Heading for a warmer spot during the Alberta winter cold is what many make a regular journey. But Scott Guenthner chose to skip his usual winter hot spots this year, to stay at home on the ranch near Provost instead.
Why? Because the two-time Canadian Steer Wrestling Champion decided it was time. He’s travelled the U.S. winter rodeo circuit steadily for nearly a decade, visiting places from Houston to Tucson, to compete and earn enough for a qualifying spot at the lucrative National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
He achieved it for the fourth time in his career last December, but made it known that would be his last trip to the Super Bowl of rodeo. With his wife Becky and two young sons, plus plenty of work to go around on the family cow-calf operation, Guenthner was ready for a change.
“People ask me if I’m missing it and I’m like ‘I’m not missing it one ounce’,” says the 30-year-old. “I’m sitting here on the couch, watching the rodeos (on TV) with my kids. I’m just enjoying that part of not being on the road 24-7, and driving, and being away from home.”
Guenthner made his winters worthwhile, cashing in at some of the big shows like Rodeo Austin, The American, Clovis, Prescott, San Angelo, and Jackson. But the winter rodeo circuit means staying south and on the road for long stretches.
The decision to forego the major U.S. competitions and focus only on Canadian rodeos became clear about a year ago, as he was winning the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, FL. His son Quade, now 2, was getting old enough to figure out when Dad wasn’t coming home for a while.
“It got to the point where he cried every time I talked to him on Facetime and didn’t want to say goodbye. I love rodeoing, but the miles definitely did take a toll on me. I don’t want to be the Dad that’s not really ever there. I‘d rather be at home with my family.”
To top things off, Becky’s due date for their second son was right during the NFR. Fortunately, he held off making his entrance until the rodeo was over. Guenthner was on the flight home, and ‘there’ via Facetime as Ridge appeared, just three minutes before the flight took off. It all reinforced his return to a ranch-focused career choice.
The Guenthners have an 1100 head Hereford-based cow-calf operation, with some Red Angus bulls on their heifers, around Sounding Lake in east-central Alberta. Calving in mid-April, they generally background their calves to sell in the early spring, and have some grain production for cattle feed, along with silage as well.
The operation includes Scott’s father, Ken, as well as his two sisters and their husbands and families: Tanya and Evan Beaulieu, and Laurie and Dean Savage. Scott was conscious of the impact of his absence on his partners.
“It’s not their obligation to look after the ranch, so I can come back after rodeoing and walk back into it without really doing anything.”
“I just came to the conclusion rodeo was a hobby, and it was fun, and I got to live a dream to go rodeo. But at the end of the day, it’s family first, and I wanted to be with my family.”
Ken Guenthner was also a professional steer wrestler, and the first to win a $50,000 cheque at the Calgary Stampede in 1982. Scott doesn’t remember his Dad competing, since he’d given up the road to be with his children while Scott was very young.
So while rodeo was in his blood, so was ranching.
“Ever since I was a young kid, I’d rather be calving cows or doing something on the ranch than going to school.”
Guenthner did go on with a rodeo scholarship to Lakeland College in Vermilion, where he took Livestock Production and some Ag Business courses as well, before launching his Canadian pro rodeo career in 2012.
Guenthner is grateful he was able to make some money out of rodeo, since not everyone does. With his six appearances at the Canadian Finals Rodeo, plus the four NFRs, he made upwards of $100,000 a year, thanks to sponsorships helping offset some expenses.
“It will definitely help in my ranching career, but I knew at the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to make a living at rodeo. Sooner or later you start going the other way, when you get older and you don’t win. I want my kids to have the same life I did, growing up on the ranch. I didn’t want to be one of those unfortunately broke cowboys when I was done.”
Guenthner will have some more time now to work on horses, both for the ranch and steer wrestling. He’s got a couple to use this season at Canadian rodeos, and with the high prices for horses these days, considers investing in ‘building’ some rodeo prospects as well.
Guenthner knows ranch life isn’t easy, especially as the family copes with the drought, and scarce grass. But it will be worth it to work through the challenges together.
“It’s the lifestyle – very family oriented. You work with your kids, and I feel like you learn a lot of life skills just from being on the ranch, looking after animals, making sure things live. When you’re six years old and bottle feeding a calf, it’s a big deal and you learn responsibilities. It’s a little more relaxed. Yes, you’re married to the ranch, and can never really seem to leave for a holiday, but you’re your own boss.”
Scott Guenthner knows what it’s like to hear the Las Vegas crowd roar for a great steer wrestling run, but he finds a good ranch day, moving cows on horseback, surrounded by family and friends, just as rewarding.