Thouvenell, Branquinho triumph at Circuit Finals

By November 22, 2011
Steer wrestler Ethen Thouvenell poses with his hand-tooled Corriente trophy saddle.

Ethen Thovenell was the California Circuit Champ for steer wrestling. (Photo by Gene Hyder / PRCA)

LANCASTER, Calif. – Steer wrestling was in the spotlight at the Ram California Circuit Finals Rodeo in Lancaster, where Luke Branquinho took top honors for best average and Ethen Thouvenell was crowned the year-end California Circuit Champion with earnings of $15,203 (landing seventh place nationally).

Both cowboys qualify for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, March 28-April 1, when $525,000 will be up for grabs at the Oklahoma State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

Branquinho’s annual haul of $12,326 placed him seventh on the Badlands circuit (comprised of 43 rodeos in a single state, California). But the Los Alamos-based Branquinho’s global earnings of $87,739.52 saw him close 2011 ranked third in the world, earning him a ticket to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas.

Thouvenell missed it by five slots, finishing the year at number twenty (only the top fifteen in each of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s eight disciplines are invited to the NFR. (If a rider declines, for whatever reason, the invitation goes to the next ranked on the  list.) Ferndale steer roper Billy Bugenig goes into the NFR ranked second, with $96,837.76 in earnings.

It’s the Paso Robles-based Thouvenell’s second year in a row as the circuit champion, and as part of his prize he took home a beautiful saddle from the October 14-16 event. But he missed the cut for the NFR by a mere five slots. “I ended up twentieth in the world,” he said. The fact that California has three in the top 20 globally makes steer wrestling the state’s most competitive rodeo category in a sport dominated by Texans, Oklahomans and Montanans. We have one pair that made the list of team ropers (Colusa’s Spencer Mitchell and Broc Cresta of Santa Rosa). Among cowgirls there’s barrel racer Christina Richmond of Glendora.

“There are quite a few of us in the circuit that are pretty good,” said Thouvenell. “Luke, Billy, myself and Stan Branco. I made the NFR last year. So did Billy and Luke. Stan’s missed it two years in a row by $1,000.” In sport, as in life, we don’t always make it to the rodeo. Asked about his plans for the beautiful new saddle Thouvenell said, “Right now, I have it display it on in the living room.”

Cowboy Luke Branquinho wrestles a steer to the ground by the horns.

Luke Branquinho had the best average at the Ram CCFR. (Photo by Gene Hyder / PRCA)

Branquinho filled in a gap in his career résumé by coming away the champion in Lancaster, as determined by the best average in three runs. But he didn’t come any closer to making a decision on which horse to ride when he goes after his third steer wrestling gold buckle at the NFR. His best horse, Spider Man, was sick last spring and again over the Fourth of July, and while he was good enough to get Branquinho checks in all three rounds and the win in the average at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, he didn’t seem to have his full Spidey powers.

“I started using him again at Nampa (Idaho, in late July), and he wasn’t close to 100 percent,” Branquinho said. “Even now, he’s not 100 percent. I don’t want to go to the NFR with a horse if I have any doubts, and it’s definitely in the back of my mind.”

Branquinho is leaning toward using his second horse, Gunner, but he has other options for Las Vegas. He alternated using Les Shepperson’s horses, Dillon and Rocket, over the Fourth of July week and earned $16,203. He won the Greeley, CO, Independence Stampede on Dillon.

Thouvenell said that when it comes to the National Circuit Finals, he’ll “probably take the horse I’ve been riding the past few years, Bomber,” owned by Bonsall’s Russell Solberg.

Oddly, it was his first win in the RCCFR to go with seven California Circuit year-end championship titles (2001-02, 2004, 2006-09) ― equal to the record set by ProRodeo Hall of Famer John W. Jones Jr. (1984, 1990-91, 1993, 1995, 1997-98).

“It’s always great to win any place,” Branquinho said, “but it’s really nice to win this rodeo after so many years. I’ve qualified every year since 1999, and I’ve had so many chances. It’s nice to finally win the thing after 13 years.”

Other circuit champions were: Blake Hirdes (Turlock) as all-around and tie-down roper; Jess Williams (Paso Robles), saddle bronc; Tyson Thompson (Bradley), bareback rider; Wade Wheatley (Hughson), team roping header; Jake Twisselman (Santa Margarita), team roping heeler; A.J. Hamre (Chico), bull riding; Christina Richman (Glendora), barrel racing; and Rookie of the Year Clint Lear (Anderson)

In addition to their buckles (courtesy of Montana Silversmiths) the champions were also presented with custom saddles built by the New Mexico-based Corriente Saddle Co., a perk underwritten by sponsors Western Pacific Roofing Corp, the Stone Roofing Co. and American Services.

The new head of the California Rodeo Circuit, Johnny Zamrzla flanked by "pick up men" Bobby Marriott and Matt Twitchell. Pick-ups literally lift cowboys out of harm's way. (Photo by Gene Hyder / PRCA)

The California Rodeo Circuit's new president, Johnny Zamrzla, with "pick-up men" Bobby Marriott and Matt Twitchell. (Photo by Gene Hyder / PRCA)

“Last year the awards didn’t include saddles,” Thouvenell said, heaping credit on the new California Rodeo Circuit committee chairman Johnny Zamrzla of Azusa’s Stone Roofing Co.

At the individual RCCFR rodeo, the other winners were bareback rider Danny Webb (240 points on three head), team ropers Blaine Linaweaver and Jake Twisselman (19.3 seconds on three head), saddle bronc rider Mert Bradshaw (245 on three head), tie-down roper Ryle Smith (28.9 seconds on three head), bull rider Keith Roquemore (167 points on two head) and barrel racer Linda Vick (53.02 seconds on three runs).

Complete California Circuit standings are available online here. For more information about the Ram National circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, click here.

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