(Editor's note: Click here to listen to the podcast with the 2019 National Finals Rodeo champions)
LAS VEGAS -- It was only fitting Montana Silversmiths made the gold buckles for the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, as three of those buckles returned to the Treasure State after the 10-day rodeo.
Ty Erickson, Haven Meged and Hailey Kinsel captured world titles in the steer wrestling, tie-down roping and barrel racing, respectively, giving Montana its latest trio of world champions. Erickson, a former Helena Capital all-state basketball player, has been a title contender in recent years but hadn't won the elusive buckle until a late push over the weekend.
"It means everything in the world to me. Like I said, this is what I've been working the last 10 years for and what I've been dreaming of since I was a little kid, to be a world champion," said Erickson. "Now that it's been able to come true, it couldn't mean anymore right now.
"It's even better that it's a Montana Silversmiths buckle, you know? My aunt Judy (Wagner) is the vice president of marketing there and I have a lot of ties in Montana, so it's pretty special that it's a Montana Silversmiths buckle, and I get to wear it around and support Montana."
Miles City 21-year-old Haven Meged made Montana history over the weekend, becoming the first Treasure State cowboy to win a tie-down roping world title. Meged's championship was the most dramatic of the rodeo, coming down to the final run -- Louisiana's Shane Hanchey missed the world championship by one-tenth of a second.
That misfortune brought gold-buckle luck to Meged, who won the rookie of the year, average and world championship in his first go.
"It's unbelievable, honestly, to get to be here my rookie year, and to be able to win all three of those, plus the college title, it's just a dream come true," Meged said. "It ain't easy. There are 15 guys that get to come to this every year in each event, so to be able to be one of those guys, it's not easy out there. It's blood, sweat and tears to get to where we're at every day, rodeoing day in and day out. It's not easy. We blow through trucks, trailers, horses, money is the biggest deal. Your sponsors keep you going, and then your family, you couldn't do any of it without your backup."
"Oh, I'm going to wear (the gold buckle). I'm going to wear it," Meged laughed when posing with his new hardware. "It's going to be strapped to my belt. If they let us take this home, I'm wearing it tonight."
Two-time barrel racing champion Hailey Kinsel can consider herself a Montanan after marrying PBR world champion Jess Lockwood in October. Kinsel and Lockwood actually split time between her home in Texas and Lockwood's hometown of Volborg. The back-to-back barrel racing champion was admittedly displeased with the arena conditions, but winning a second consecutive title was a dream come true.
"No. 1 was different because it was a lot of baby emotions, I didn't know what it would feel like, so being able to do it again, I knew how good it felt and was definitely determined to try again," said Kinsel. "I'm just thankful my horse has been safe all year, and she's pretty adaptable, takes care of herself and tries really hard and was able to pull this off for me again. It's pretty amazing."