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Silver & gold: Hunter had a Cure for the bulldogging blues

Hunter Cure 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo PRCA Photo by Tom Donoghue

Hunter had a Cure for the bulldogging blues that produced subpar finishes—32nd in 2010; 64th in 2011 and 60th in 2012—since qualifying for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2009. But he’s never met an excuse he actually likes or gets along with. So he boiled those three years down to “a hurt shoulder, hurt horse and bad bulldogging,” and regrouped. 

He bought a horse. 

“I bought Charlie from Matt Reeves (in July 2012), who’d hazed on him some,” said Cure, 30, who rocked the rodeo world in December when he strapped on his first gold buckle. “I came in off the road, finished and seasoned him, and started with a clean slate on a new horse. Matt started him in the steer wrestling, then hazed on him also. I bought him with the intention of moving him over (to the bulldogging side). He’s a mean little bastard and will bite and kick you. There are kind, nice horses in this world. Charlie’s not one of them. But he’s very talented at what he does. He has found his niche in life.”

Then he burned a hat. 

And it wasn’t just any hat, but the brown one that had been his trademark since 2007. The problem, as Cure saw it, dated back to 2009, when his mother-in-law sat that hat on a hotel-room bed in Vegas during Cure’s first Finals. 

“It was right before I chased that steer around (the Thomas & Mack Center Arena) by the tail,” he said, in hindsight realizing that was his first clue. “I kept wearing that hat—for years—but since it was sat on the bed I wasn’t able to win at all. I never cracked the top 30 from that day on. Trevor (Brazile) always throws his hats on the bed when new guys are around, just to watch their reactions. But from that moment on, that brown hat was tainted.”

Cure got off to a slow start last season, with only $12,000 won going into the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo in June. But with a seasonal straw hat on his head, he won the spurs at Reno and rolled on with a summer worthy of a second NFR. Come fall, he did what virtually all cowboys do and cracked his felt hat back out for Omaha’s Justin Boots Championships in September. The brown was back, as were both insult and injury. 

“I brought that brown hat back out at Omaha, and missed a layup,” he said. “I made the semifinals, then I missed one. And I didn’t just miss him, I did the crash and burn, ended up in front of the steer and sprained my wrist. I devised a private ceremony for that hat in my mind the whole way back from Omaha. And before we left for the CFR (Canadian Finals Rodeo in November) I went ahead and had a little hat barbecue in the back yard. I put it in a trash barrel, doused it in gasoline and made sure it was officially cremated.”

No one recognized Cure when he showed up in Edmonton for the CFR and Vegas for his second NFR without old brownie. But the hat trick—shifting to a silver belly—sure did him good.

“I went in in the middle of the pack and ended up winning $37,000 in Canadian money,” he said of the CFR. “I rode Clayton Moore’s horse, Pistol, and he won $47,000 and I won $37,000. He won the average and the Canadian title, and I won second in both.”

Moore, who hazed for Cure at the CFR, barely missed the 2013 NFR cut in 16th. 

Naturally, there was no wardrobe change for Cure before Vegas. “It was an easy decision since it was the only other felt hat I owned,” he grinned. “We’ll switch to a straw when it gets hot this year, but we’re going to get some good out of this one before we retire it.”

Cure got another $108,348 and his first gold buckle of good out of the new silver belly in Vegas. He won Rounds 5 and 8, and placed in five more en route to a third-place average finish (Bray Armes and Dakota Eldridge were 1-2 in that race).

But rest assured, the gold and glory have not stripped Cure of his sense of humor and humility. When he lost a match to Billy Bugenig in the practice pen right before the Feb. 27 Wrangler Champions Challenge presented by Justin Boots in Scottsdale, Ariz., Cure honored the bet. It meant wearing his beloved silver belly backwards—on TV—for the world to see. 

“That’s the price you pay for losing to a pruney in the practice pen,” laughed Cure. “This hat works forwards for first and it works backwards for second.” He finished second to Trevor Knowles at Scottsdale. Cure is proud of his Champions Challenge team—PRCA Team 7 with the white shirts—who are the leaders of the pack after three events. His Team 7 teammates are Steven Peebles, Clay Tryan, Jade Corkill, Cole Elshere, Tyson Durfey, Michele McLeod and Cody Campbell.

Cure lives 15 miles from the closest post office in Holliday, Texas. It’s wide-open ranch country, and his place shares one fenceline with the Waggoner Ranch, which is in excess of 552,000 acres. Hunter and Bristi Cure have a little girl, Halli, who’ll be 2 in May, and are expecting a baby boy to join their family the week of Cowboy Christmas in July.

He’s a lucky man, and he knows it. “Things in life are lining up perfectly,” he said.

