STEPHENVILLE, Texas — Walt Arnold has a plan. The senior criminal justice major at Tarleton State University figures to finish his bachelor’s degree, then pick a law school. First, however, there’s some rodeoing to do.
Walt, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region reserve champion bulldogger for the 2020-21 season, has qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo next week in Casper, Wyo.
“The original plan was to go to school, get a criminal justice degree and go to law school,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a bad plan, but it’s kind of hard to juggle the time it takes to rodeo and be completely committed to law school.
“I’m only going to have this opportunity once, so I might as well rodeo while I can. I can always go back and work on a law degree.”
A relative latecomer to rodeo, Walt was an all-state football player at Coleman High School, even generating interest in a few college programs. He just wasn’t interested in continuing football.
“I was tired. It was hard, all the workouts in the morning and late in the afternoon. I enjoyed playing with my buddies, but we weren’t going to be together anymore. It just wasn’t worth it to me.”
As his football interest waned, his rodeo star was beginning to shine.
His dad had qualified for the CNFR in college as a steer wrestler. He and his mom were instrumental in getting Walt to trying the event.
“It was a way to stay competitive after high school sports,” Walt said, “to have something to work at. I really wasn’t that into it until probably I was 16. By then most kids have chute-dogged through junior high and jumped steers before. I’d been around it so much that it’s not like it was a new concept to me.”
As in football, he excelled as a steer wrestler, reaching the high school state and national finals as a junior and senior, as well as the Texas Circuit pro finals his senior year.
He signed with Cisco Junior College out of high school and competed there for two seasons, earning a CNFR appearance before transferring to Tarleton.
“I looked at a few other options. I wanted to stay in the Southwest Region, and Tarleton has everything I need to compete. It’s centralized, so I can rodeo on the weekends. It was a lot more familiar to me, coming from a small school. The transition was a lot easier.”
In the 2020-21 college rodeo season he captured four top 10 finishes, including seconds at Ranger and Clarendon.
“The college rodeo season is one of the toughest things to do,” he said. “You only get 10 rodeos. In pro rodeo you can go to 80 a year, but in college you have to make all 10 count.
“You really need to be prepared, get out to a good start and make the first rodeos count so that pressure is not on you at the end of the season.”
That sounds like a good plan, too.