The 104th Pendleton Round-Up kicked up its heels and "let 'er buck" Wednesday as nearly 800 registered rodeo competitors crossed their fingers and hoped for the big win in this four-day competition in one of rodeo's most storied towns. The Round-Up continues through the finals on Saturday.
The Round-Up features eight PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) events, so attracts the world's best competitors, hoping a win at Pendleton will boost their chances of earning a berth at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the annual December event in Las Vegas that completes the rodeo calendar and produces the sport's world champions.
K.C. Jones, Decatur, TX, a longtime competitor at the Round-Up, took first place in Wednesday's steer wrestling competition. Jones, 43, who set the Round-Up arena record for the event in 2002 with a time of 3.3 seconds, will be looking to repeat his performance a dozen years later. The Texas cowboy has won over $1 million in prize money in his 19-year rodeo career. Also known as bulldogging, the event has a cowboy chase down a 450-600 pound steer on the run and catch the steer from his horse, then wrestle the steer to the ground and tie it. With typical finish times in the 3-10 second range, Jones wasted no time at 5.5 seconds. Right behind him was Clayton Morrison, Cavalier, ND, with a time of 5.6 seconds, followed by Beau Clark, Belgrade, MT, at 7.6. Not unusual, eight of the 12 cowboys competing in Wednesday's event failed to catch and tie their steer.
In the day's first roughstock event, where a bucking animal attempts to throw his firmly attached rider, Tim O'Connell, Zwingle, IA, took first with a score of 81 on Stoney Gap in the bareback event. In the bucking events the rider must stay on for 8 seconds to score. If he satisfies that requirement then the score is split between the rider and his mount. O'Connell was followed by Will Lowe, Canyon, TX, in second on Global Rocket, with 80, and in third Caleb Bennett, Tremonton, UT, scored 77 with Up & Away.
The 22-year-old O'Connell joined the professional ranks only last year to win the PRCA Bareback Rider rookie of the year award, while winning nine rodeos and nearly $50,000 in his launch. He followed both his dad and older brother into rodeo, then qualified for the High School National Finals Rodeo four times.
In the first of the timed roping events, tie-down roping, Blair Burk, Durant, OK, caught his calf in 9.2 seconds. Right behind him was Roger Nonella, Klamath Falls, OR, with a time of 9.4 seconds for second place, and Shane Hanchey, Sulphur, LA, 10.3 seconds. The All-Around champion at the Round-Up for the past two years, Trevor Brazile, Decatur, TX, finished 6th on Wednesday and stands at 6th in the average, with 21.2 seconds in two events. Blair is 12th in the average with 22.9. Nonella won the event at the 2013 Pendleton Round-Up. The top finishers in the average through Friday will compete on Saturday for the event championship and possibly the All Around title.
The 41-year-old Burk, has won over $2.4 million in his 21 year professional rodeo career, qualified 19 times for the National Finals Rodeo and previously won the tie-down event at the 2001 Round-Up.
Taos Muncy, Corona, NM, currently leads the world standings in the saddle bronc event and kept that spot at the Round-Up Wednesday, capturing first with a score of 81 atop Kickin Peanut. If he wins the event on Saturday it will be a repeat of his 2011 performance in Pendleton. The 27-year-old became the youngest competitor in history to win the world saddle bronc championship at 20. In his 8-year professional rodeo career he has won over $1 million, 2 world titles, repeating in 2011 and has already won a dozen rodeos this year.
Tied with Muncy on Wednesday was Tyrell Smith, 81, Cascade, MT, on Jollywell Unsocial. Four cowboys tied at 77 for third.
Muncy gave credit on Wednesday to Kickin Peanut.
"A real nice horse," he said. "I got that horse in Rapids City about two to three weeks ago and I placed on him there. Comin' out today he kind of stalled but after that he was what you want every time."
Muncy brought support this year.
"My sister, my wife and my mom all got to come up here this year. Sometimes that's the hardest part, doing good in front of your friends and family."
Regarding his current number one standings, "I'm real fortunate--I can't believe I'm leading it with all the great bronc riders there are. I just like to go and ride broncs and just have fun. As long as there's a rodeo going on you might as well enjoy it!"
Team ropers have one of the most technical challenges in rodeo. Two riders rope a steer, one, the header, captures the steer's head and turns the steer, then the second roper captures the steer's hind feet--and it must be in that order and they must hold the steer tight. As if to prove the difficulty, only 2 of the 12 teams were able to finish for a time on Wednesday. Chad Masters, Cedar Hill, TN/Clay O'Brien Cooper, Gardnerville, NV captured first with a time of 6.7 seconds, followed by Joshua and Jonathan Torres, Ocala, FL. in 7.1.
Masters, 34, has already won nearly $1.5 million in his 12-year professional career, and two world titles in 2007, 2012. In 2010 he and then-partner Jade Corkill won the event at the 100th Pendleton Round-Up. He is tied for third on the all-time winner list, with four National Finals Rodeo titles. His partner Cooper, 53, a 35-year professional rodeo competitor, has over $2.5 million in winnings, seven world titles, and has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 27 times. The two placed in five rounds of the NFR in 2012, winning the NFR average title enroute to gold buckles and the event award of $196,899.
The most fearsome event, from the spectator's view and the competitor's, is bull riding. Bulls are the largest roughstock in rodeo and they can become nearly impossible to ride, with amazing athleticism on the part of the bull focused on ridding himself of that pesky rider. They're often successful: 12 of 19 riders on Wednesday did not score. Dallee Mason, 26, Weiser, ID, had a terrific 86 point ride on Happy Hooker to take first, followed by Clayton Savage, 28, Yoder, WY, on Minnie Me, 85, Sage Steel Kimzey,Strong City, OK, on Sunburn,82, and Elliot Jacoby, Fredericksburg, TX, on Kimosabe with 80.
Savage has competed professionally since 2007, with $498,865 in winnings and three qualifications for the NFR. Kimzey is in his rookie year, ranked the number one rookie with $127,887 in winnings to date.
The last of the roping events, steer roping, saw longtime Round-Up competitor J.D. Yates, Pueblo, CO, take first Wednesday with a 16-second ride. Close behind was Chance Kelton, Mayer, AZ, 16.5 seconds, and Dave Inman, Bend, OR, 17.1.
The 54-year-old Yates has won nearly $1.5 million since joining professional rodeo in 1975 and qualified 21 times for the National Finals Rodeo. Kelton, 39, a professional for 20 years, has $808,193 in lifetime winnings and three qualifications for the NFR. He won the nearby Walla Walla Frontier Days rodeo earlier this summer and in 2012 his horse Bullseye wwas voted the AQHA/PRCA Steer Roping Horse of the Year.
In the final event, barrel racing, Round-Up's only women's event for professional rodeo competitors, Christy Loflin, Franktown, CO, finished with the best time for the day, 28.54 seconds. Brittany Pozzi, Victoria, TX, took second place with a time of 29.29, just ahead of Valerie Gillespie,Duchess, AB, 29.39. Loflin, 40, won this event here in 2012 and 2013. She's ranked 15th in the event and and has competed in professional rodeo for the past 13 years. Pozzi, 30, has won two world titles, 2007/2009, in barrel racing, amasssing winnings of $1.8 million in an 11-year professional career, and won nine rodeos last year while finishing 12th in the world rankings.