When Heath King and Stephen Britnell took the lead in Progressive Round 1 of the 2023 WCRA Rodeo Carolina with a 4.58, the Tryon International Equestrian Center and Resort erupted. Anything for the home team.
King, who lives just an hour down the road in Asheville, North Carolina, and Britnell, a Knoxville, Tennessee, resident, took the round win for $1,500 a man and a spot in the Triple Crown of Rodeo Round Sunday, Oct. 8. They both recognize how special a win like this on their home turf is.
“It’s awesome,” King said. “It’s unbelievable, honestly. I knew it was going to be big.”
Britnell, a six-time IPRA World Champion, made headlines earlier in the summer when he took the No. 1 position on the Rodeo Carolina Leaderboard from $1M NFR heeler Buddy Hawkins. Britnell simply didn’t want to miss such a good opportunity so close to home.
“Well, I kind of went to trying to figure out how this all works, and then I kind of just kept nominating, kept nominating, kept nominating, and I thought, well, I want to go there. It’s too close to home not to go there. And there again, it just all worked out. We came in No. 2, but having our name called here, it is amazing.”
King, 27, and Britnell, 48, were seeded into the Progressive Rounds, thanks to their WCRA Segment RNC23 Leaderboard ranking. They still decided to enter the Qualifier, though, because they knew there was a good chance for IPRA money.
“Well, because we’re leading the IRA—and the money counts for the IRA—so we thought it’d just be another way we could get some more money for the year,” King said.
The qualifying rounds didn’t prove particularly fruitful for the team, but it wasn’t a predictor of how the first Progressive Round would go. King and Britnell drew a steer they knew from those earlier rounds and were confident they had one they could capitalize on.
“He was just kind of slow and off to the left,” King explained. “And we knew that if we could just do what we do that it would probably come out for us.”
King got his rope on the steer fast, and Britnell wasted no time taking the first shot he saw. Something a little different from how he usually plays it.
“I normally haze; I’m big on trying to haze them for him,” Britnell said. “Well, tonight, I kind of left everything alone and the steer takes off to the left and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m late. Where am I going to be?’ And it just worked out. I want to give everything back to my Lord Jesus Christ and without Him we wouldn’t be here.”
Being able to rope together and see success means a lot to the team, considering they’ve known each other for nearly two decades.
“I’ve known him since he was a kid,” Britnell said. “I’ve known him since he was riding ponies. I moved here 22 years ago, and to get to be here with him and at the IRAs this year has really been an honor. This year has been a true blessing.”
Having success at Tryon also comes as a blessing because they got to do it surrounded by the athletes they regularly compete against. Rodeo Carolina is a first-of-its-kind format that allows competitors who hold an IPRA card to count 100% of their event earnings toward their IPRA world standings ranking, and a select amount in the progressive and Triple Crown of Rodeo round toward IPRA standings. So, a good portion of the contestants this weekend come from the organization.
“I mean, they’re all our friends,” King said. “They’re everywhere we go and they’re all rooting for us. We’re rooting for them. I mean, it is really special to be able to be here and have a chance like this. Honestly, it is.”
King was riding his 17-year-old grade gelding Jake that he knows has made a positive impact in his roping.
“I got him from a buddy of mine,” King said. “He come out of Arizona, and he’s been a true blessing to me. I know that it’s changed my game. I got him last year and it’s been a phenomenal year for us this year.”
Britnell was paired up with 6-year-old Sam, who’s showing his worth early in his career.
“Sam’s pretty special,” Britnell said. “I bought him as a stud. I wanted to keep him a stud and just changed my mind. But Sam’s 6; this is his first year. This is his first outing, and there again, it’s just been a blessing to what’s been put in our way.”
Looking to Sunday
King and Britnell will rope their second Progressive Round steer Saturday, Oct. 7. Given they’re already locked in for the final round Sunday—the Triple Crown of Rodeo Round, which will feature eight teams—they plan to make the most of the animal they draw Saturday.
“With us being that fast, I say we just try to maybe go catch the next one, or try to go as fast as we can and just see what happens,” King said.
As for Sunday, they’re just blessed to have the opportunity.
“There again, all glory goes to God and what He gives our way,” Britnell said. “We’ll take it. Icing on the cake.”
Progressive Round 1 Results
|1||HEATH KING||STEPHEN BRITNELL||4.58||$1,500.00|
|2||NELSON WYATT||TREY JOHNSON||5.3||$1,000.00|
|3||JACOB DAGENHART||ADAM PLYER||5.5||$750.00|
|4||JAKE WELLS||BRYER HAMILTON||5.55||$350.00|
For Rodeo Carolina breakaway results, visit The Breakaway Roping Journal
For Rodeo Carolina barrel racing results, visit BarrelRacing.com