houle hopes one of those titles will be his.
He carries a lead of $282 over Ty Everson of Helena in the tightly bunched standings. Less than $600 separates the top four and less than $900 the top five.
“I was going to hang around in Texas and come back for the Finals,” said Houle of his original schedule. The NRA/NWRA Finals were scheduled for mid-October in Kalispell. “Then the Finals got canceled.
“But when I saw they were still going to hand out a championship saddle and buckle that changed my plans.”
He plans to fly from Texas to Montana and get ride to Helmville for the final rodeo. Houle did not enter Deer Lodge.
Houle last competed in the NRA in 2016 while in high school. The state steer wrestling champion in 2017, the Ronan High School graduate was the reserve champion at the 2018 Indian National Finals Rodeo.
With rodeos across the region being canceled, he turned his attention to the NRA this summer. “I saw the NRA was putting on some rodeos and I decided to get my card again and give it a whirl,” he said.
“The NRA is a good association. It has great stock.”
A solid two weekends put him in the title hunt. He tied for third at Big Timber to close out June then earned the bulk of his money with a second place at Harlowton and a third at Ennis.
But he almost didn’t make Big Timber. Houle’s rig broke down on Porcupine Pass and he had to call team roping partner Kermit Clary for a ride.
“He was about 45 minutes ahead of me,” said Houle. “He turned around real quick. We got there just as the grand entry was starting.”
The Big Timber field included reigning world champion Ty Erickson of Helena who won with a time of 3.1 seconds. It is believed to be the fastest steer wrestling time in Montana regardless of organization.
“I like seeing that kind of stuff,” Houle said of matching talents with the world’s best. “It drives me to do better. It was a cool opportunity.”
Houle also picked up a third place check at Malta. The money won will now go toward a plane ticket to bring him to Helmville.
“Flights are cheap now,” he said. “If I’m that close to winning something, I sure plan to give it a try.”
With every ride, every throw of a rope taking on added importance in the NRA and NWRA standings, the team roping pressure will be racheted up an additional notch or two.
Three former National Finals Rodeo qualifiers – Kyle Lockett, Buddy Hawkins II and Aaron Tsinigine – are entered. Tsinigine won the world title in 2015.
The NRA and NWRA is guaranteed to crown new champions in seven events this year: steer wrestling, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, team roping header, team roping heeler, all-around cowboy and all-around cowgirl.
J2 Bridges of Dillon is on pace to win his fourth consecutive bareback title while Payton Fitzpatrick of Polson is chasing his third bull riding crown in a row. Shai McDonald of Gardiner will need to close out strong to become the first barrel racer to win four straight titles.