‘Learning the ropes’: Hayden’s Keenan Hayes aims for Las Vegas after a successful summer of rodeo | SteamboatToday.com

‘Learning the ropes’: Hayden’s Keenan Hayes aims for Las Vegas after a successful summer of rodeo

Hayden resident Keenan Hayes competes in bareback riding at the Steamboat Pro Rodeo on Friday. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

Keenan Hayes wasn’t happy with his horse Friday night. The animal’s front legs buckled to the dirt twice while Hayes clung on and fought for a score. Since he was the only bareback rider Friday and one of two over the two-night Steamboat Pro Rodeo, Hayes was guaranteed a payout.

“It wasn’t the best horse,” Hayes said. “He was probably a little young one. I stayed on. I got it done, I guess.”

This is the fourth time Hayes has competed in the local rodeo this summer. He enjoys it because it’s kind of his hometown arena, and the competitions fill weekends when he doesn’t have anything else lined up. Hayes has been busy, though. He’s competed in 49 rodeos since April 1 and earned money in 25 of them, an earning rate of 51%.

The best bareback rider in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Tilden Hooper, has won money on 17 of his past 29 rides, putting up a slightly better success rate of 58%.

The Steamboat rodeo is small, but so long as he earns a score, he’s almost guaranteed to place and earn money, which improves his circuit standings. Hayes competes in the mountain state circuit, which includes Colorado and Wyoming. He can compete anywhere, but the rodeos in that circuit count toward his standings.

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In his first year of professional riding, Hayes is a permit rider. Acquiring a permit is the first step to becoming a PRCA competitor. After earning $1,000, competitors have the choice to get their PRCA card or get a second permit and fill that with earnings.

Hayes, 18, said he’s currently second in the permit standings in the circuit. He’s hoping to win the Mountain States Circuit this year. In the PRCA, he’s 39th, which is still impressive for a rider his age.

“I’ve been doing good and competing with everybody all year and getting on the best horses in the world and riding them like I need to,” Hayes said.

He’s been all around the west this summer but is most proud of his performance at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Cheyenne Frontier Days is one of the largest rodeos in the country and attracts some of the best athletes. Hayes finished fourth.

“That was probably the highlight,” he said. “I’m proud of Cheyenne.”

Rodeos compete all year, but the end of the season is Sept. 30. That’s when standings will be solidified, and shortly after, circuit finals will be held. If Hayes wins the Mountain States Circuit outright or at the finals, he’ll be invited to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida in the spring.

In his young rodeo career, Hayes has won at every level. He won the bareback title at the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2019, and he was the best bareback rider at the Junior National Finals Rodeo in 2020.

Hayes still has a lot of improving to do before he qualifies for the National Finals Rodeo. The top 15 in each event earn a spot at the coveted Las Vegas rodeo, which takes place over a week in early December.

He does have one way to get to Las Vegas: the PRCA Permit Holder of the Year Challenge.

If he is one of the top five permit bareback riders in the nation, he’ll be invited to the permit challenge, which offers young riders a chance to compete on a national stage and prove they are one of the best new competitors.

Next month, he’ll travel to Washington and Oregon with a friend, then he’ll spend the fall and winter in Texas, where cold weather doesn’t end rodeo season. His performances outside of the Mountain States won’t count toward his circuit standings but will contribute to his PRCA standings.

“I’ve been getting used to it, entering pro rodeos,” Hayes said. “Learning the ropes, I guess.”

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