Robert Wagner has already found a level of success that most prep and college bronc riders could only dream of. And now in his final season as a cowboy, on the Montana State University-Northern Lights men’s rodeo team, the door, or more fitting, the chute, is wide open for Wagner to continue his climb to the top.
Originally from Browning, Wagner has been riding in rodeos nearly all of his life. And now 21 years old, he has quickly become one of the top college riders in the nation.
Wagner rode in the High School Nationals two times, placing sixth place in saddle bronc riding his senior season. He has also been fortunate enough to ri
de in the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) four times. While at the INFR, Wagner was the 2010 Tour Champion, as well as took fourth in 2011. But the list of national success doesn’t stop there, as Wagner also rode in the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) last year after a very successful year with the Lights.
Unfortunately, Wagner did not place while at the CNFR.
“It was good to be there,” Wagner said. “It was like a lot of other rodeos with a lot of good bronc riders. I was excited to go, and proud to be there because not too many people make it. It was pretty nice; they had a big show and different big performances. The crowed was packed and screaming, and it got me pretty amped up and juiced to ride.
“There were a lot of good riders,” Wagner added. “But we were all in the same boat, we were all one, two or three in our regions, so we all knew what we were doing. But I didn’t draw that good down there, I didn’t draw a decent horse until maybe the third round. I think I could have come home with the gold, it is just the luck of the draw because there are so many good riders.”
But just because Wagner didn’t place last year, doesn’t mean he lacks the skills, and especially the confidence to place at a national level this year.
Wagner is once again on top of his game, and has already gotten off to a solid start. After one weekend of competition he is currently sitting in fifth place in the Big Sky Region with 126 points. But with plenty of rodeos still left, including the Northern Rodeo this weekend in Havre, Wagner is just 19 points out of the top three.
“I can get there again,” Wagner said. “I know I can. I will win the Big Sky Region this year, and I will be the No. 1 seed. I just have to keep doing what I am doing. There are a few good bronc riders out there, and I am ready for the competition, it is going to be good this year. We are all friends and have fun facing each other, and we all just make each other better.”
First-year head coach Doug Kallenberger has already seen just how talented Wagner is, and credits his work ethic for his irrupting success.
“This kid has got unbelievable drive and huge, huge work ethic,” Kallenberger said. “He wants to get better, he is the first one to practice and puts in more time than anybody. He is always asking questions, trying to get better, and always wanting to get better. If he isn’t at a college rodeo, he is at a pro rodeo. It will not surprise if we ever see him at the Wranglers National Finals Rodeo. He is that good of an athlete, and if he keeps with it, he will be in Las Vegas someday.”
But before Wagner can climb to the top of the ranks in Las Vegas in the pro circuit, he has one last year to climb to the top of the college ranks.
And leading the way for a very talented men’s team at MSU-Northern, both Wagner and team are capable of big things this season. The team already got off to a solid start with two top five finishes last weekend in Wyoming, and now have a shot at another top finish at home. This weekend the Lights will host their annual Northern Rodeo, and while teams like No. 1 Montana State University-Bozeman will be favored, the Lights have a shot at a top finish.
And while Wagner would love to win the saddle bronc riding this weekend, a team win would be the perfect reward as he sets out to complete his last season with the Lights.
“This is our home rodeo,” Wagner said. “It is time for us to step up and represent, and show everybody what we do, and why the board supports us. We have a good team this year, guys are riding tough and roping well, so hopefully our team points get up there so we can win our home rodeo. That would be sweet, it would be even better to win as a team than me winning bronc riding myself.”