I hadn’t been to the Pendleton Round-Up in a few years, and figured the once-in-a-lifetime 100th anniversary—which ran September 14-18—was the perfect reason to return. So glad I did. I have countless colorful memories of cowboys coming down off that hill and hitting that wide-open green-grass pasture (which doubles as the high school football field) that is the Pendleton arena.
I got to see Jake Stanley and Walt Woodard be 4.9 on their second steer. Then there was Wrangler National Finals Rodeo tie-down roper Cade Swor climbing aboard after a wild horse racer ate it near a herd of infield timed-eventers that included Pendleton All-Around Champ Kyle Lockett. Kyle and company held the horse’s halter just long enough to let Cade catapult into that bronc saddle. He took half a lap around the track at high speed before getting off onto the pickup man—left-handed. Only at Pendleton. I’m sure the fact that those timed-eventers were stationed straight across the track from the world-famous Let ’er Buck Room (annual origin of extra-large times) was purely coincidental.
I got to ride to the Pendleton past champions’ reunion dinner with Super Looper Roy Cooper—dad of this year’s NFR tie-down roping trifecta, Clint, Clif and Tuf (similar congrats to Dennis Tryan on his trio of NFR team roping sons, Clay, Travis and Brady)—and after visiting with so many old cowboy friends in that room so enjoyed catching up over dinner with the Currin brothers, Ron, Tony and Steve. Ronny married my friend Rayanne Engel, and I went to college at Cal Poly with Tony. All three brothers sport Pendleton buckles from their days of domination in the Great Northwest, and they’re just such a great family.
We also had a chance to remember the fourth Currin brother, Mike, who died July 3, 1990 in a plane crash with NFR tie-down ropers Dave P. Smith, David Bowen and Randy Dierlam. We all go on, but that’s a heartache we’ll pack for life. I stared down mighty Mount Rainier (scene of that small plane crash) from my window seat on the left side of the plane en route from Pasco to Seattle on my way home. I hope and pray those four good guys never saw it coming or suffered for a single second.
I gasped for air alongside everybody else—most especially Travis Graves—at Thursday morning slack when Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association regular-season heading leader Clay Tryan crashed on the dewy morning grass. Clay and Travis broke the regular-season team roping earnings records with $146,608 and $147,653, respectively, and we never need any injury-related drama.
It’s been a decade and a half since our buddy Mike Boothe had a head horse go down on the grass at Pendleton in 1995, and the talented young NFR header died of rare complications after breaking his leg when a piece of tissue broke away and lodged in his lung. I visited with Matt Zancanella, who was roping with Mike when he went down and lost the head horse he’d loaned Mike in that same wreck to a broken leg. I also visited with Brent Lockett, who roped with Mike at both of his NFRs in 1993 and ’94. One by one, we all three teared up before we were done talking about that.
I can’t remember ever seeing Lindsey Sears winded after a barrel racing run. But 28 seconds later, after tackling the biggest cloverleaf course in the sport, I saw her and others like Billy Etbauer’s bride, Hollie, breathing as hard as their horses. Only in Pendleton is every event as thrilling as the next for fans. From the Indian relay races to the wild cow milking, nothing quite goes according to the standard plan in Pendleton, and that includes every event at the rodeo.
Anyone who says he’d have bet money that Cody Ohl would win the steer roping instead of the tie-down roping, or that Jim Ross Cooper would ride away with the tie-down roping title instead of the team roping trinkets, is full of sod.
Cody’s a five-time world champion tie-down roper who in 2001 also captured the crown of world champion all-around cowboy, thanks in part to steer roping and team roping (heading) earnings in addition to his many tie-down roping checks. He qualified for three straight National Finals Steer Ropings from 1999-2001. Pendleton was Cody’s first steer roping outing in several years, since rotator cuff surgery on his roping arm and three knee surgeries following the dramatic tie-down roping run at NFR ’01 in which he blew out his right knee.
In Pendleton, Cody jumped out and won the opening round of the steer roping with a 10.4-second thriller. He followed that up with a 12.6-second run to split eighth in the second round, then finished fourth in the short round in 13.6. He was 36.6 on three steers for checks totaling $13,155, and beat out reservist Trevor Brazile by 1.1 seconds in the average. I asked Cody if his return to more steer roping has him thinking all-around again, but he’s a realist on that front.
"For one thing, I’m not going to stay gone from home long enough to try to win the all-around," Cody said of his Hico, Texas, home base. "And as seriously as Trevor takes all three events, how do you beat that? I think I could be the reserve world all-around champ, and put a lot of time and money into accomplishing that, but I’m not sure that being able to say that I can get close to within whatever Trevor wins in the team roping away from winning the all-around is worth the sacrifice."
