University of Montana rodeo team member Tyler Turco reached the middle of the season riding high.

When the Big Sky region’s five-rodeo fall series wrapped up at the end of last month, Turco — who won every saddle bronc riding competition — found himself sitting atop the overall National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association standings for his event. At 795 points, he is 295 points ahead of the next college saddle bronc competitor in the country.

Now he’s looking at the back half of the season — five more college rodeos in the spring.

“Right now the main goal is just to try my hardest to make the college finals and try to win it,” Turco said.

A 20-year-old junior who is studying for a degree in parks and recreation management, Turco went to school at a college in Texas and graduated in the spring with his associate degree, but wanted to find a university to finish a bachelor’s and continue to compete in rodeo at the college level.

He called and emailed coaches around the West, but was either told they didn’t have spots or wouldn’t be able to give him a scholarship to come there. Then he got in touch with Kory Mytty, coach of the UM rodeo team.

“He told me, ‘I just need somebody who is going to come up here and be a leader,’ and they were able to put a package together for me with scholarships. I was in,” Turco said.

He said the chance to live in Montana didn’t hurt either.

“I wanted to go back to the mountains. I was tired of the plain flat country,” he said.

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Turco was introduced to rodeo in his native Colorado. While he’s the first in his family to try the sport, he grew up with horses and always loved the cowboy lifestyle. In high school, Turco started attending rodeo camps around the state, and joined the team in the next town over from his home of Franktown, roughly 35 miles south of Denver.

“It was really my mom who pushed me into it. But I don’t think she thought I would go into bronc riding, she thought I was going to go into roping. She didn’t expect that,” Turco said with a laugh.

From the first time he tried it, saddle bronc riding was the event that most appealed to him.

“Horses are just so much more interesting to me than the bulls. I thought they were prettier looking and it’s just a flashier and classier event,” he said.

While the wins he’s racked up during the fall series certainly helped put him atop the national standings, Turco said being consistent and scoring in each round of every rodeo is more important to racking up higher point values and qualifying for the CNFR in June.

“If you fall off your first ride you could be missing out on like 100 or 200 points that weekend,” he said.

Unlike say, basketball, training and practice for Turco isn’t as straightforward as shooting hoops at the gym. The nearest practice horse he could ride is more than an hour-and-a-half drive away, and Turco said he frequently goes to rodeos not having ridden since the last competition.

Instead, he makes use of a spur board, essentially a glorified sawhorse, that lets him practice and drill his fundamentals.

“I’ll get on it and work on setting my feet. I put my saddle on there and lift on my rein and I pretty much just practice my form. It’s just all about making it muscle memory,” he said.

In addition to competing at the college level, Turco also travels around the country to pro rodeos. Especially during the summer, Turco said he goes from city to city and state to state, occasionally being away from home for weeks at a time. This summer, he started traveling with a group of other bronc riders he’s met on the circuit.

“It helps because you can split fuel costs and, even more important, you can split driving time, which helps when we wrap up in one city and need to be at the next rodeo the next afternoon,” he said. “It’s a full-time job, and it’s a fun way to make a living.”

Because he’s still in school, Turco can compete in professional competitions on a permit. After he graduates, the plan is to buy his official contestant card and start on his real rookie season, rodeoing full time to rack up wins and prize money with the goal of being named rookie of the year.

An avid hunter and fisherman when he’s not busy with school or training for the next rodeo, Turco said he always likes using the mornings when he’s on the road competing to make it down to the nearest river.

“There’s always a fishing rod packed as part of my gear any time I head out,” he said.

Some of the other college riders that he competes against on the pro level either don’t focus on their schoolwork or eventually decide to drop out. Turco said he really wants to get his degree, even if he’s hoping to make a career out of bronc riding.

He made a point to arrange his class schedule so that he doesn’t have courses on Fridays, meaning he doesn’t miss school even if he heads out for a three-day college rodeo.

“I’m going to school so I have something to fall back on,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.