Riley Kittle and Jace Helton are no strangers to the winner’s circle, nor to one another. The college juniors were the 2022 College National Finals Rodeo team roping champs, and now they’re roping toward a WCRA Rodeo Corpus Christi title.
The young guns roped a 4.41 in the second performance of the Progressive Round on May 11, 2023, to take the $1,600 win and move on to the Saturday Showdown Round. Their run was a clear example of the partnership they have been cultivating for three years.
“I started rodeoing the second semester of my freshman year, and Riley didn’t have a run and I didn’t really know if I was going to college rodeo or not because I didn’t know if I’d be able to find a good run halfway through,” Helton, the Menifee, California, native who now makes his home in Tolar, Texas, said. “And then someone told me about Riley so looked at his Instagram, and I liked the way he roped, liked his horses and I called him and said, ‘I guess you might need a partner,’ and it kind of just went from there.”
Their partnership chemistry was evident throughout the week, starting with their 6.79-second run in the Qualifying Rounds on May 8. They won $400 for fourth place with their first steer and replicated that finish with a 5.99-second run in the second round. Two fourth-place finishes were enough for them to take the average win.
Having seen their Progressive Round steer go in the Qualifying Rounds gave the team a solid idea of what to expect from it.
“Well, we knew our steer,” Kittle, who moved from Woodland, Alabama, to Carbon, Texas, said. “They ran her over there at the Qualifier. I knew she was a good steer, so I just tried to stay behind the barrier. I got a good start, got it on her and faced a little early. We should have been a lot faster. He heeled her fast, and it worked out.”
For Helton on the heeling side, the smaller size of the arena can be a challenge.
“Just in this little building, it’s kind of a little tricky because you want to leave them straight, but you also have to be there,” said 20-year-old Helton. “So, I tried to just kind of float out. Riley got it on him fast and I knew he was just going to handle him real good, so I just made sure I stayed around him and had a shot first jump, so I put it down.”
Helton, who attends Weatherford College, was riding a 12-year-old gelding he calls Dracula. Rodeo Corpus Christi actually marks an anniversary for Helton and Dracula.
“Last year here was the first time I rode him,” Helton said. “He’s been real good. Everything’s really been working good on him. He’s super fast and just is easy. He just kind of stays out of my way for the most part.”
Kittle, the 21-year-old student at Cisco College, was riding Prime Time, a 16-year-old gelding he actually bought as a heel horse. In high school, Kittle primarily heeled, but when college came he decided to make the switch to the quarterback end of the event.
“When I came to Texas, I knew there were guys like Jace,” Kittle explained. “And I knew that they would catch every time, and if I could just do my job, I could win.”
Prime Time also made the switch with him and has been successful.
“I just went to heading on him, and he’s a winner,” Kittle said. “He’s really good in short setups like this. He’s real flat and easy. He takes care of me.”
Kittle and Helton both nominate their college rodeos to get qualified for WCRA events and plan to continue doing so. As for the Showdown Round, they’re looking to make a run similar to the one that got them there.
“Hopefully we’re toward the end and we’ll kind of see what we need to do,” Helton said. “But I mean, just make the run we practice and see how fast we are. Riley dictates how fast we go, lot more than I do.”
- Riley Kittle/Jace Helton, 4.41, $1,600
- Billy Bob Brown/Kirby Blankenship, 4.75, $1,200
- Garrett Elmore/Tydaniel Haller, 5.11, $800
- Beau Hebert/Speed Williams, 9.65, $400
The next perf
The third and final Progressive Round takes place Friday, May 12, to determine the remaining two teams that will progress to Saturday’s Showdown Round.
For more event details: Keeping Up With Rodeo Corpus Christi