Cure’s second job complements his in-arena cowboy career. “I have a couple hundred head of Mexican bulldogging steers that I lease out for the winter rodeos—Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin the last several years,” he explained. “Then we sell them to PRCA stock contractors to use for the remainder of the year. 

“There’s a three-day marathon here at my house that falls between Christmas and New Year’s, and anyone with talent and horses is invited to help break in the steers and enjoy the feast. Anywhere from 12-25 guys show up every year, and about half of them just left the NFR. I have to have something to lure guys out here to practice with me, so the cattle are the carrot on the end of the stick.”

If it looks like all glitz and glamour for the gold-buckle guys, think again. It’s a long, rough, rocky road to the top of any sport. And the decade since Cure won the 2004 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association steer wrestling title is no exception. Cure graduated from Texas Tech in Lubbock with a degree in agriculture economics in 2006. 

“2006 was my rookie year, and was not very successful,” he said. “I finished in the low 20s in 2007, and 18th in 2008. I finally cracked the window in 2009, thanks in part to a horse I called Eeyore.”

Eeyore helped Cure heal from a crushing blow suffered in 2007, when he lost the team of horses that helped him win his college title. “I came home from Huntsville (Texas), put them in the pen, they got out on a major highway and got hit by a semi,” he said. “My hazing horse, Hud, died right there. My bulldogging horse, Bay, broke his leg and laid down, so I had to put him down.”

After struggling since that first Finals in 2009, Cure was hungry to make back some bank when he got to Las Vegas last December. With all he’s been through, he’ll never take getting there for granted. 

“Just because you make it one time doesn’t mean they give you the next one,” he said. “You better bear down and be tough enough to make it again. Kudos to guys who make it so many times. That, to me, is more impressive than what I’ve done. That’s something I haven’t been able to put together like they have, and I recognize the talent and effort it took for them to do that.”

Cure entered NFR ’13 in the seventh post position. It wasn’t until his second round win of the week in Round 8 that winning the whole shooting match seemed possible. “That’s when I started to know my name was in the mix on all the bulldoggers’ minds, depending how things shook out,” he said. “We all knew there was a short list of three or four guys that were pretty deep in the conversation at that point.”

Eight-time National Finalist Dean Gorsuch, who won it all in 2006 and 2010, was one of the heavy favorites. The way Cure had it figured, “Dean needed to be less than 5 flat on his last one is about what it boiled down to. He didn’t have to place in the round, but if he kept his average position (second to Armes) he would have been uncatchable. Him missing that (10th) steer was as unexpected as can be. It left the whole building, including myself, with jaws open.”

Gorsuch always gets the good-guy award, but his grace at that moment—when his shot at gold bit the dust so instantly and unexpectedly—was above and beyond.

“That was a good steer, and I got a good start,” Gorsuch said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It just wasn’t meant to be. I was disappointed when it happened, but that’s just the way rodeo is. I’m not mad about it. I went at it, and it didn’t work. Now I just want to be in that situation again. Hunter deserved it. He bulldogged the best.”

It’s another shining example of the bond ProRodeo’s bulldoggers have built.

“I never felt like I was going against Hunter or anybody else that last round,” Gorsuch explained. “We all go out and try to make the best run we can. We’re not out there to beat each other. We’re trying not to beat ourselves and to make the best run on that steer that day. I went at it that same way in Round 10 and it just didn’t work. Hunter made the best run he could on that steer. He wasn’t trying to beat me. He was just doing his best. If you’re worried about what anybody else is doing, you’re wasting your time—that’s out of your control.”

Cure sees the twist of fate that turned in his favor as a great, big blessing. “There was obviously an intent from a higher power than myself,” he said. “We’ll take it, and try to do the best we can with it. That last round was obviously a heartbreaker for Dean, and I felt really bad for him. He congratulated me and was sincere about it. That’s pretty special.”

As was the hazing help Cure got from Riley Duvall. As was the fact that Riley rode Matt Reeves’ mare Beamer to haze for both himself and Cure, when Reeves was in that short-list contender mix, too. 

Cure traveled solo his golden season, which has its pros and cons. “When it comes to driving, you’re up every time,” he said. “But it allows my family to spend a week here and there with me.”

Is life any different as the champ? “It’s easier to win mentally with a gold buckle on your belt,” he said.

“Life’s not so different, but my wife is getting very serious about building a house. And I’m not arguing. She just bought me another brown hat. But it’s going to sit in the box awhile.”

[PHOTO] TEAMWORK: Cure’s bulldogging horse, Charlie, and NFR hazer, Riley Duvall, who rode Matt Reeves’ mare Beamer, helped deliver him to his first gold buckle. After winning two rounds, placing in five others and finishing third in the average, Cure left Las Vegas $108,348 richer and the champ.


 
 
 
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