Pendleton, Oregon, Sept. 13—Clint Laye of Cadogan, Alberta rode a horse named Bronc Riding Nation in today’s action at the 109th Pendleton Round-Up. The four-day rodeo continues Saturday for the finals.
While it may not describe the actual nation, his horse’s moniker definitely described the estimated 15,000 who nearly filled the Round-Up arena. In their colorful western shirts, cowboy hats and hardcore rodeo enthusiasm, the cheers for both horses and their rider contestants continued unabated for hours during a warm day perfect for the event. For a time it was the bronc riding nation.
In the bareback riding event at the Round-Up today Laye, ranked 9th in the PRCA (Professional World Cowboys Association) world standings in this event, earned the best score of the day, 89.5. In the bucking events two judges give a portion of a 50 point total to the rider and 50 to the performance of the horse or bull for theoretical 100 points. Theoretical, because a 90-point ride is considered nearly heroic and 100 not to be found.
Laye, 25, finished the world standings in 2018 in 17th, short of the 15th place, which would have qualified him for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in Las Vegas in December, the world series of rodeo. The PRCA qualifies the top 15 in each event to compete in the WNFR. But if he remains in 9th he’ll show up this year to compete with the world’s best in December. He has made the WNFR just once, in 2015, his best year, when he won 11 rodeos. He has won seven this year. Like so many in rodeo, he has loads of rodeo relatives. His dad, mom, a cousin and his granddad all competed. Granddad is in the Canadian ProRodeo Hall of Fame. As expected of every Canadian he started out playing hockey before he followed his dad and mom into rodeo.
In second behind Laye in the saddle bronc riding event was Tilden Hooper, Carthage, TX, with an 86.5 score, one of 109 Texans competing at this year’s Pendleton Round-Up. The 31-year-old, who turned pro in 2006, has appeared at the WNFR five times, as recently as last year. Given his #5 spot in the PRCA world standings Hooper should be in Las Vegas again this December. He has won over $125,000 this year on the PRCA circuit. He has ridden in bareback competitions since 15 and in 2007 went on to win both the College National Finals Rodeo Bareback Riding championship and the PRCA bareback rookie of the year award.
Mason Clements, Draper, UT, took third on Friday with a score of 81.5, thanks to a re-ride after his first horse demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm. In fact, there were four re-rides during this first event of Friday’s rodeo, an unusual number for one day, let alone one event. Some say the horses become agitated because of Pendleton’s unusual grass infield, the only rodeo arena in the nation with grass. Anything different is bound to spook some horses.
Clements is in 17th place in the bareback world standings, close to the 15th place that is the minimum qualifying point for the WNFR. The difference in winnings is just a couple of thousand dollars so with luck and the right horse he might move up a few places during the Round-Up. The 27-year-old has qualified for the WNFR in the past two years so he no doubt is hoping for a third.
Friday also saw a visit from George Taylor, a former executive with Caterpillar who was named last year as CEO of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the league in which the Round-Up participates.
Taylor noted that the PRCA continues to grow, with 120 new rodeos just in 2019 and over $40 million in prize money paid out to cowboy and cowgirl competitors.
Taylor, 57, said that 2018 was his first visit to the Round-Up, one of 50 or 60 rodeos he attempted to visit this year.
“The environment, the history. You never forget it. When they go from the dirt to the grass, it’s unlike any other rodeo anywhere,” he said of the Round-Up. Referring to rodeo nationally, he said, “we’re almost at 5.5 to 6 million people who have attended a rodeo this year. We want to expose more people to the sport. It’s great entertainment and a great value.”
Here’s how it went in other events on the third day of the Round-Up:
Whereas the competitors in the bucking events want big numbers, in the timed events such as roping, the competitors want the smallest possible number, say 9.7 in the case of Roger Nonella of Redmond, OR. That’s how many seconds it took him to catch and tie his calf on Friday afternoon and take first place for the day.
Nonella, 32, has never been to the WNFR, finished last year in 94th place in tie-down roping and doesn’t show up in the top 50 this year. So, he’s not going to the WNFR. Like a number of PRCA competitors, he wins a few rodeos a year, enough to keep him in the game, but his real job is running a ranch after graduating from college with a degree in agricultural business. He won the tie-down title at the Round-Up in 2013 with an average time of 10.7 seconds. And this year he won the nearby Chief Joseph Days rodeo in Joseph, Oregon. In fact, after joining the PRCA in 2007 he has won one or two rodeos every year, beginning in 2009.