A huge motivating factor in Cody’s decision to enter the steer roping at Pendleton was qualifying to rope in the event during the February 3-20 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. In 2011, the steer roping at San Antonio will feature the same $131,000 in added money as the rest of the events ($262,000 in the team roping). It’s a nicely timed breakthrough for the five-time and reigning PRCA Large Indoor Rodeo Committee of the Year, as it coincides with the PRCA’s 75th anniversary as an organization.
"Ninety-nine percent of entering Pendleton was to get into San Antonio," Cody said. "The NFSR is something I want to do in 2011, so they’re going to have 14 spots to rope for. Chance (Kelton) is going to let me ride his yellow horse, and he’s going to go to the big ones, so I’ll have a seat on him at those."
Chance calls the palomino horse Bullseye, but Cody just calls him Champ. Chance won the tripping title on the horse at the "Daddy of ’em All" at Cheyenne this summer. Cody won Pendleton on him, and Scott Snedecor won the short round and third in the average riding Bullseye.
"I drew good steers, not great steers," Cody said. "When you come down the hill going wide open trying to win first every time it helps to have a good one. Some of the steers had been tripped at Cheyenne. My first steer had two no-times on him there, and he didn’t look very good to me in the pen. I came at him a little harder and stronger than I would have one that looked like a pup."
Cody never bought a single T-shirt at the souvenir stand, so he felt like the pressure was on to win a memento from the 100th Round-Up. He’s hired Jenna Beaver (Joe’s wife) to frame a display of his winning rope and piggin’ string, 100th back number, the buckle and pictures. "It’s just a cool rodeo to begin with," Cody said. "Everybody wanted that saddle and buckle in their house from this year. It means so much to me that I’m going to get it all framed up."
Cody also headed some steers in his all-around season of 2001, but it’s the steer roping he’s pining to get back to. "It kind of lit a fire in me to make some good runs," he said. "Coming down off that hill on my first steer and sawing the horns off like I did it for a living lit a fire in me. That first round got me pretty pumped. To throw the best loop maybe I’ve ever thrown in my life was a cool feeling. I was thinking, ‘Man, why am I not doing this anymore?’ "
I’m kind of thinking Jim Ross Cooper had similar thoughts as he was joy riding around the track on that victory lap horse aboard the 100th Pendleton tie-down roping saddle, which I’d admired all week in the lobby of my hotel. He was 8.5 on his first calf to win the round, 12.4 on his second one, then 11.5 in the short round to win it all in 32.4 seconds and bank $11,722.
Jim Ross, who sometimes uses his middle name simply to help us all differentiate between Grandpa Jim Cooper, his ProRodeo Hall of Famer Daddy Jimmie Cooper and himself. Jim Ross and twin brother Jake, who heads, were the 2004 PRCA/Resistol Team Roping Rookies of the Year, and roped together at the 2007 Wrangler NFR. Ironically, the Pendleton title came not only in the unexpected event, but was the first tie-down roping win of his professional career. Nothing like making a big splash with your breakthrough win.
"I’ve won rounds, but this is definitely my first average victory," he said. "I’m a little bit spoiled now, because I’ll be expecting crowds to go wild like they did here at Pendleton. I knew I had a pretty good chance to win good going into the short round, and I just wanted to make a nice run on my last one to give myself a chance to win it. When it ended up being enough to win it, I was ecstatic for sure."
Jim Ross enjoyed the journey to the delight of the packed Pendleton house, including fans taking in the show from the $8.5 million covered grandstands addition at the arena’s West end in the much-welcomed shade. Jim Ross rode Seth Rodriguez’s horse. He knew about him because 2010 Finals freshman Shane Hanchey had ridden him at some other rodeos this fall. "I couldn’t have asked for a better horse up here," Jim Ross said.
Like most others that venture onto the Pendleton grass, the horse had four of his horseshoe nails on each foot replaced with ice nails for traction. I laughed so hard as Jim Ross recounted that Dad Jimmie suggested he install some ice nails of his own. "My dad told me about one time putting nails in the bottom of his boots to get more traction in the bulldogging," Jim Ross said. "He made cleats out of his boots, so he could stop steers faster. When he told me I ought to try it, I said, ‘I don’t think so, Pops.’ "
Jimmie Cooper always did whatever it took, and never knew an excuse worthy of passing his lips. I love that about the guy, and that’s why he deserves to be a Hall of Famer. Having seen him pack those boys around in buckets when they were babies, I smiled at the thought of his reaction at the other end of the phone line to Jim Ross’s big win.
