Hayden’s Hayes is the best young bareback rider in the nation | SteamboatToday.com
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Hayden’s Hayes is the best young bareback rider in the nation

Hayden resident Keenan Hayes competes in bareback riding at the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo during the summer of 2021. He completed the year by winning the Mountain States Circuit Finals and the Permit Members of the Year Challenge.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Hayden cowboy Keenan Hayes went into the 2021 rodeo year with big goals. The 18-year-old wanted to win the Mountain States Circuit, qualify for the Permit Members of the Year Challenge and win it.

Those are lofty goals, especially since Hayes is in his first year on his permit, which is the step ahead of acquiring his rookie card. While the Permit Members of the Year Challenge is just against his peers, every other rodeo throughout the year includes permit holders, rookies and full-on professionals.

Winning the Mountain States Circuit, or any regional championships, is a difficult task, but Hayes made it look easy. Not only did he win the circuit bareback championship in October, but he qualified for and won the national finals among permit members in Las Vegas earlier this month.



“I accomplished everything I set out to go and try to do, at least for this year,” Hayes said. “I just don’t take ‘no’ for an option, I guess. I’ve always wanted to do this in my life, so I set out to do it, no matter what it takes. I’ve been putting everything I have into trying to do this, and it’s finally coming true, so I just keep working at it.”

The victories solidify Hayes’ title as the best bareback rider his age, a trend he started in 2019 when he won the National High School Finals Rodeo and continued in 2020 when he won the Junior National Finals Rodeo.



Hayes points to good draws as a large reason he had such a great year. A ride in the finals at Cheyenne Frontier Days, one of the largest rodeos of the year, gave him a $2,000 paycheck, his largest of the year. However, his consistency and ability to ride well when it counts is the true reason he’s the national champion.

In finals events, a score in every round is essential to placing. Not only does he have to hang onto his horse for eight seconds, he has to do so with control and proper form to earn a decent score, which is typically in the mid-80s.

In the Mountain States finals, Hayes earned an 89 to win the opening round and an 86 to win the second round. In the third round, his horse injured itself in the chute, so he was granted a re-ride.

Hayes was unaffected by the change of plans. He held on to earn an 85.5. It wasn’t enough to place that round, but his previous two scores earned him a total (or average, as they say in rodeo) of 260.5 points, which gave him the bareback title.

“I just do the same thing every time,” Hayes said. “They’re all horses — just go at ‘em as if they’re just another horse. Even if they’re something really good, just do your job every time and just ride ‘em correctly, I guess — just do your job and, hopefully, everything works out.”

More often than not, everything has worked out for Hayes.

He was one of the five most successful bareback permit holders across the country, so he was invited to the Permit Members of the Year Challenge, which coincided with the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

He won the first round with an 86 and took second in the second round with an 85, giving him a two-round total of 171 — and the national title.

Finding a teammate

Hayes has been riding for years, perfecting his form and traveling more and more each year. He was busier than ever in 2021, competing across the Rocky Mountain region, as well as in Texas, racking up a season total of $24,981.

His total earnings put him in second in the permit standings behind Bodee Lammers, who earned $29,006.

The powerhouse pair spent the year traveling together, learning from each other and splitting costs of being a full-time cowboy.

Hayes met Lammers last spring as they crossed paths often at Texas rodeos. Lammers, 25, hails from Stephenville, Texas, and had recently lost his travel buddies to injury and other circumstances. When the young cowboys got to talking, they hit it off and decided to hit the road together.

“It just worked out that we were trying to go to a lot of the same rodeos together,” Hayes said. “And he’s good at entering, so I let him enter me a whole lot.”

Lammers taught Hayes how to enter rodeos, but the pair learned a lot from each other.

Both did their fair share of raking in money. Traveling together also provided company on the road and allowed them to split driving time.

“I like that we’re both riding really good,” Hayes said. “It helps push you to stay riding good. You don’t want your traveling partner pulling all the weight.”

Lammers said they would feed off each other’s success and consult each other for tips if someone was having a rough patch.

The Texan said the Coloradan has a lot of natural talent, which combined with his work ethic is lethal. They competed against each other on a weekly basis but were always buddies once they got back in the truck.

“Even though you’re out there competing against each other, it’s more between you and the animal than it is you and your buddies,” Lammers said. “We’ll help each other when we can. There’s no tension at all.”

Lammers is now on his rookie card and eyeing 2022 rookie of the year. Hayes is hoping to repeat his success next year and go to larger rodeos, as he rides one more season on his permit before purchasing his rookie card in 2023.

He’s also hoping to push the envelope by setting a new record for money won by a permit holder, which he believes to be about $60,000.

“It’ll be a pretty cool deal, hopefully,” he said.


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