“My dad (Monty) was a bulldogger and my mom (Nancy) was a barrel racer,” Cronin said. “So we’ve been loading up the trailer, jumping in the pickup and going to rodeos for as long as I can remember.”
The elder Cronins passed down the tricks of the rodeo trade.
“It has always been horses first,” said the 29-year-old, who is one in the long line of Cronins who were high school football standouts for the Gettysburg Battlers. “I put big-time emphasis on my horses. If they are at the top of their game, it allows me to be at the top of my game. So the focus is always on them first.”
Casey Cronin likes to joke with his mom, who still barrel races.
“Growing up, we were using the generic shampoo in the house, but the high-end salon products were out in the barn for the horses,” he said with a laugh. “So I like to kid her and say we always knew where we stood. Horses first.”
Cronin has grown up not only admiring and respecting his parents, but emulating them as well. Just as he and his siblings grew up following their parents on the Badlands Rodeo Circuit when there was time, that life has continued for Casey, his wife and pro barrel racer, Nikki, and their 2-year-old son, Wiley, and their 14-month-old daughter, Layla.
The Cronins also continue to farm cropland, raise cattle on their ranch west of Gettysburg and focus on their family.
“We go to probably about 20 to 25 rodeos a year,” Casey Cronin said.
Nikki and Casey Cronin will be in Aberdeen Tuesday night to barrel race and wrestle steers at the second and final night of the 38th annual Dacotah Stampede Rodeo. Both performances tonight and Tuesday will start at 7 p.m. in the grandstand on the Brown County Fairgrounds on the northwest edge of Aberdeen.
“We really like going to the Aberdeen rodeo because it is nice and close for us,” Nikki Cronin said. “Plus they usually draw big crowds and the crowds are really into it. And that is really nice as well.”
Casey Cronin said when he and his siblings were growing up going to rodeos, they would be handed off to their dad after he performed so their mom could perform. That tradition also has been carried on by him and Nikki with their kids.
“It can make things challenging at times, but we usually have a lot of fun,” Nikki Cronin said. “We recently had a couple of weekends off, which was nice, but our son kept saying, ‘Let’s go to the rodeo.’ So I know he really likes it.”
The Cronins like the family atmosphere that farming, ranching and rodeo foster.
“In rodeo, they welcome you into the family right away, and you make life-long friends,” Casey Cronin said. “Everyone is competing, for sure, but everyone also pulls together and helps out everyone in any way that they can. And if you need a place to stay overnight, you always have a place available, no matter where you are.”
Even though they grew up only about one hour apart, Casey and Mobridge High School graduate Nikki (Moon) did not meet until they went to South Dakota State University, where both were on the rodeo team for a couple of seasons.
“Growing up, Nikki’s dad was our crop adjuster from Glenham,” Casey Cronin said. “So I kind of knew who her dad was, but I didn’t know Nikki.”
She rodeoed for her first two years at SDSU before focusing full-time on her nursing career. She grew up doing youth rodeos.
Casey didn’t start steer wrestling until his sophomore year of college.
“I got started when I went to the Cowan family bulldogging school at Highmore,” he said. “So I was kind of a late bloomer.”
Nikki and Casey Cronin are each seasoning new rodeo horses, so this season hasn’t always gone as planned. Casey has been riding Chuck since last winter, and Nikki will ride Roy for the first time in competition at Aberdeen. Both have the utmost respect for the animals at the rodeo.
“It just takes awhile to click when you are on a new horse,” Casey Cronin said. “There is also a trust factor there between you and your horse, and it takes some time to build that relationship. Your horse is the one who is going to put you in position to have success. But once the two of you start clicking, it feels great.”
Casey Cronin said that in steer wrestling, a lot can go wrong. Not only does the bulldogger have to worry about his horse, the steer and himself, but the hazer and his horse on the other side of the chute. The job of the hazer and his horse is to ride parallel with the steer to ensure the steer runs in a straight line.
“You have to be super focused because you are dealing with three animals and two people. Now, there are a lot of different ways things can down with that many things involved in something that is supposed to happen in only a few seconds. So you have to be prepared for anything.”
For Nikki Cronin, she likes the speed and challenge that barrel racing provides. Barrel racing is also a sport of seconds.
And both Cronins are looking forward to seeing how their seconds in the spotlight turn out this week in Aberdeen.