The 2023 Great Lakes Circuit year-end titles all came down to Round 3 of the circuit finals, and Cooper Bruce and Wyatt Kanan won the round to clinch their first year-end titles Nov. 11.
Bruce and Kanan, both Missouri cowboys, entered Louisville, Kentucky, fifth and fourth in the circuit standings, respectively. After cashing in $5,532 over the weekend, they were able to walk away with the titles, a culmination of a busy year on the circuit trail.
“It means everything,” Bruce, 33, said. “That’s our main goal up here as far as going to the rodeos. That’s our way to get to the NFR Open now. It’s a pretty big deal.”
The win didn’t come easy. The team struggled on two steers and had to rise to the occasion in Round 3. Kanan, 22, feels like the win proves he’s called to do more than just rodeo.
“I feel like I’m out here to make a difference in people and be able to show people that I couldn’t be doing any of this without my Lord and savior,” Kanan said. “This is 100% glory to God. This is a total God thing and a blessing; nobody gets to go into the circuit finals fourth and completely mess up two steers and come out first. This was something I needed more help with than just myself.”
Circuit finals play-by-play
With $3,000 or less separating the top five teams in the standings going into Louisville, the year-end boiled down to which of the top teams had the best circuit finals.
Bruce was riding a 15-year-old gelding of the Breitsprechers named Uno, and Kanan rode a 14-year-old gelding by the name of Daryl that he bought from Bruce when they started roping together.
They drew on the stronger end of the herd in the first round, and Kanan came up short on the heel side. They were down a steer but not out of the fight. In Round 2, Kanan slipped a leg, but the round fell apart, and they were able to place third in the round for $1,229 a man.
Bruce had done the math, and the year-end title was still attainable so long as they won the third round.
“I knew that the spot that we were in, the guys after us were all in the average, so if we could leave the arena winning the round, we would have a chance for the year-end,” Bruce said. “And luckily enough it was another soft round; we didn’t have to go crazy on the third one. We were just able to make our run, and it was fast enough. Then the guys after us all had trouble, so we ended up placing in the average, as well as winning the third round and the year-end.”
They were 5.2 seconds to win the round for $2,459 a man and finish third in the average on two steers with a 15.6, both taking home $1,844. That run solidified the year-end for the team.
Great Lakes Circuit 2023 replay
Bruce and Kanan started roping together toward the end of the 2022 season. The 2023 winter started off weaker, due to new horses, but they figured out their run together and started winning in the spring and summer.
“It was a good year,” Bruce said. “Obviously there’s ups and downs, but I started heading in 2019—I’d heeled my whole life up until that point—so it was obviously the best year that I had heading. I had a good partner all year, he did a great job. No complaints on the year. Even if we didn’t win the year-end, it was still a good year.”
Big NFR Open opportunities
The chance to rope at the 2024 NFR Open in Colorado Springs is a huge deal for the team, and it hasn’t exactly sunk in yet for Bruce.
“It’s exciting; it’s a great opportunity for your true circuit guys to have an opportunity for bigger things with the way they’ve got it set up now,” Bruce said. “You leave there and then, if you do good, you get into Puyallup. It’s a great deal. The PRCA has done a good job of opening it up where it’s not just strictly the top guys in the world that have a chance at big rodeos. It means everything to me and my family.”
Knowing that a successful NFR Open can result in a trip to Puyallup to compete in the Cinch Playoff Series also excites Kanan.
“There’s a way that you can qualify through all that stuff and go from circuit level to NFR level, just through the right rodeos,” Kanan said. “I’m not naïve enough to misunderstand how difficult it is out there, and it’s going to be an awakening, but it gives me a little bit of confidence to go out there and try it this year. I’m really excited about it.”