Haven Meged needed every bit of the 2019 PRCA rodeo season to clinch his first world title — a race that literally came down to the last second, or one-tenth of a second, to be exact.
It was the storybook ending of a record-setting season.
Meged, the Miles City 21-year-old rookie tie-down roper, became the first cowboy to capture the elusive grand slam — rookie of the year, average champion and world champion. And those were just the accolades on the PRCA circuit.
2019 may have made Meged a household name on the national rodeo scene, but it certainly wasn’t his first taste of success in the sport.
His father, Bart, told MTN Sports Haven roped his first calf at the Fourth of July Terry Montana Open Rodeo in 2009, competing aboard Pom Pom. It wasn’t the kind of run one might expect to get a young cowboy hooked on the sport.
“The calf mauled the hell out of him and about 500 people were there and saw it. They’re still talking about it,” laughed Bart. “Tore his shirt off, didn’t know what to do — it just took over from there. The calf mauled him around for a minute and a half, but he got him tied finally. His shirt was shredded off of him.”
“He had just been practicing at home, hadn’t even had any formal training until later that fall,” Bart continued, mentioning Haven’s horse had also never been trained for tie-down roping.
It wasn’t necessarily a triumphant first experience in the sport, but certainly one he and his family, as well as the 500 in attendance, will never forget. But there was no doubt Haven Meged was hooked.
“Let your idols become your rivals,” Meged has been quoted as saying multiple times, and that’s exactly the mindset the cowboy has carried throughout his career.
Throughout high school, Meged collected an impressive 11 Montana High School Rodeo Association state titles. In 2018, the brown-eyed cowboy was an up-and-comer on the college circuit, competing for Western Oklahoma State College.
That year brought him a tie-down title at the National Intercollegiate Central Plains Rodeo, and he finished the year in the top 10 at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo. He was also the 2018 Montana Circuit year-end tie-down roping champion.
Then the calendar flipped to 2019.
The past 12 months were loaded for Meged, to the tune of some $246,013.45 — a single-season record for a tie-down roper — but some of the key highlights:
- American Rodeo semifinals qualifier (Feb. 23 - Mar. 3)
- Dodge Ram National Circuit Finals champion (Mar. 21-24, $7,581)
- Fourth at World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) Titletown Stampede (June 1, $7,511)
- 71st College National Finals Rodeo tie-down champion (June 15)
- His horse, Beyonce, is named the National Intercollegiate Horse of the Year
- Deadwood Days of 76 champion (July 24-27, 18.6 on two, nearly $5,000)
- Eastern Montana Fair champion (Aug. 20-21, $1,308)
- Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo champion (Aug. 24-25, $9,216)
- Washington State Fair Pro Rodeo tour champion (Sept. 5-8, more than $10,000)
- Canadian Pro Rodeo Rookie of the Year ($49,625)
The list could go on and on. Along the way, Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte recognized Meged with the Spirit of Montana commendation for his “outstanding accomplishments as a young rodeo competitor, for his dedication to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and for preserving the American cowboy tradition.”
Meged qualified for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, entering the event No. 2 in the world. Consistent throughout the event, Meged held the average lead going into Round 10 on Dec. 14 and capped his season with his NFR-best time of 8.0 seconds. Then came the waiting game.
Meged watched as five riders tried to make a move up the standings, surviving the first four. The last cowboy to go? World No. 1 and 2013 world champion Shane Hanchey, who needed to win the round with a 7.0-second run or better to leap Meged in the projected title standings.
His time? A 7.1-second run, with the one-tenth sealing Meged’s first world title in his first try.
"I knew how close it was, but I didn't know I won it by $1,200," Meged laughed after the buckle presentation. "They said if my traveling partner's calf didn't get up, I would have lost the world title. I'll go buy him $1,200 of stuff."
Looking back, it was a countdown to that storybook ending.
Five. Meged placed in five rounds of the 2019 WNFR, including a fifth-place finish in Round 10 that secured his title.