It was the first time Jim Ross had entered the tie-down roping at Pendleton. A lot of people entered extra events this year in honor of the 100th, and that included roughstock riders roping and even bulldogging on the grass. "Pendleton is so prestigious that you enter every event you can, especially this year," Jim Ross said. "I entered the tie-down at about 20 rodeos this year, and will enter a few more this fall and winter. I’m already there at the rodeo, so if you have a nice enough horse you might as well enter and try to win a little extra money."The Pendleton prize package is so much more than money, not to mention the prestige you can’t buy. In addition to the handmade Hamley saddle, Jim Ross hauled the buckle, Resistol hat, Pendleton Woolen Mills blankets, a couple trophy bags, a watch, boots, a jacket, and Hamley’s gift certificate back home to Stephenville, Texas.
"This is a win I’ll never forget," he said. "It was awesome to be the 100th champ. But the hundredth or first or 10th doesn’t really matter at Pendleton. Any win here is special and cool. The setup’s so different, it’s so prestigious, everybody’s dads are here, and there’s just a lot of history at this rodeo. People who don’t even know about rodeo ask you about winning Pendleton. I think it’s a more special rodeo than most of us even realize."
He described the victory lap as "scary and fun," and gamely jumped the track fence onto the grass infield, per tradition. "There was so much neat stuff (prizes) hanging off that saddle on the victory lap that I thought it was going to tear me off the saddle," he grinned.
The outcome of the team roping was the only one that didn’t raise an eyebrow, although the odds of winning the 100th editions of both the California Rodeo in Salinas and Pendleton the same year are slim even for Chad Masters and Jade Corkill. Anyone who bets against the owners of the 3.3-second world team roping record is either fouled up or foolish, though winning Salinas and Pendleton call for range at the opposite end of the team roping skill set from being lightning quick in the Thomas & Mack Center in Vegas.
Chad rode his bay horse, Cody, on the Pendleton grass for the first time. "It’s a tricky deal," he said. "I’ve never wanted to ride him on the grass, because I didn’t want to hurt him. But I knew he was my best chance to win. I’m not too good to ride my best horse here, but I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried. I’m glad I did ride him, because I don’t think I could have done it on any of my other horses.
"The grass has scared me before. I’ve been in the middle of the arena, had to be nine or 10 to make the short round and found myself on the right side of the steer because he crossed over in front of me as I roped him and my horse was slipping all over the place. We drew so good this year that we caught up where it’s torn up, so it was fine."
It was a $14,443 per man pop in Pendleton, after Chad and Jade split third in round one (they were 6.2), finished fifth in round two (5.7), won the short round (5.7) and the average (17.6). Reserve Pendleton team roping titlists Brady Tryan and Jake Long roped three on the grass in 18.7.
Chad was as blindsided as anyone about their one-two punch at Salinas and Pendleton. "I’d had so much bad luck at Salinas that I never saw that coming," he said. "I was starting to think I couldn’t rope five in a row there. I was the second high team at Pendleton, in I think 2007 with Britt Bockius, and I hickeyed a horn in the short round to win it. Charly (Crawford) and Cody Hintz won it on a runner, and we had the slow loper. That’s the closest I’d come to winning Pendleton.
"I’ve always wanted to win both rodeos, so winning both in the 100th year is really cool. It’s a huge deal, really, one of the biggest highlights I can imagine."
Chad and Jade were the high team in Pendleton. "We knew we had 9 to win second, and 6.7 to win it," Chad said. "We knew it’d be so much cooler to win it, so we kind of went at it that way. I got a good start, and we had one of the best steers in there. It’s pretty relaxing when you know you just have to go catch, but I kind of got myself nervous before we ran the last one.
Chad’s victory lap horse was gentle, and a gamer to take the traditional winner’s leap over the track fence onto the grass. Jade didn’t draw so well. "The horse they put Jade on started bucking when we left the gate as I was passing him, then his hind end went out on him and he about went down," Chad said. "Pendleton is one of the funnest rodeos you’ll ever go to."
Jade had surgery on his left ankle on September 28 in Reno to remove bone chips and repair torn cartilage. He broke the ankle three years ago at a college rodeo in California, stepping off his calf horse, and had been walking around in bone-on-bone, arthritic pain in recent times. The same surgeon replaced both of Grandma Bun Bun Corkill’s knees right after Jade’s surgery.
