In 2023, Cutter Machado and Dalton Pearce accomplished one of their greatest goals when they won the California Circuit year-end titles Dec. 31, after finishing second in the aggregate at the circuit finals in Red Bluff, California.
It was a feat Machado, of Santa Maria and Pearce, from San Luis Obispo, had pursued for a long time.
“It’s been a goal of mine, obviously, since I was little to win the year-end for the home state circuit,” Machado, 23, said. “Everyone that’s won it I look up to, and it’s a real accomplishment. I feel like it a step up.”
Machado and Pearce, 27, have known each other their entire lives and have been best friends for five or so years now.
“I just got married this last September, and he was the best man at my wedding,” said Pearce, the 2016 Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year and 2021 NFR Open champ. “He moved into the barn when he was going to college and lived there with me for three years or so, and his girlfriend and my wife, they’ve been good friends the whole time. It’s always fun to win, but it’s way more fun when you’re doing it with your friend.”
In review: 2023 rodeo season
While 2023 ended in victory, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. Machado and Pearce collected checks throughout the winter and spring, but it wasn’t until summer that they got the ball rolling.
“We weren’t really doing good, and then towards around the end of the year, like Salinas, we started doing pretty good,” Machado explained. “We placed there, which helped out a bunch for our circuit.Then, Poway and San Bernardino, we did really good at those. So that put us way up at the top.”
Machado entered the circuit finals third in the heading, behind first by less than $2,000, and Pearce was first on the heel side.
“I wanted to win the year-end together,” Machado said. “I knew I was going to have to do pretty good at the circuit finals, and I figured for Dalton, we’d just have to get a couple of checks for him to win it. The main goal was kind of just make sure we get some checks in the beginning for Dalton and then, at the end, try and give myself a chance if it was possible.”
After winning second in Round 2, third in Round 3 and second in the average, the team walked away with $5,571 a man and the year-end titles.
“It’s for sure a cool accomplishment,” Pearce said. “It’s more fun to do it with Cutter because the numbers were so close.”
All season, Machado rode a 9-year-old gelding from Rick Machado he calls Willie. Willie’s versatility on any setup was key for Machado.
“I like him because you can take him to Salinas or long scores and he’ll run and give you a good chance, or you can take him to shorter score and go as fast as you want,” Machado said. “He works about the same everywhere, and he’s not going to screw you. I trust him, so I rode him, I’d say, at 99% of the rodeos all year.”
Pearce rode his 14-year-old gelding Butters—the same bay that carried him to a Pendleton Round-Up title and second-place finish at Salinas in 2016. After being turned out for two years due to fused hocks, Pearce was finally able to rodeo on Butters again this year.
“He’s been really good, and it’s fun on him, too,” Pearce said. “I didn’t really think I was going to get to win on him or ride him anymore, but he’s still kicking it.”
Back to Colorado Springs
Machado and Pearce will both be returning to Colorado Springs in 2024 for the NFR Open, though this will be Machado’s first trip, as a contestant.
“I’m excited to check it out,” Machado said. “I went the year Blake (Hirdes) and Dalton won it, and I got to do some cheerleading for them and video, so I’m glad it’s my turn and I get to go and rope and compete.”
Pearce is also looking forward to his return to the Pikes Peak or Bust arena, this time with his best friend.
“I really wanted to be able to go rope with him because the last two years I’ve gone, he’s not roped with me,” Pearce said. “The year I did real good and won it, he wasn’t entered. I still had good partners both years, but it’s a lot more fun when the guy you’re rodeoing with gets a chance for all that money also.”