It was a hot, sunny day in Pendleton for the second performance of the 109th Pendleton Round-Up, a perfect day for a cowboy from the tropics—the tropics of Australia that is. Jake Finlay, one of over 700 contestants who enlisted for up to four days of rodeo at the Round-Up, was born and raised in the quaint town of Goondiwindi, Queensland, population approximately 5,500. And it’s appropriate that a key attraction of Goondiwindi, plunk in the center of town, is a statue of a famous race horse, Gunsynd. Because Finlay rides fast horses for a living. Of course, his horses buck.
In rodeo’s iconic event, the saddle bronc ride, the man from down under scored 87.5 atop Zoaria Hills, a dust-raising bucker from stock company Calgary Stampede. It was the best score of the day and second best of the rodeo in this event so far, after Cody Demoss’ score of 90 on Wednesday.
“I been on that horse the other day, just on Saturday and I did pretty good so I was excited to have him again,” said Finlay. “I’ve had a lot of luck on that horse. It’s a good one from Calgary.”
Finlay said he came to the U.S. to attend college. He was recruited by Panhandle State College in Goodwell, Oklahoma, five years ago to join the school’s top rodeo team. He not only graduated in 2018 with a degree in animal science nutrition and production but won the saddle bronc riding championship his senior year and helped his team take the championship at the College National Finals Rodeo for the second consecutive year.
He said his mother was happy he moved to the U.S., not because she wasn’t going to miss him, but because he was going to college. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to school if it wasn’t for rodeo.”
Finlay’s new professional career is booming.
“This is my third year here to Pendleton,” he said. “It’s my favorite area; I love this rodeo. This is going to be my best year yet. I’m just kind of riding a bubble right now and have a really good year. I’m just happy to be out here.”
Sterling Crawley, Stephenville, TX, ranked 7 in the world standings came in second for bronc riding with a score of 86. The 28-year-old’s older brother Jacobs was the 2015 Saddle Bronc Riding World Champion. The younger Crawley finished 13th in the event’s world standings last year and he made his 5th appearance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, rodeo’s world series. He has yet to win a world title but he’s in 5th place this year so should be at the WNFR in December. The event accepts the top 15 competitors in each of rodeo’s events sponsored by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), with which the Pendleton Round-Up is associated. Big brother Jacobs is currently in 4th place in the event’s world standings.
Jessie Wright, 30, from Milford, UT, part of the Wright family rodeo dynasty and saddle bronc champion at last year’s Round-Up, scored 85.5 on Thursday for the day’s third place. He also won this event in 2016.
In other Round-Up events, these were the results:
Top finisher Thursday in the bareback riding event, with a score of 87, was Kody Lamb, Sherwood Park, AB, riding Big Star from Four Star Rodeo stock contractors.
“I actually got on that horse earlier in the year and got him worked out so I got on him today and my first order of business was to get him worked out and I did.”
Lamb is a newcomer to Pendleton.
“This was my first time here. It seemed every year I was in college and that last two years I was hurtin’ at this time of the year so this is my rookie trip to the Round-Up. Everyone says what it awesome rodeo it is and it lives up to the expectation. I couldn’t be happier.”
As an indication of the travel required of rodeo competitors, Lamb said he was homebound, even though he must be back in Pendleton on Saturday for the Round-Up’s finals.
“I gotta go back to Alberta for a rodeo tomorrow night so I’m just gonna head for that one now and get back here on Saturday. It’s the best year of my career so far in terms of averages and money won and scores. I’m just trying to be really consistent and do my job—show up every time and do my best. This time of the year guys are getting’ tired and gettin’ sore but I just keep bringing it every time. That’s all I’ve got on my mind.”
Lamb was the 2014 PRCA rookie of the year and qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2016, which he has described as the highlight of his five-year rodeo career so far. And beyond rodeo, he is guitar-playing singer, song writer and recording artist.
In second place Thursday in bareback riding with 85 was Orin Larsen, the cowboy who won this event at the 2018 Round-Up. Most recently the 28-year-old from Inglis, MB won the rodeo in nearby Canby, Oregon. He is ranked third in the PRCA’s world standings for the event, which means he is a definite for the WNFR in December. His older brother is a saddle bronc rider and a younger brother rides bulls.
