The team roping at the California Circuit Finals Rodeo was a classic case of last men standing. It happens—in all events, and at all levels of the game. Luckily, there are no style-point deductions in the timed events, because champs Blake Hirdes and Kyle Lockett were the first to chuckle about their 31.5 on three, which included a couple of legs and a fly-by on the corner by Lockett in Round 2.
“Like Lane’s (Frost) dad said in 8 Seconds, we were just lucky everyone else rode so poor,” Hirdes laughed.
The herd of team ropers in the California Circuit is comprised largely of generations-old family friends from back in the day when the Golden State was the historic heartbeat of dally team roping. It’s basically a band of brothers who’ve all known each other all their lives, so a little friendly heckling is always in order.
“Way to stop the clock, men,” offered Blake’s little brother and fellow circuit finals header, Case Hirdes, who won the finals with Matt Costa in 2014.
The zingers flew, including “Way to be smart and not get your numbers raised, guys,” and Blake and Kyle took it just like they’d have dished it out had the tables been turned.
“The way I roped, I wasn’t supposed to win anything,” seven-time National Finals Rodeo heeler Kyle was the first to admit. “But it’s never over ’til it’s over, and the check won’t say anything about those legs or missing the corner on that second one. We just outlasted ’em.
“Our first run (they placed fourth in 5.8 behind 4.7-second round winners Ryan Reed and Monty Joe Petska) felt good. My horse (his sorrel horse Stinky is the same steed ridden to the winner’s circle at the 2018 Timed Event Championship by Jordan Ketscher) did not turn in on our second steer, so I tracked him around, and lost a leg. I thought I had that third steer drilled, but only got one leg. But money’s money, and I haven’t won anything in awhile, so this is nice.”
Blake and Kyle banked $3,943 a man, including two go-round checks and the average W.
“As (NFR header) Jim Wheatley used to tell (Jim’s son, and Kyle’s NFR header) Wade and me at the high school rodeos, ‘You can’t win anything unless you make time, boys,’” smiled Kyle, who was the circuit year-end champ in 2001, ’06, and ’17, and last won the circuit finals with Marcus Battaglia in 2012.
The Lancaster wind kept all flags flapping sideways, and on Saturday of the October 5-7 finals actually blew down the arena fence. And yes, it was a direct headwind toward the timed-event chutes. But the contestants made the best of the blustery conditions, and Saturday-night festivities included such old-fashioned fun as cowboy foot races and a little parking-lot football.
Kyle and Leigh Lockett, whose camp is a constant cowboy hub and always includes their kids, Shayla, Georgia, Sutton, and Blevins, celebrated their 12th anniversary on Round-3 Sunday. Kyle’s brother and fellow NFR heeler, Brent Lockett, won the 2013 circuit finals with Clint White.
Blake and his fiancée, Liz Cupples, are expecting a baby boy in February. Blake owns a pretty grand collection of 10 California Circuit year-end saddles, including the all-around in 2010-11 and ’13; tie-down roping in 2010-11, ’13, and ’15; and team roping, 2013-15.
Blake is the son of late NFR header Ed Hirdes, and the grandson of 1963 World Champion Team Roper and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Les Hirdes. The PRCA circuit system came about after Les’ career, but Ed won circuit finals team roping championships in 1979 with Stan Melshaw, and ’89 with Jerold Camarillo, and won circuit year-end tie-down roping titles in 1977 and ’87. Of all the team roping titles in this family tree, this was one of the most unexpected.
“When they took my head rope off at the back end, I asked Kyle what third paid,” said Blake, who rode his bay horse, Peppy, and won the circuit finals all-around title in 2008 and ’12. “Then the next team didn’t do any good, and I asked Kyle what second paid. I didn’t dream we’d win it.”
California Circuit Finals Champs Blake and Kyle are headed to Florida in March for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo, along with year-end team roping titlists C.J. DeForest and Bronc Boehnlein. The year-end circuit race was one of those split-decision deals we all hate. But on the bright side in this case, at least it was between brothers. C.J. edged little brother Chant DeForest, who’s Bronc’s header. The reserve year-end heeler was C.J.’s partner, Andy Holcomb.
“I’m very happy for C.J.,” Chant said. “This was his first year heading, and he headed great all year. I wouldn’t want anyone else to head for Bronc in Florida. I’m proud of C.J., and thanks to Bronc for cleaning up my mess all year, and never backing off. We live and die going fast.”