And Still King…
David Motes Strikes Again at Salinas

Every cowboy who ever entered California Rodeo Salinas has dreamed of winning one of the most coveted buckles in all the land. David Motes just added to his unrivaled collection yet again, and now has an unimaginable dozen of the shiny beauties, which are as coveted as any prize in professional rodeo’s regular season.

Motes, who’s 65 now, just won that 12th Salinas buckle with Denny Watkins. The talented twosome, who’ve been forever friends, have won a ton together over the years, including the 1981 Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic darn near 40 years ago. They this year dominated the PRCA Gold Card Team Roping event at the July 19-22 California Rodeo, winning both the open and incentive, which is for teams whose ages total 125 years or more.

David Motes and Denny Watkins now own a combined 17 California Rodeo buckles. Kendra Santos Photo

David’s Salinas buckle count now stands at 12, and the longstanding Gold Card rule that you can’t win both buckles the same year—so as to spread the Salinas wealth—is all that kept him from—to use the donut term for 13—a baker’s dozen.

Motes turned pro 45 years ago—in late July of 1973—right after Salinas. So the first time he threw his name in the hat at the California Rodeo was 1974. He won his first Salinas buckle straight out of the box as a rookie there with brother Dennis, with whom David won the world in 1977. David won his second Salinas buckle with Dennis that same gold-buckle year, and went on to win the rodeo with Dennis Watkins in 1984, and Dennis Gatz in 1986. Motes and Watkins struck again in 1989. (Yes, Dennis has been the second-luckiest name of David’s life.)

Salinas buckles are in serious cowboy demand.

“I’m lucky in this arena, and I’m good in this arena,” said 22-time NFR header David, who’s dad to daughter Mika and sons Casey and four-time NFR heeler Ryan. “My horsemanship and my consistency mean a lot here. I’ve always been a good jackpot roper, because I catch a lot of steers. Anything can happen over this long score, because if you can knock ’em all down clean, they always give you money here.”

The 35-foot scoreline for the rodeo ropers is the longest in the sport. The Gold Card cowboys use the calf ropers’s and bulldoggers’ 25-foot scoreline.

“This year, the fresher, wilder, smaller cattle sure made it interesting,” grinned Motes, who on top of winning the Gold Card open and incentive also split third in the fourth round of the rodeo with partner Justin Spence. “Running these steers under these conditions made for a very high degree of difficulty. I may have a tougher time these days at the one-headers, but I’ve still got it at Salinas.”

Motes, who won the incentive buckle with Watkins last year, also has roped with John Bassett and Gary Ford for Salinas Gold Card wins.

Motes and Watkins backing in the box to run their high-team steer at Salinas. Kendra Santos Photo

“Let’s face it, this is David’s house,” smiled Watkins, who thanks in large part to Motes has a five-buckle California Rodeo collection of his own.

A couple months before this year’s California Rodeo, a head horse bucked Motes off, and in the wreck he broke 11 ribs and his collarbone, and cracked his tailbone. He showed up sore, and had to tape up almost head to toe. But Salinas is on Motes’s must-not-miss list.

Motes counts his horsemanship and consistency as two keys to his Salinas success. Kendra Santos Photo

“The tradition here at Salinas is awesome, and you can’t beat the 60-70-degree weather,” he said. “It’s like the good old days, when we all stayed in one spot for a few days, and got to spend some time together. Almost everywhere we go these days, we’re in and out. At Salinas, we hang out for four days, and barbecue with our friends.

Motes was inducted into the California Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2012.

“Salinas is one big, old-school rodeo reunion, and it doesn’t get any better than the hospitality here. This is the Salad Bowl of the World, and we all get to founder on fresh fruits and vegetables when we come to Salinas. These are the best strawberries in the world, and they’re shipped around the world from right here in Salinas.”

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