Bigger times were turned in by D. J. Parker, Hollister, CA, 12.4 seconds, and Wyatt Hansen, Oakdale, CA, 12.5. Neither of the competitors show up in the top 50 standings for the event.
Bronc riders are much like bareback riders but they get a saddle. Still, the skill and strength needed to stay on a horse bred to buck doesn’t vary between the two events. It’s hard.
Mitch Pollock, Winnemucca, NV, rode Tiger Warrior to the best score of the day in the event, 87.5. As in bareback riding, bronc riders give a lot of the credit to their horse for any successful rides. In fact, so do the official judges, who give at least half the credit to the horse in the points system that allocates a maximum of 50 for the rider and 50 for the horse.
“I’ve seen that horse a lot,” said Pollock. “He bucked me off the second jump in Calgary so I was glad I’d seen him before.”
Pollock travels with members of the famous Wright rodeo family. “I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity.”
He pointed to the change in his career trajectory.
“Three years ago I won fifteen hundred bucks in the PRCA and now I’m 10th in the world. It’s amazing.”
Regarding his chances in Saturday’s Round-Up finals: “There’s a bunch of great bronc riders here but whenever I get on ‘em I give it my all. Stay positive, stay healthy and hopefully look forward to my first time in the national finals. There’s nothing like walking out here and seeing the people and seeing the grass. There’s so much history around here and it’s just a special place to be.”
Pollock, 26, has had a good year, winning eight rodeos and splitting the win at two others. Although this is his fifth year of professional competition, it’s only his second year of going hard in pursuit of a spot in the WNFR. His career has gained momentum over the five years, from $1,159 in winnings in 2016, $9,330 in 2017 and $36,918 last year. This year he’s at over $94,000 and in 11th place in the saddle bronc riding event so he should be on his way to the WNFR in December, where he could more than double his year’s winnings.
In a tie for second in Friday’s competition were Colt Gordon, Comanche, OK, and Spencer Wright, Milford, UT, scoring 86.
Although his bio says he started competing when he was five or six years old, Gordon is in only his fourth year of professional rodeo competition, with career earnings somewhere over $75,000 as of last year. He finished 2018 in 21st place in the PRCA world standings and is in 16th place this year with over $78,000 in earnings for the year, less than $4,000 from current 15th place holder JJ Elshere. Fifteen is the cutoff for qualification for the WNFR.
Spencer Wright, as all rodeo fans are aware, is part of an awesome rodeo family, with so many members it can be hard to count. In fact, five of them are competing this year at the Round-Up, often against each other. Wrights currently occupy the first, third, seventh, 12th, 18th and 43rd places in the world standings for the saddle bronc riding event, with Spencer at #7, thanks to well over $100,000 in winnings in 2019. The 28-year-old joined the PRCA in 2012 and has accumulated over $500,000 in winnings with two trips to the WNFR and one world title at the age of 23.
Or, if you prefer, steer wrestling, where two former classmates from the local Blue Mountain Community College Timberwolves took first and second places on Friday.
A regional favorite, Chance Gartner from nearby Touchet, WA, caught and turned his steer in 5.7 seconds to take first place in steer wrestling on Friday. Gartner stands 8th in the PRCA Columbia River Circuit Standings. Gartner competed on the Blue Mountain Community College rodeo team.
Dalton Massey, also a onetime student at the local Blue Mountain Community College, managed 6.2 seconds to take second on the day. Massey, from nearby Hermiston, OR, is ranked 6th in the event in the PRCA’s Columbia River Circuit standings. The 26-year-old is ranked #41 in the PRCA world standings with over $36,000 in winnings this year, a long way from the first 15 places that qualify for the WNFR and below numbers 26, Blake Knowles of Heppner, and 31, Jesse Brown of Baker City, fellow Oregonians competing in the current Pendleton Round-Up.
In third was Sam Mackenzie, Jordan Valley, OR, 7 seconds. Mackenzie has also ridden saddle broncs.
Of the three top finishers on Friday, only Massey will appear in Saturday’s finals performance.
Of 12 roping teams on Friday only one made a time with winning potential. Between “No times” and penalties, the rest were out of the running except for Cooper Mills, St John, WA, and Jacob Paul, Post Falls, ID, with a time of 7 seconds. In team roping the first partner, the header, ropes a running steer’s horns and turns the steer so his partner, the heeler, can rope the steer’s hind feet. Neither Mills or Paul has accumulated the winnings needed to appear in the top 50 in the PRCA world standings.
