Hayden cowboy picks up win in Tulsa, hopes for continued success in Las Vegas
Steamboat Springs — This month, Hayden cowboy Keenan Hayes has discovered there are plenty of challenges, as well as opportunities, along the rodeo road.
Some of those challenges can be found inside the rodeo arena and come with four legs, but others are found in the classroom and cover subjects such as math, English and science.
“I’ve got a lot of homework and other things that I’m making up,” Hayes said. “We are leaving again on Tuesday, so I think I’m going to have to catch up in school when I get back.”
Hayes, who just returned from a long road trip that took him to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the Heartland Youth Bareback Riding Championships, will be back on the road next week and on his way to Las Vegas for the Junior National Finals Rodeo. The added homework, he says, is simply a price he will need to pay in order to take advantage of several big opportunities this month at a couple of national level rodeos, including the Junior National Finals Rodeo.
“This is the second time I’ve been to the Junior NFR,” Hayes said. “Basically, you have to hope for the best draws. If that happens, then you have a great chance to win.”
Last year, the Hayden eighth-grader placed fifth in Las Vegas and hopes to improve on that finish after winning his age division at the Heartland Youth Bareback Riding Championships Nov. 20 in Tulsa. Hayes climbed on the backs of six horses (including three re-rides in the second go around) at that rodeo and won the average by a single point.
“After I saw my score on the last go around, I knew it was going to be close, and I started calculating the scores in my head,” Hayes said. “Luckily, I scored just enough points on my last ride to get the win.”
Hayes competed at that rodeo with teammates Wyatt Murphy and Dorian Hotchkiss. The Hayden cowboys drove 22 hours through winter weather to get to the rodeo, then, after competing, made an 18 our journey back home. Murphy and Hotchkiss collected scored rides on two of the three horses they climbed on to finish in the middle of the pack, according to Keenan’s father, Donnie Hayes, who coaches the boys at his ranch near Hayden in the summer.
“it was good,” Donnie Hayes said of the Tulsa rodeo. “Wyatt and Dorian each rode one out of three and Keenan came home with a championship in his age division.”
But the coach was quick to add that this journey was about a lot more than belt buckles and trophies.
“It was worth it to take these kids and let them experience rodeo road,” he said. “They learned so much about themselves, and they learned so much about the sport of rodeo.”
For the young cowboys, the journey was a peek inside a sport — something Keenan Hayes hopes to continue into high school, college and beyond.
Last year, the Hayden middle school student finished at the top of the state’s junior high finals, winning a state title in bull riding and bareback steer riding.
This summer, the younger Hayes competed in 35 rodeos across the country and has set high goals, including a desire to compete at the National Finals Rodeo when he is older. That rodeo will take in Las Vegas at the same time as the junior rodeo.
The events are held at different locations, with the NFR taking place at the Thomas & Mack Center, located on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Campus, and the junior rodeo taking place down the street at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Hayes said there is some cross-over between the two events, with a few fans from the larger NFR attending some of the junior events, hoping to catch a glimpse of the future.
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