Young cowboys head to Las Vegas hoping to bring home titles |

Young cowboys head to Las Vegas hoping to bring home titles

Hayden youths hope to excel at Mini Bareback Riding World Championships

Young bareback riders J.D. Case, left, and Keenan Hayes are headed to Las Vegas this week where they will compete in the first-ever Mini Bareback Riding World Championship.
John F. Russell

— Two Hayden cowboys will head to Las Vegas this week in the hopes of hitting it big in the City of Lights, though neither is old enough to step into a casino.

“We are going to Vegas to ride mini broncs,” eight-year-old J.D. Case said in a soft voice, but his accompanying grin could barely hide his excitement as he talked about the Mini Bareback Riding World Championships that will take place at the Las Vegas Convention Center this weekend.

Case, who grew up riding dirt bikes and snowmobiles, fell in love with bronc riding after giving it a try in Steamboat Springs last summer.

Just a few short months later, he is facing a world championship event that will match the best young cowboys and the top miniature horses in three days of competition. The athletes will be divided into age groups, with the top 12 from each class advancing to the short go-round Sunday.

The cowboys’ averages for both days will help determine this year’s world champion mini-bareback riders. The event is sure to draw good-sized crowds, since it will be taking place at the same time as the National Finals Rodeo, which runs Dec. 3 through 12 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Hayden will be represented starting Friday, when Case takes his turn in the long go-round of the 6 to 9 division. Keenan Hayes, who is 12, will get his shot Saturday in the 10 to 14 division.

The local cowboys will be in an elite group, facing 24 other competitors from around the country. They will be matched with the top small breed horses in the country, including breeds such as the miniature quarter hourse, American pony and Shetland mixes.

“I’m expecting to take first place,” Hayes said. “This is the first time the mini bronc world championship event will be held. There should be a lot of good horses, and lots of good cowboys, but I’m ready to ride.”

Hayes has been captivated by mini bareback riding since taking his first ride at the age of eight. The sport inspired him to start Rocky Mountain Mini Broncs with his sister, Kaitlynn. The stock contracting and production company puts on rodeos in Northwest Colorado and around the state.

Hayes and Case earned their shots in Las Vegas based on several events held in Colorado. Hayes earned the right to compete with a second-place showing at a qualifying event in Kiowa on July 7. A week later, he took second at an event held at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.

Case enjoyed top showings at this year’s Routt County Fair and a qualifying event held in Steamboat Springs. He stamped his ticket to Las Vegas with a fourth-place showing in Colorado Springs in July.

This week, the young cowboys are hoping for top scores in the Mini Bareback Riding World Championships, which is endorsed by the Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association. In order to get to the rodeo, the cowboys had to qualify at regional events against competitors from several southwestern states where rodeo is a year-round activity.

“We were drowning in a sea of Texans and Oklahomans,” Keenan’s father, Donnie Hayes, said of the event in Colorado Springs, which included top young cowboys from around the region. “These boys came out of it, so we are pretty proud of them.”

Donnie said the cowboys from Texas and Oklahoma tend to be more experienced than their Colorado counterparts because they never stop competing. At the qualifier, however, both Hayes and Case were able to hold their own.

“I guess we are just fair-weather cowboys here in Colorado,” Donnie said.

The elder Hayes said he is thrilled to see mini bareback riding is catching on in Colorado, adding that most children his son’s age have gotten involved through a series of events now taking place in Northwestern Colorado. These include the Routt and Moffat county fairs, as well as a series of special events at the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series.

“We are blessed to be here and blessed have people in the valley supporting us like they do,” Donnie said.

The Hayden youngsters, both of whom got their start at local events, said they are thankful for the support they received from several local companies, including Yampa Valley Electric Association, Elk River Pet & Ranch, Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, R.A.I., Inc. and F.M. Light and Sons.

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

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