Leading overall in the go-round as of Friday was the team of Lane Ivy, Dublin, TX, and Cesar de la Cruz, Tucson, AZ, with a time of 4.6 seconds. They are followed at 4.7 by Joshua Torres and Jonathan Torres, Ocala, FL and at 5.4 by Bubba Buckaloo, Kingston, OK, and Cole Davison, Stephenville, TX. In the PRCA standings Buckaloo’s at 25th, Ivy at 29th and Torres at 33rd, meaning none are likely to be in Las Vegas for the WNFR this year. Among the heelers the rankings are de la Cruz at 29th, Torres 34th and Davison 19th, giving Davison a chance at a qualifying place if he can add another $5,000 to $6,000 to his annual winnings to date of $58,000.
Of these teams only Buckaloo and Davison will compete in Saturday’s finals.
Kobey Radley, Montpelier, LA, posted a score of 86 on Friday to take first in bull riding. He was followed for the day by Jordan Wacey Spears, Redding, CA, with 84 points, and Cole Melancon, Liberty, TX.
Radley, 21, qualified last year for the WNFR and placed in three rounds to rank ninth in the average with 259 points on the three head. He’s currently ranked 14th so should just make it to this year’s WNFR. He will ride 9th in the order on Saturday on Whiskey Hand.
Spears won this event at last year’s Round-Up and has a good shot at a follow-up. He’s competed in the Round-Up since at least 2013, when he came in second. He’s ranked #9 in the world standings with well over $100,000 in winnings this year and has qualified three times for the WNFR. The 27-year-old will be riding 7th in the order in Saturday’s final Round-Up performance aboard Whiskey Bent.
And Melancon will leave the chute on Monte Walsh, 5th in the order. Melancon is 18th in the world standings with an outside chance of making it to one of the 15 positions that would put him in December’s WNFR. The 25-year-old has qualified twice for the WNFR and placed in one round last year to rank 13th in the average with 91 points on one head.
Kim Ziegelgruber took first on Friday in the steer roping event with a time of 16 seconds, followed by Will McBride at 17.1 and Cole Glover at 18.4.
Ziegelgruber, Edmund, OK, once again supports the notion that ropers can compete forever. The 51-year-old joined the PRCA in 2001, has never been to the WNFR and is not going to be there this year since he’s not listed in the top 50 standings. He finished 28th in the PRCA standings in 2014 and while he hasn’t made it to the WNFR, he has twice qualified for the National Steer Roping Finals Rodeo. Like Will McBride, he will compete in the Round-Up’s finals on Saturday so he still has a chance at the title, although he’ll also be competing against King of the Cowboys Trevor Brazile, who, although he is semi-retired, he is certainly still a force to be reckoned with, since he has the best times all week in this event and is the favorite on Saturday.
McBride, Ogallala, NE, 54, is another longtime roper. He joined the PRCA in 1996, has never been to the WNFR but finished last year at 26th in the world standings. He is not in the top 50 this year.
In the Round-Up’s only sanctioned women’s event the fastest time on Friday was set by Cheyenne Allan, Mabton, WA, 28.79 seconds. She was followed by Emily McKinnies, Emmett, ID, 29.03, and Fallon Taylor, Collinsville, TX at 29.40. All three of the competitors will appear in Saturday’s final performance.
Taylor was the barrel racing champion at the WNFR in 2014. She qualified for the NFR seven times between 1995-1998 and 2013 to 2015. She made her first NFR appearance when she was 13.
Allan was the 2018 Columbia River Circuit year end and finals barrel racing champion.
Taylor has had quite a run in several areas, from young barrel racer, to professional model, to clothing designer. In 2009 Taylor was on a horse that began bucking. When he came down he fractured her skull and as she went off the horse she landed on her head and suffered a broken neck. She recovered and slowly returned to barrel racing, in which she had been competing since nine, qualifying for her first NFR at 13.
At the Round-Up on Friday a line of fans waited to speak to her or get her autograph. The former model has now developed a line of clothing and developed a huge following through social media.
“The fans are really amazing,” she said. “They show up everywhere we go just to show love and support. I came back from a really serious injury and I’ve shared a lot of my comeback story and a lot of my vulnerability. I’m excited to share that to encourage others. I try to share all of it on social media not just my highlight reel and I have all of these friends now.
“I’m a barrel racer but also a business owner and I have my clothing line. We’re very excited to have bold cowgirls everywhere and maybe someday we’ll be dressing cowboys too. It’s been a long drive and we’re excited to be part of it.”