Tennessee’s Chad and Nevada’s Jade were up first and last in Pendleton, on Tuesday and Friday. "We drew three awesome steers, so that made it pretty easy," said Jade, who rode his bay horse, Caveman. "There were so many teams this year that they had to mix and match the steers (combine multiple herds to have enough). Our first steer was really good. I didn’t do a great job on him. Chad got it on him fast, but I was overcommitted to throwing fast, got out of whack and had to track him a ways.
"Our second steer was supposed to be pretty good, but move left. We were up the last day, and there was nobody after us who had a shot to get us. We just went for the catch on our second steer, because we knew we had a little bit of time to still be high call. We weren’t really going for the day money on him, but we had another good steer.
"In the short round, we had to be 6.7 to win it and had an awesome steer. Charly (Crawford) had been 5.5 on him. He was a loper. Chad let him out and caught him, and we ended up winning the short round and the average. We drew extremely well."
Jade was high call at Pendleton two years ago with Brandon Beers, and "had the very best steer in the herd in the short round, only had to be 9 flat to win it and I missed him," Jade remembers well. "I was so nervous this year. Winning Salinas and Pendleton on their 100th year is really cool. I don’t know how it happened, but it’s very cool and it can never happen again. Those are two rodeos I’ve wanted to win forever." Jade and his girlfriend, Haley Brum, are expecting a baby boy on March 3.
Californian Clint White was the all-around champ at Salinas’s 100th this summer, and the Golden State struck again in Pendleton with Kyle Lockett’s all-around crown. Kyle, who hangs his hat in Visalia, won $4,958 at the Round-Up, after splitting third in the first round of the steer roping and placing second in round two of the team roping with Wade Wheatley. Despite all the extra multiple entries, Kyle was the only cowboy to place in two events on the grass this year.
"I haven’t been here in four years," he said. "It’s one of the places I said I’d never miss. It’s by far my favorite rodeo after the National Finals. It’s a good town with a good atmosphere. They’re laid back around here, and this huge old arena on the grass is just fun. If you’re a cowboy here, you can come on in and enjoy the performance. That’s Pendleton. And everybody has a chance here. If you happen to get a little bit of luck and draw good, you can win some money. The grass doesn’t scare me at all. If you are scared, you have a better chance of going down. If you go balls to the wall, you’re OK."
Kyle and his wife, Leigh, have had three kids in the last four years, which has everything to do with why he’s been home. Shayla’s 4 now, Georgia’s 2, and baby Sutton was born July 20, a couple days after Salinas’s centennial rodeo this summer.
Casey Martin of Sulphur, La., won the steer wrestling event at Pendleton after turfing three steers in 15.6 seconds. Casey split eighth in the first round with a 5.1-second run, placed third in round two in 5.2 and was second in the short round with a 5.3-second run. All told, he skipped town $9,604 richer.
After Lindsay Sears rode her bay horse to the 28.73-second barrel racing victory in round one, Jody Sheffield of South Weber, Utah, rallied with a 28.32-second answer in the short round to edge Lindsay in the two-run average by a tenth of a second—57.42-57.52. Sheffield won $11,372 after splitting fifth in the first round, and winning both the short round and average. For winning round one, fourth in the short round and second in the average, Canadian Sears pocketed $12,054.
At the roughstock end of the Centennial Pendleton arena, three-time and defending World Champion Bareback Rider Bobby Mote of Culver, Ore., won the first round in his specialty event with 86 points on Sankey Rodeo’s Daisy. Bobby deserves an honorable mention for his team roping prowess on the grass. Impressive. Ryan Gray of Cheney, Wash., stuck it on Calgary Stampede’s French Wake for 87 points to win the short round. A point behind him in the short round was 2004 World Champion Bareback Rider Kelly Timberman of Mills, Wyo. Ryan and Kelly split the average title with 169 points on two horses for $7,483 and $8,770, respectively.
Cody Wright of Milford, Utah, won the first round with 85 points on Calgary Stampede’s Hell’s Half Acre and the short round with 88 points aboard Sankey Rodeo’s Domino Theory en route to the 173-point Pendleton saddle bronc riding championship. The 2008 PRCA champ of the world racked up $11,892 for 40-percenting the pot.
Pendleton rookie Travis Atkinson of Lehi, Utah, was sixth in the opening round of bull riding with an 83-point ride, then followed that up with the 92-point short-round win on Corey and Horst’s Speed Dial. With 175 points on two bulls, Atkinson earned $7,508. "If anything is going to pump you up and make you feel like you can conquer the world, this would be it," Atkinson beamed of the win of his life.