Behind Larsen with a score of 82.5, was Leighton Berry, Weatherford TX, currently 24 in the PRCA world standings but #3 in the separate PRCA rookie standings. He attends Weatherford College, where he competes with one of the top college rodeo teams in the country, finishing fifth at the College National Finals Rodeo in this event earlier this year.
Taylor Santos, Creston, CA, managed one of the best times this year in the tie-down roping event, where a cowboy atop a galloping horse ropes a calf, leaps from his horse and attempts to quickly tie the calf’s feet. Santos managed it in 8.3 seconds, just ahead of regional favorite Jordan Tye, Canby, OR, with a time of 10.6. In third place was Jared Parke, Gooding, ID at 11.8. Parke is a local favorite because he competed with Pendleton’s Blue Mountain Community College rodeo team, which at the time was ranked #2 nationally in college rodeo for this event and which took him to the College National Finals Rodeo.
The 25-year-old Santos is ninth in the event’s PRCA world standings, which means he should be at the WNFR in Las Vegas in a couple of months. It will be his first appearance at the world series of rodeo since he turned pro three years ago. He was the 2014 College NFR champion in tie-down roping.
Tye is ranked 10th in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River Circuit.
Steer wrestling was a mostly regional show on Thursday, with 10 of the 12 cowboy contestants from the Pacific Northwest, as were the top three finishers.
Blake Knowles, a familiar face at the Pendleton Round-Up, finished first on Thursday with a time of 5.6 seconds. Knowles, who turned 37 on Wednesday, has competed in the WNFR four times, the last time just last year, but is unlikely to make it this year since he’s in 26th place in the event’s world standings. The PRCA accepts the top 15 competitors in each event for its championship event in Las Vegas in December. If he can win at the Round-Up this week, he’ll have won four rodeos for the year in each of Oregon, Texas, California and Saskatchewan.
From nearby Walla Walla, WA, B.J. Taruscio, 43, took second place in a time of 5.9 seconds. Taruscio was most recently ranked 24th in the regional Columbia River Circuit. He has been steer wrestling since he was 16 and competing professionally since 19.
Behind Taruscio was Jesse Brown, Baker City, OR, with 6.1. Brown is #1 in the Columbia River Circuit standings and #31 in the PRCA world standings for the event. He won the circuit’s finals rodeo in January which put him on the road to the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in March in Kissimmee, FL. The 27-year-old Brown credits Knowles and his cousin, Trevor Knowles, with teaching him how to steer wrestle. Based on his recent successes Brown is now targeting a trip to the WNFR someday soon.
As with other rodeo roping events, the “no times” crop up a lot in team roping. There were seven of the 12 teams with no times on Thursday, most often because one of the two team members missed a catch. In team roping the header ropes a steer’s head, then pulls the animal around so his partner, the heeler, can rope the steer’s hind feet. All of this takes place while the steer and the mounted ropers are moving quickly across the arena. It’s very challenging. Of the five who caught the steer, two had penalties that put them out of the running.
In the end the well-known team of Clay Smith, Broken Bow, OK, and Jade Corkill, Fallon, NV, had the best time, 5.9 seconds. Smith is ranked #1 in the world standings for the event, with over $140,000 in winnings this year while partner Corkill is ranked 5th among heelers with $100,000 for the year.
Smith, 28, has qualified for the WNFR four times and took one world title, in 2018. He has partnered mostly with Corkill but also with Jake Long and Paul Eaves. When he won last year’s world title he was partnered with Eaves, his heeler for the past four years. They finished fifth at the WNFR in 2017 and second in 2016. Early in his six-year professional rodeo career he was partnered with his brother, Jake. In 2009 they won the U.S. Team Roping Finals in Oklahoma City.
Corkill, 32, has won three world titles in nine WNFR appearances since 2008, the last one in 2017. He and Smith will qualify for this December’s WNFR given their current rankings among headers and heelers.
A local favorite, Brandon Beers, Powell Butte, OR, and heeler partner Justin Davis, Cottonwood, CA, took second place with a time of 6.0 seconds. They were followed by Lane Santos Karney, Creston, CA and Kyle Lockett, Visalia, CA, in 8.6 seconds. Beers is the son of former world champion roper, Mike Beers, who says he started Brandon roping at age 3. Brandon went on to become the PRCA Rookie of the Year in 2005. Now 33, the younger Beers has qualified for the WNFR four times but has yet to duplicate his father’s world title.