Four. Meged became the fourth cowboy to win a College National Finals Rodeo championship and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo title in the same year, following in the footsteps of Ty Murray (1988), Matt Austin (2005) and Taos Muncy (2007).
Three. Meged won a trio of big rodeos in 2019, starting with the Ram National Circuit Finals, then the College National Finals, and capping the year with the greatest of all — the mighty NFR.
Two. Meged was one of two cowboys to collect gold buckles in the Thomas & Mack, joining Helena steer wrestler Ty Erickson as a 2019 world champion.
One. Meged became the lone cowboy to secure professional rodeo’s grand slam in the same season — rookie of the year, average champion and world champion.
That’s not a bad countdown to cap 2019.
“Indescribable. That’s the only way to describe 2019. I have been so blessed,” Meged posted on his Facebook page hours after winning the world championship. “I can’t thank my parents, my family, my horses and my friends enough. This year is something I’ve dreamed about my whole life.”
Bring on 2020.
When Ty Erickson walked into the Thomas & Mack Center ahead of the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, he was in familiar territory.
The Helena steer wrestler entered pro rodeo’s biggest event as the bulldogging regular-season leader for the third time in four years but had yet to capture the elusive gold buckle, finishing as high as second in the world.
Maybe it was the end of the decade that brought him luck.
Perhaps it was meant to be a fortuitous way to end his 20s.
Or maybe it was the fact his aunt, Judy Wagner, the vice president of marketing for Montana Silversmiths, was handing out gold buckles to the world champions.
Maybe it was a combination of all the above. Regardless, one thing became certain for Erickson — it was finally time.
After another disappointing start to the NFR — first- and second-round times of 13.40 and 14.30 seconds — Erickson was again in familiar territory, his world title dreams slipping away. Ironic then, that it was Friday the 13th that brought him good fortune.
The former Helena Capital and Montana State cowboy took an all-or-nothing approach in Round 9, and was rewarded with a winning time of 3.60 seconds, the $26,000-plus that came with it, and a revitalized hope.
A clean 4.4-second run the following night clinched things, as aunt Judy handed Erickson the shiny Montana Silversmiths gold buckle for his first world title.
"This is what I've been dreaming about since I was a little kid, being a world champion," Erickson told MTN Sports that evening. "For the last 10 years, this is all I've thought about, and now that it's been able to come true, I couldn't be more happy.”
"I didn't have the week that I wanted when it first started - I broke the first two barriers and that put me way behind," he continued. "We just persevered and kept going at them every night. Started doing a lot better, and the last couple rounds were awesome.”
Erickson, whose career earnings exceed the $1 million mark, finished 2019 with $234,491. Nearly half of that, $100,000 to be exact, came inside AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas in early March after Erickson won The American for the second time in his career.
Other significant wins during the season came at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, the World’s Oldest Rodeo in Prescott, Ariz., the YMBL Championship Rodeo in Beaumont, Texas and the Belt PRCA Rodeo. He was also co-champion in Lewistown, as well as Ogden, Utah and Filer, Idaho.
All that on a rookie horse by the name of Crush.
“I’m riding a horse, this is his first year here,” Erickson said after winning the NFR. “I’ve only been riding him for a year and I couldn’t be more happy of that horse right now. He worked so good this week. He went above and beyond my expectations. I think he’s going to be here a lot of years because he worked so well. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Erickson, the former Montana High School Rodeo Association all-around champion and Intercollegiate Big Sky Region champion, says his hometown rodeo — Helena’s Last Chance Stampede — is his favorite rodeo, and winning in the Treasure State just means more.
Friends and family surprised Erickson with a celebration party in his hometown on Saturday, Dec. 28, proving his point that the folks in Big Sky Country deserve credit for his success.
“I love living in Montana, I love the people that are in Montana. There’s so much support, you know?” Erickson told the media moments after winning his gold buckle. “Whether we do good or bad, they’re behind you and they’re always wanting the best for you. I love that state and I love representing for it.”
Erickson and his Montana fans will usher in a new year and new decade with the same lofty expectations, and won’t expect anything less than more gold-buckle chasing runs in Sin City for years to come.