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Hayden cowboys head to Tulsa this weekend for Heartland Youth Bareback Riding Championships

Steamboat Pilot & Today
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— The first time 13-year-old Wyatt Murphy climbed on the back of a bucking horse his mind was racing with fear, his stomach was tied in knots and his heart pumping so hard, he thought it might jump right out of his chest.

“I was really nervous,” Murphy recalls. “I rode him out of the chute, but it wasn’t a good ride. … These days I still get kind of nervous, and I still get butterflies, but it’s not as bad as the first time.”

Murphy’s first ride had finished in a matter of seconds after the horse left the chute and bucked him off as he entered the area, but in the moments after the young cowboy picked himself off the ground and brushed the dust off his jeans, he realized that he had fallen in love with the sport of rodeo.

“I’ve been doing it for about two years,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t so sure at first, but now I love it.”

Murphy was introduced to the sport of bareback riding by his good friend Keenan Hayes. This weekend Murphy and Hayes are making a long drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to compete in the Heartland Youth Bareback Riding Championships. Fellow Hayden cowboy Dorian Hotchkiss will meet them in Tulsa for two days of rodeo action.

Hayes, an eighth-grader at Hayden Middle School, is the current Colorado Junior High School Bareback Champion and along with Murphy and Hotchkiss qualified for this weekend’s rodeo based on points earned last summer.

“The young cowboys in this event have qualified from all over the country,” said Donnie Hayes, Keenan’s dad and coach. “Our kids have been going to rodeos all summer long. The series starts in June with rodeos all over the state and in Wyoming.”

Hayes has watched his son and the young riders from Hayden embrace the sport and find their place at the national level events across the country. Last year Hayes placed fifth at the National Finals Junior Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“It’s been a good year,” he said while driving cross country with his dad. “I’ve been winning a lot and riding everything I’ve been on so far this year.”

The young cowboy is looking forward to this weekend’s bareback event, but his interest in rodeo also includes saddle broncs, bulls and chute dogging, which is similar to steer wrestling for younger cowboys.

He has traveled to and competed in 35 rodeos this season and dreams of making it to the National Finals Rodeo as a professional cowboy when he is old enough. But before he gets to that point he hopes to win a few junior rodeos — including this weekend’s event in Tulsa.

The bareback championships will begin on Saturday with the first of two long go-rounds. The second long go-round will take place on Sunday morning and will be followed by a short go-round for the top cowboys in the afternoon.

Junior rodeos are divided into age divisions, and this weekend’s Heartland Youth Bareback Riding Championships will include five age groups with 20 athletes in each group. All of the riders have qualified for the event based on the points they have earned at rodeos throughout the summer.

In Hayden Donnie Hayes leads a group of 12 athletes who are taking part in youth rodeos on a regular basis. The coach said his program provides a place to train and learn. He’s thrilled to see the growth in junior rodeos and is thankful that the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series has supported his efforts by inviting the local cowboys to compete close to home. Last season the local rodeo series featured three youth rough stock events during the summer and plans to expand that to six in 2017.

Murphy, Hotchkiss and Hayes have all been regulars at the Steamboat events and believe that their experiences at home will pay off this weekend in Tulsa.

“I’m hoping that I have a good ride and that I can I hold on tight,” Murphy said. “These are better horses than I’ve got on before, so I just need to get a good grip and hold on for the ride.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966


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