Beer’s partner, Davis, 31, qualified once for the WNFR, in 2009 and won one rodeo this year, the nearby High Desert Stampede in Redmond, Oregon, with header Jake Stanley. Davis and Stanley have teamed often since Davis turned professional in 2006, although when Stanley won the team roping title at the Round-Up in 2014 he was teamed with Bucky Campbell.
If it’s hard to get a time in team roping, it seems even harder to get a score in bull riding. Of 18 contestants on the roster Thursday, 14 left the bull before the mandatory eight seconds had passed. One of those left his bull in 7.9 seconds.
Of those who could stay on, Daylon Swearingen, Rochelle, GA, did best on Ols Tubs Nickel Package, scoring 88. Behind him was Trevor Kastner, Roff, OK, at 87, followed by five-time world bull riding champion Sage Steele Kimzey at 84. Kimzey, Strong City, OK, is currently ranked #1 in the event’s world standings, with nearly $250,000 in winnings this year. Swearingen is #16, and Kastner #3 in the world standings.
Swearingen, 20, also competes in the Professional Bull Riding circuit and has just begun his career in PRCA bull riding. He was recently ranked #1 in the PBR and competed in the two-day PBR event that began Monday in Pendleton to kick off the week’s rodeo activities. He also won the bull riding event at the 2019 College National Finals Rodeo after winning the title at the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2018. The New York native worked with his family’s business, staging rodeos in a part of the country where rodeos are not so common as they are in the West. At some point he began mounting bulls.
Kastner, 31, hasn’t captured a world title but he has qualified three times for the WNFR, as recently as last year when he finished 15th. He missed the final four rounds after he was injured at the rodeo.
Kimzey has been a force to be reckoned with in bull riding. Apart from his five world titles, he won the title at the Pendleton Round-Up in 2015 and 2016. He came close last year at the Round-Up but left his bull in the finals on Saturday at 6.5 seconds. The 25-year-old joined the PRCA in 2013 and won his first world title the next year. In his seven-year career he has won nearly $2 million. He became the youngest millionaire winner in PRCA history during the 2016 WNFR, when he was 22. His dad, Ted, was a longtime PRCA barrelman/clown in bull riding events.
Jason Evans demonstrates the longevity possible in the roping ranks. The 49-year-old from Glen Rose, TX captured the best (fastest) time in the steer roping event, 11.5 seconds. He won this event at the Round-Up in 2014 and is a six-time qualifier for the National Finals Steer Roping Rodeo.
Continuing to make the point about the long careers of ropers was local favorite, Joe Talbot, 64, ranked 11th in the regional Columbia River Circuit. Talbot, with a time of 11.9 seconds, is a former Round-Up board member and local rancher.
Trenton Johnson, 30, Blue Mound, KS, took third place Thursday with his time of 12.1 seconds. He is ranked #6 in the Prairie Circuit. He joined the PRCA in 2010 and initially competed in steer wrestling and tie-down and steer roping, winning several regional titles. He won a round recently at the nearby Frontier Days rodeo in Walla Walla, WA.
The “Green Mile” as its sometimes known continued to baffle both riders and horses at the Pendleton Round-Up. Pendleton has the only grass-covered infield of any rodeo arena in the country. Because the grass can be slippery for a galloping horse, the barrel racing course is set up to allow the horses to turn the barrels in a dirt track that rings the grass. This means the course is twice the length of any other barrel racing course. Horses being creatures of habit, they can protest when a course they’ve run in their sleep suddenly becomes twice as long.
But several riders overcame that special challenge on Thursday, including Jessica Crouch, Bend, OR, with her time of 29.33 seconds. Crouch, with her husband, Jim, owns Heritage Brand, a maker of custom horse tack. The two are regulars on the rodeo circuit in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, such as at the WNFR in Las Vegas, where they can mix business and pleasure. Crouch is currently ranked 25th in the Columbia River Circuit standings.
Behind Crouch was Riata Goemmer, Battle Mountain, NV, with a time of 29.44. Goemmer rode immediately after her mom, Mindy Goemmer, who posted a time of 29.94. The younger Goemmer, 19, competed last year in the Nevada High School Rodeo Finals and finished in second place fo the year, behind only her older sister, Daily Goemmer. This summer Riata Goemmer finished 14th in the National High School Rodeo barrel racing competition.
Third place finisher Hanna Smith, 29.68 seconds, celebrated her fourth wedding anniversary Thursday by running the barrels on her paint. She is 14th overall as of Thursday.