Cattleman Blake Hirdes is the kind of guy the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s circuit system was created for. He comes from a long line of cowboys—including his Hall of Fame header grandpa, Les Hirdes, and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header dad, Ed. Blake’s got game. But he has business interests and a family at home. And he doesn’t have a gypsy bone in his body. Hirdes just doubled down at the December 30 through January 1 California Circuit Finals, which was held in the Pauline Davis Pavilion at the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff, by winning both the circuit finals with Dalton Pearce and the California Circuit year-end heading title.
All circuit finals and year-end champs qualify for the 2022 NFR Open—formerly the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo—which this year is slated for July 13-16 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I love going to that thing, and I’ve always done good at it,” said Hirdes, 34, who lives in Turlock with his circuit finals breakaway roper wife, Liz, and their little boy, Daniel, who’ll turn 3 on January 30. “I liked going to Florida (recent-times home of the RNCFR), but it was a long way from California. I like Colorado Springs, too, and it’s a lot closer. There are also a lot of good rodeos in Colorado and Wyoming at that time.
“I like to be competitive and win. But I don’t like being gone all the time. I get homesick. I’ve always been that way, and I don’t like all the down time when you’re rodeoing. I play cowboy every day at home. I go to the sale in Turlock every Tuesday, and here lately have been processing and shipping a lot of cattle with my brother Kent.”
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Hirdes has won the California Circuit year-end heading title three times now, and the circuit finals twice in his trademark event. Blake and Kyle Lockett won the finals in 2018. Hirdes has also stacked up a stockpile of year-end circuit saddles, including three all-around, four in the tie-down and now four in the team roping, too.
Hirdes and Pearce were 19.2 on three steers to win the circuit finals after placing third in all three rounds. Lane Lowry and Jake Bourdet finished second in 26.7 seconds.
Hirdes advances to the NFR Open with his year-end championship. Wyatt Hansen, who heeled for Lane Karney at the circuit finals, is the 2021 California Circuit year-end heeling champ. Because Blake also won the circuit finals, reserve year-end champion header Tanner James (who roped with Wyatt Cox at the circuit finals) also punched a ticket to Colorado Springs.
Hirdes started heading for Pearce last spring after placing with Hansen at the California rodeos in Red Bluff and Clovis. At the circuit finals in Red Bluff, Blake rode his dun horse The Rock, who’s 11 now and Hirdes says is, “The best horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Pearce rode his 11-year-old buckskin horse, Turtle. He bought him last March from Hawaiian horseshoer Ty Shintaku, who shoes his family’s horses along with fellow Hawaiian cowboy farrier Derrek Hee.
It was Pearce’s first circuit finals win.
“It was a good rodeo,” said Pearce, 25, who graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications in his San Luis Obispo hometown in December. “Every round was like a good circuit rodeo paying almost $2,000 a man. That makes it fun, especially since it counts toward the world standings.
“I like roping with Blake, because he turns a lot of steers. He’s a veteran at the California rodeos. He always has a good horse, and he knows how to win.”
Pearce was the 2016 Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year, and considers that his career highlight to date, “Just because you only get one chance to do it. Winning Pendleton (which he did with fellow California native Ryan Reed that same year) was a big accomplishment, too. But you get lots of chances at that. And the rookie race is over the course of an entire year (Pearce roped with Oregon’s Ryan Opie earlier in 2016).”
Pearce has been busy feeding cows and riding colts. How hard he’ll rodeo in 2022 is yet to be determined.
“It’ll depend what it looks like by about Reno,” he said. “We’ll rodeo some this summer, but how long we stay out there will depend how it goes. I’ll stay entered through Colorado Springs now, for sure. In a perfect world, I’d love to have some good money won and rodeo hard. I’d like to make the (National) Finals (Rodeo), obviously.
“I really like roping at a professional level. But you have to make a lot of sacrifices at home to do that. And I have a lot of stuff I really like to do going at the house also. So we’ll just see what I have won heading into the summer, and take it from there. For now, the circuit finals was a good win, and we’re sure happy about it.”