gold in the badlands

Jon Peterson and Trae Smith Clinch 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals Title; Cash Hetzel Remained Dominant in Year-End
When Jon Peterson and Trae Smith won the 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals, they seized the year-end title for Peterson. Smith, however, couldn’t top 2023 year-end champion heeler, Cash Hetzel.
Jon Peterson heading a steer for Trae Smith at the 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals.
Jon Peterson heading one for Trae Smith at the 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals. | Photo by Alaina Stangle

Jon Peterson and Trae Smith added their first Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo title to their resumes, and Cash Hetzel clinched his first Badlands Circuit year-end heading title Oct. 15, 2023, in Minot, North Dakota.

Peterson and Smith were 20.7 on three head to take the average win, and their $7,797-payday was enough to grab the year-end heading title for Peterson, of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, as well. The year-end title adds a second to Peterson’s collection. In 2019, he and Smith won their first Badlands Circuit titles.

“It really sets up the next year, especially having the finals that we had,” Peterson, 25, said. “Winning close to $8,000, that’s a head start. There’s a lot of guys that do it one time, just kind of a fluke deal, but winning it twice and hopefully winning it more, it just kind of says that you’re not a fluke deal; that you’re here to stay and you’re up.”

Smith, a Georgetown, Idaho, native now living in Casper, Wyoming, is grateful for the opportunity to rope for even bigger money come next July at the 2024 NFR Open.

“If you don’t make the NFR, to be able to go up there and run at that much money, I mean $2,200 a night against 12 guys, it’s a great payday for us,” Smith, 23, said. “And then to have a chance to go to Colorado Springs and win $20,000 out there in the middle of the summer when you’re needing the boost and only have to go against 24 guys. It’s a big deal for us to be able to go at that much money.”

As for Hetzel, it’s a goal he’s worked at since 2018.

“It’s been a goal probably since I started,” Hetzel, 28, said. “It feels pretty good. That was kind of what we set out to do this year. The circuit, we (Hetzel and Bodie Mattson) were winning it the whole year and ended up winning at the end, so that was pretty cool.”

Against the odds

Peterson and Smith wanted to start the week off on a good foot, just knocking down their first steer clean.

“We weren’t necessarily trying to win the round, just trying to go catch and set ourselves up,” Smith said. “But we ended up winning the round, so it was a great start. Obviously, everybody loves to go and win the first round because it kind of sets things up.” 

They exceeded their goal, laying down a 5.8-second run to win the round for $2,228 a man. In Round 2, they drew a steer that gave a poor first impression the night before. They slipped a leg and were 10.4 to be out of the round money, but still in the top five of the average.

When they drew a solid steer in Round 3—their last chance to win the finals—they decided to go for it. They were 4.5 seconds to win the round and the average.

“I knew I kind of had to be aggressive on him and the barrier,” Peterson said. “I nailed the barrier and I was able to stick it on him fast enough. My guy heels really fast. We won the round and then just stuff worked out.”


Peterson rode his buckskin gelding that he knew would fit the Minot, North Dakota, setup.

“He’s as solid as they come,” Peterson said. “In every setup, he’s good. I rode him at Cheyenne this year. I rode him here. I literally rode that horse everywhere, and he’s good every single place I take him to. He scores every time.He’s strong, he finishes well and that’s kind of what you want in that little building, especially if steers get heavy.”

Smith rode his 10-year-old gelding, Chip, that he originally bought as a calf horse in 2021 and has since trained to be a heel horse.

“He is outstanding,” Smith said. “There’s not very many setups that I can’t ride him at. I rode him all year last year, I ride him at Jackpots; I ride him at everything. He is a blessing to me. He makes my job really, really easy.”

Year-End Victors

For the 2019 Badlands Circuit champion header, to be able to do it again proves to Peterson he truly deserves the title.

“I want to do it again,” Peterson said. “It’s the most excited I’ve ever been about winning something like that. I had my mom and dad there. We didn’t really think we had a chance to win it, to be totally honest. My whole goal was to win the average and let it play out, and then it just worked out.”

Lemmon, South Dakota’s Hetzel has been plenty successful in the circuit, having won the average at the Badlands Circuit Finals in 2021 with Cameron Irwin. As a rancher who spends a lot of time working, winning the year-end title is a significant achievement.

Bodie Mattson heading a steer for Cash Hetzel at the 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals.
Bodie Mattson heading a steer for Cash Hetzel at the 2023 Badlands Circuit Finals. | Photo by Alaina Stangle

“It means a lot,” Hetzel said. “There’s a lot of guys that do it for a long time and don’t ever win it, so to win it, it’s pretty cool.”

Hetzel roped all year with 21-year-old Bodie Mattson. They kept a good lead throughout the year, but when Peterson won the average at the circuit finals, it knocked Mattson out of the No. 1 spot in the heading year-end. In 2024, Mattson and Hetzel plan keep things the same, though.

“I think we’re just going to kind keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Hetzel said. “We kind of jackpot around and go to some other rodeos and circuit rodeo and just kind of see where we fall.”

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