‘There’s nothing he can’t do:’ Hayden’s Keenan Hayes wins at Junior National Finals Rodeo
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Keenan Hayes may not agree, but he’s one of, if not the best, young bareback riders in the nation.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Hayes said. “I mean, I think I’m up there, for sure. I have a lot of buddies that I compete against, and we just push each other to be better. It’s just whoever is better that weekend, whoever draws best.”
This past weekend, Hayes was the best.
The Hayden native traveled to Arlington, Texas, where he competed in the Junior National Finals Rodeo at AT&T Stadium, where he won the bareback competition and was given a check for $10,000, adding to an already thick stack of proof that he is one of the best bareback riders for his age.
Hayes qualified for the event when he won the bareback title at the National High School Finals Rodeo in July 2019. Hayes had a few rides over the course of the week, leading up to the finals on Saturday, March 7, when he secured the title.
Hayes drew Fringe Jacket, a horse he rode a week earlier to secure a spot in the top six. After his first-round run wasn’t good enough to place, an 83.5 put him in fourth and earned him a spot in the finals.
On a familiar steed, Hayes was ready for his last run.
“He had a whole different trip than the week before,” Hayes said. “It didn’t really throw me off or nothing, but I just kind of rode him how he was. He had a lot of drop and stuff, but I just handled it and laid back and did what I could on him, and it turned out good.”
The 17-year-old was awarded an 84 for the ride. When the final competitor earned a 75, he knew he had won.
Hayes has come out on top time and time again. He’s won titles at the high school and junior high levels, as well as a variety of youth rodeo events, such as a third-place finish in bareback at the International Finals Youth Rodeo last summer.
The Junior National Finals Rodeo is part of the Junior Rodeo Association, launched by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in December 2019. The initiative is created to help develop the next generation of rodeo cowboys ages 8 to 19.
The Junior National Finals Rodeo capped a weekend in Arlington that also included the Junior American and the American rodeos. According to jrrodeo.org, “the junior events during The American were aligned with the PRCA’s new Jr. Rodeo initiative.”
The overlap allowed pro athletes to be with the junior cowboys during their rounds. Four-time bareback world champion Kaycee Feild was with Hayes during one of his rides.
“Watching the reaction of Kaycee Feild and the other guys and the competitors who were cheering for him was way cool,” said Kennan’s dad Donnie Hayes. “I watch Keenan a lot, and there’s nothing he can’t do on a bucking horse. I’m super, super proud of him.”
Donnie, who is a promoter who brought the Winter Rodeo Series to Northwest Colorado, was inspired while in Texas. He has an idea to try to bring a high-level junior rodeo competition to Brent Romick Arena at the Howelsen Rodeo Grounds in Steamboat.
“We are in negotiations with the Steamboat Pro Rodeo series to do some sort of qualifier in the late summer in Steamboat as part of their show,” Donnie said. “Same stock and same competitors, probably not the same kind of money, because it’s hard to find. But, we could always hope. There’s a lot of money in Steamboat.”
Keenan will graduate from his online high school this spring, a year earlier than most, and then plans on going pro when he turns 18 in January 2021.
“I know from watching Keenan and conversations we’ve had going back to junior high, every time that gate cracks, this kid knows he can win the world (title),” Donnie said. “He’s had that drive and determination. Call it a fever or an addiction, or whatever, but he’s darn sure got it, and I don’t know what the cure is.”
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