he 107th annual Pendleton Round –Up, Pendleton, Oregon, one of America’s premier rodeos, began Monday, Sept. 11, with two slack events--steer roping and barrel racing--eliminating a lot of hopefuls from the cowboys and cowgirls who will participate in the four-day event, which officially runs Wednesday through Saturday.
Four Texans took the top four times in steer roping.
Slack is rodeo’s version of the playoffs. Like most major rodeos the Round-Up has more competitors seeking spots in the rodeo than will fit into the four days of the official rodeo, Wednesday-Saturday. So “slack” allows every hopeful an opportunity to try out, with the best times making it into the rodeo. Once the rodeo begins on Wednesday, the eliminations continue, with only the top competitors making it into Saturday’s finals.
The Pendleton Round-Up was selected this year as the Best Outdoor Rodeo by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the sponsoring organization for national rodeo competition that includes the more than 700 competitors who are trying out for this year’s Round-Up. As one of the later rodeos in the summer season, the Round-Up is a critical win for many of those hoping to accumulate enough winnings to make it into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the world series of rodeo, in December in Las Vegas.
This year’s Round-Up is noting the centennial of World War I, when hundreds of cowboys from Eastern Oregon joined the Army in a “rough rider” company to defend America in Europe. 1917 was also the first year that the Round-Up Championship was won by Yakima Canutt, a cowboy from the region who went on to win the championship a record-setting three more times into the early 1920’s, then pursued a career in Hollywood as an early cowboy movie star.
In the first of Monday’s two slack events, steer roping and barrel racing, the former for men, the second for women, Tuf Cooper, Weatherford, TX, a longtime competitor at the Round-Up, had the best time, roping his steer in 13.1 seconds. Cooper was followed by Shay Good, Midland, TX, at 13.8 seconds, and in third, the man who has won more world rodeo championships than any other competitor, Trevor Brazile, Decatur, TX, at 14.0. He was followed closely by fellow Decatur, TX native, Will Gasperson at 14.8. In all, 79 ropers signed up to compete for a steer roping spot in the Round-Up.
The 27-year-old Cooper noted that his steer cooperated beautifully, giving him the perfect slack on his rope over the right hip after he roped the horns, both requirements to place in the event. “He gave me the right handed cant,” exclaimed the top finisher. “The grass is awesome . . . it was a blessing today.” Cooper has had an excellent year, winning at 17 rodeos in the US and Canada. In his 19-year PRCA career he has won nearly $1.7 million while capturing three world titles.
In steer roping the horses run fast but in barrel racing, one of the few rodeo events for women, the horses run even faster, as the women race to set the fastest time in rounding three widely-spaced barrels. At the Round-Up those barrels are more widely spaced than at any other rodeo, doubling the usual racing time for the horses. Unlike other rodeo arenas, the Round-Up has a grass field surrounded by a dirt track. To allow the horses good footing as they round the barrels, those barrels are set up in the track, rather than on the grass, lengthening the race course.
At the top of Monday’s field of 42 women signed up for the barrel racing slack was Kimmie Wall, who crossed the grass in 28.45 seconds. Wall, from Roosevelt, UT, was the 2015 Pendleton Round-Up champion in the event. She was followed by Sydni Blanchard, 28.81; Jackie Ganter, 28.91, and Ericka Nelson, 28.95. Wall is currently ranked #15 in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association standings with nearly $52,000 in winnings this year in the event. She’s barely ahead of Ganter, Abilene, TX, ranked #16 with nearly $52,000, and Blanchard, Albuquerque, NM, #18, with nearly $52,000. One of these women may take the 2017 Round-Up championship in barrel racing.