Corben Culley may have found himself No. 4 in the 2023 Resistol Rookie of the Year standings, but just a few months ago the Muse, Oklahoma, cowboy didn’t think the summer run was a reality for him.
“We didn’t really plan on coming out this year, we didn’t winter rodeo, we didn’t rodeo in California… we started around Reno,” Culley, said of he and partner Blayne Horne, who he met in school at Western Oklahoma State College. “I always told people I wanted to rodeo, it just seemed so far away.”
A ProRodeo season that started with uncertainty has gained momentum, most recently landing Culley and Horne in the Cheyenne Frontier Days short round on July 30, 2023, where they finished No. 8 among some of the best in the world such as Kaleb Driggers, Junior Nogueira, Jr. Dees, Rosh Ashford, Erich Rogers and Paul Eaves.
Not including Cheyenne money—where he earned $6,050—Culley boasts $15,133 in 2023 ProRodeo earnings.
The Daddy of ‘em All
Culley admitted he’d never been to Cheyenne Frontier Days before their July success, so when it was time for slack on July 15, the nerves were palpable.
“We drew pretty good in slack, and I was on the barrier,” Culley, 22, said. “When I was coming up on the steer, he stepped into me and I was dead-in behind him. I went ahead and threw and roped his neck. Then Blayne had to heel him up the wall.”
A 9.6-second run in slack saw the two young men advance to the second perf, where they caught the leg to be 14.1 seconds. They made the cut for the semifinals.
“I knew my draw in the semifinals was good, the steer was supposed to be true and strong,” Culley said. “When I got to rolling to him, I was trying to be aggressive and ride hard. He stepped into me again and I threw right there. My horse was awesome.”
The horse in question is “Buck,” a creatively named 7-year-old gelding registered as JK Son Of Skippy (Sprinkle Of Frost x Caseys Skippy Girl x Dudes Casey Boy) that Culley’s family purchased as a weanling.
With an 8.9-second run, Culley and Horne tied for the semifinal victory with Curry Kirchner and Billie Jack Saebens, winning $4,750 a man.
While the Oklahoma boys didn’t round up a big check in the short round—catching in 14.8 seconds—just to be there was a reward within itself.
“Looking back at Cheyenne, we’re happy we did good but it’s one of those deals that you’ve got to keep going,” Culley said. “You’ll have a bad week and spend a lot of money, then you have a good week and you win a lot of money. Just trying to stay even keel about it.
“Horne and I are good together because share the same mindset. We know we’re not exactly where we want to be, but we’re trying to get to that spot. Whatever it takes to make our run the best and gives us a better chance to win, we’re going to do it.”
Keeping the head on straight
For a rookie who hadn’t initially planned on doing the summer run, Culley now has his mind’s eye fixed on “the next one.” His top priority had been breaking into the top 50 to gain access to lucrative winter rodeos in 2024, but landing high on the Resistol Rookie of the Year standings has appeal, too.
“I hadn’t thought about winning the rookie. I wanted to get into the top 50 and do good in the Prairie Circuit. We just started doing this six weeks ago. We’re just figuring out how to win.”
“I’m focused on scoring, riding and spinning steers.” – Corben Culley
Back home in Eastern Oklahoma
Culley considers himself a homebody—which is ironic now that he’s been on the road for more than a month.
His family runs a cow calf operation in the green mountains of Le Flore county, backgrounding and stocking yearlings to sell to feed yards, as well.
“I started heeling when I was 10, and eventually started topping out. We had two head horses at home that weren’t anything special, but they were easy and it made sense for me to head—I would head for my dad Todd and his buddies at jackpots.”
Culley made the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2019, his senior year with heeler Landen Collins, and advanced to the College National Finals in 2022 and 2023 with Shane Jenkins and Jessen James, respectively.