Gunderson’s final ride

Dawn Johnson

Dawn Johnson

Four years ago, Joe Gunderson made a decision to attend SDSU. Four years later, the rodeo team is lucky he is still here.

A Montgomery, Minn., native, Gunderson is one of the best collegiate rodeo bareback riders in the nation. He has won three regional championships and was two points away from last year’s national championship

Even though he is from Minnesota, the roots of Gunderson’s rodeo career stem back to Onida. Early on, Gunderson and his sister would spend their summers with their dad at Sutton’s ranch near Onida. During these summer days, Gunderson would attend many rodeos, where he would eventually build a passion for an enriched future in bareback horse riding.

Gunderson came to SDSU in fall 2003. He was on a mission to be the best bareback rider in the country. To accomplish his goals, Gunderson has worked very hard.

“It’s different than most college sports. There are no set practices. You put in the time for what you want to do and how good you want to be,” Gunderson said.

It seems to have worked for Gunderson. He attributed his success not only his physical abilities, but to his mindset and drive to constantly succeed at the highest level.

“(He was) influenced at a young age to be the best he can. I can see Joe in the national finals, and someday a world champion,” Coach Terry McCutcheon said.

In a sport where 28 is old, Gunderson has an education to fall back on when his rodeo career is done.

“Coach McCutcheon calls it an insurance policy,” Gunderson said.

With his talent and work ethic, Gunderson could have easily packed his bags and headed south for more rodeos and more money. Instead, he stayed here and made a name for himself while working toward that “insurance policy.”

Using McCutcheon’s positive influence, inspiring him toward a degree first and fame later, Gunderson has relished his college experience.

“The whole experience has been memorable; traveling, meeting new people and seeing things others don’t,” Gunderson said.

In Gunderson’s first regional title his freshman year, he had a horse land sideways on him in Dickinson, N.D.

“I think that injury stayed with Joe throughout the summer,” McCutcheon said.

His sophomore year, Gunderson won in San Antonio, Texas, and at one point was ranked the best bare-back rider among the professionals.

Gunderson’s junior year did not come with as much success as previous years, mainly because of the strength of the region. Yet he still won another regional title, his third in a row.

McCutcheon believes Gunderson has set an example for the rest of the rodeo team.

“In rodeo there is no pass, steal or shot. Instead, the team performs well by watching a leader like Joe go out there and take care of business. He motivates them to raise their level of competitiveness by setting the example,” McCutcheon said.

Besides a riding hand that has been beaten up through the years, when you look at Gunderson, he appears just like any other college student. McCutcheon said Gunderson’s overall demeanor toward rodeo hasn’t changed much throughout his years here.

“Joe is a soft-spoken guy who came in green with talent. He gets to the point and has worked hard to get where he is now,” McCutcheon said.

Gunderson is currently at the top of the region and will be competing every weekend until the end of school, including the SDSU Jackrabbit Stampede Rodeo this weekend.

Gunderson will compete in Dickinson, N.D, May 4-5 for a fourth regional title. If he finishes in the top three there, he will move on to nationals June 9-16 in Casper, Wyo.