Mike George cracked out of ProRodeo retirement only to heel for Blake Hirdes, and it paid off Dec. 31, 2023, when they took home the California Circuit Finals aggregate title in Red Bluff.
Hirdes and George, Turlock and La Grange natives, were 18.0 seconds on three head to win the average and punch their tickets to the NFR Open. The team first paired up on the ProRodeo road in the 2000s when 2022 NFR Open Champion header Hirdes was just starting out.When it came time to think about partners for 2023, he was adamant about getting George, 54, back on the road.
“I know in the past [Mike] was just always really easy to rope with,” Hirdes, 36, said. “I never had to worry about him. He tries hard every time, and he’s smart and knows how to win.”
How to win the California Circuit Finals
Hirdes and George kicked off the circuit finals with a 5.5 in the first round, good enough for third and $1,114 a man. They had a good steer that was on the slower end.
“The first steer didn’t know what to do, but he was good,” George explained. “The steers were soft, and I didn’t know being in that arena with older steers, you just have to slow down and not run over yourself. So, I was just trying to catch the first one and then build from there.”
Their second steer was stronger and had a no-time on him from the first round. Hirdes and George made sure to just catch, and they were 6.5.
They entered the third round third in the average with 12.0 on two head, and their game plan was to do their jobs and let the chips fall where they may.
“Before we ran the third steer, I told Blake, ‘I’m just catching,’” George said. “’We’ve won third no matter what, and they’re a full second ahead of us, I can’t make up that much time, so it’s not worth it. Let’s just catch this steer and let it play out.’ And that’s kind of what our plan was. We knew we had a decent steer that we could just catch.”
“Just catching” worked out well for the team, as they were second in the round with a 6.0 for $1,393 a man to take the average title and $3,343 each.
Out of retirement and on the road
Early in the 2000s, George made the decision to stay on the circuit front when, one year, he came out of the winter rodeos leading the world and then hit a major dry spell and didn’t win a dime. He and his wife, Catherine, welcomed a baby boy around that time, giving him more reason to stay home.
Even rodeoing on the circuit front became challenging as they had two more children and his career as a farrier—and later a pickup man—started taking off. For many years, life for George was taking his kids to junior rodeos, working and entering amateur rodeos. That is until Hirdes called last fall, offering the opportunity George had been waiting for.
“It was Blake,” George said. “It’s hard to say no to a guy that ropes that good. If you’re in it with him, you almost know that you’re going to win something—you just have to catch and do your job. He takes care of a lot.”
Hirdes and George both agree that having years of experience under their belts helps in their partnership and in the game of rodeo in general.
“It’s kind of knowing how to play the game,” George said. “For me, now, I enjoy just going. I’m not trying to win. I don’t have to win. I have fun doing it. If I miss, I’m not worried about it because I’m not trying to go bigger than better. It’s just reliving a passion that I’ve always had; I’ve rodeoed since I was 9 years old.”
In Colorado Springs this July, George will make his first appearance at the National Circuit Finals since 2006—then the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo. Hirdes, fresh off his 2022 win, is looking forward to his return to Colorado.
“I like going there,” Hirdes said. “I’ve done good there a lot. When it was in Florida, I did really good there, and then I’ve done well in Colorado Springs, too. Even before it was the NFR Open there, they had that other rodeo, and I had done good at it a couple times, so I like that place.”