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GUTHRIE, Okla. â Every timed-event contestant in rodeo knows it takes great horsepower to excel in the rodeo arena.
Fans will get to see it in full force during the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, scheduled for 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10; 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 11; and 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at the Lazy E Arena. In addition to the elite steer wrestlers in rodeo battling for ProRodeoâs National Championship, the Lazy E will host some of the greatest bulldogging horses in the game.
In fact, the top two in AQHA/PRCA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year voting will be in central Oklahoma with their owners: 2013 winner Two Guns will be mounted by Wade Sumpter (who owns the horse with veterinarian Chris Morrow) and other bulldoggers, while runner-up Ote will handle the heavy lifting for owner Bray Armes.
With 24 top cowboys battling for the prestigious RNCFR championship, expect a number of top horses to be in the mix. You see, this championship will bring out the greatest stars in the game, both human and equine. Armes and Sumpter are two of 10 steer wrestlers in this yearâs field who have played on the sportâs grandest stage, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Their appearances inside the Lazy E Arena is just another feather in their cap â in fact, the National Championship is the second most honored title in the game, just behind the World Title.
World champion Jason Miller leads a field of the eventâs brightest stars who will compete at this yearâs RNCFR, joining Beau Franzen, Jake Rinehart, Nick Guy, Tommy Cook, Tom Lewis, Olin Hannum and Oklahoman Stockton Graves.
ALVA, Okla. â Parker Warner and Dustin Searcy have found their comfort zone.
The team ropers from Northwestern Oklahoma State Universityâs rodeo team have won each of the past two National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association events in which they have competed, the most recent this past weekend at the Garden City (Kan.) Community College rodeo.
âWe took a little bit to get going this season,â said Searcy, a junior heeler from Mooreland, Okla. âWe practiced really hard this winter and just tried to bear down this spring. With seven rodeos left in the season, we knew it was still anybodyâs ballgame.â
In just two weeks into the spring semester portion of the 2013-14 Central Plains Region season, Searcy and Warner have moved from zero points to 240 and sit fourth in the region standings in their respective divisions.Â Now with five events remaining on the schedule â the schools will compete at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College this coming weekend â the Rangers are on a roll at the right time.
Warner and Searcy won the Kansas State University rodeo to open the season, then followed it up a week later in western Kansas with a second straight victory.
âWe knew we were behind, and we knew we had to get points,â said Warner, a senior header from Jay, Okla. âGarden City is always a good rodeo and always has good steers, usually on the fresher side. We knew we needed to just go knock one down in the long round.â
They did, but their time was a little on the slow end at 6.9 seconds; they qualified for the championship round ninth out of 10 teams.
âI told Searcy that this setup was pretty fun and that we should just go for it,â Warner said, noting that the team won the final round with a 4.7-second run and won the average title with a cumulative time of 11.6 seconds on two runs. âIt was a good two weeks for sure.â
It was a pretty good couple of weeks for the Northwestern men and women. The Rangers men placed third in Garden City with 395 points, while the women placed second with 245. In all, Northwestern held 11 spots in the short round, which was valuable to team points.
Warner and Searcy led the way with their victory, but another Ranger heeler, Chase Boekhaus of Rolla, Kan., scored a second-place finish roping with Ethan Fox of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Northwestern header Dalton Richards finished sixth.
âFor us, itâs a mental game,â Searcy said. âWe know we have a run we think we can win on. When we go to the practice pen, weâre focused. Weâre trying to get better on one thing every day, whether itâs being consistent and knocking them down or trying to go fast and max out on a steer. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the practice pen, and I think it helps.â
Other short-round qualifiers were steer wrestler Ryan Domer of Topeka, Kan., who placed third; tie-down roper Wade Perry of Lamont, Okla., who finished sixth; bull rider Garrett German of Arnett, Okla., who placed fourth; breakaway ropers Kelsey Pontius of Watsontown, Pa., (third) and Micah Samples of Abilene, Kan., (fourth); and goat-tiers Karley Kile of Topeka, Kan., (third) and Kodi Hansen of Everly, Iowa, (fourth).
For Warner and Searcy, it comes down to having a solid partnership.
âOne thing about Parker is that heâs definitely going to catch, and heâs going to give us a chance to win,â Searcy said. âHeâs going to set the steer up where I can heel him as fast as possible.â
Thatâs a strong combination. It also is a winning combination.
âItâs good to have someone like Searcy because it takes a little pressure off me,â said Warner, who transferred to Northwestern from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. âI know heâs going to do his job. Itâs easier to have a partner behind you thatâs very consistent, rides good horses and doesnât do anything too off the wall; he uses his head, and heâs always mentally prepared.
âWe try to have a game plan when we back into the box, and we try very hard to execute our game plan.â
Their game plan is working so far.
GUTHRIE, Okla. â Why is the Timed Event Championship of the World called the âIronman of ProRodeo?â
Itâs the most challenging rodeo event in the world, where 20 invited cowboys pony up $3,000 each to test their versatile talents against one another and in each discipline: heading, heeling, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and steer roping.
âIâve always loved roping calves and bulldogging and stuff,â said Russell Cardoza, a three-time heeling qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. âIâve always wanted to win the Timed Event, so I finally got in it when I started rodeoing. Iâve kind of always liked allâ the timed events.â
The Timed Event also is the most rugged event in the game. Each contestant will make a run in each discipline per performance. They compete over five go-rounds, which means they will make 25 runs in just three days. Most of the cowboys in the mix focus on one particular discipline. Cardoza and Dustin Bird are heelers, while Spencer Mitchell is a header. Those guys are relative newcomers to the game, with Bird and Mitchell making their first appearances in the field last March.
âActually a lot more fun than I thought it would be,â said Bird, who has qualified for the NFR each of the past two seasons. âIâm kind of getting to like it. Iâve just got to slow down a little bit and start doing things right. I get in a speed jam all the time.â
There are numerous others who have proven themselves among the greatest all-around cowboys in the game, from five-time Timed Event winner K.C. Jones, who qualified for the NFR in both team roping and tie-down roping, to three-time champion Daniel Green, who focused on heading during his 10 trips to Las Vegas. Josh Peek is an NFR all-around champion who has qualified in both steer wrestling and tie-down roping.
This field is loaded from top to bottom, including a couple of Linderman Award winners in Mike Outhier and Trell Etbauer, both of whom have proven themselves in timed events and riding bucking animals. They were quite handy during last yearâs Timed Event, but itâs what fans have come to expect during the âIronman.â
This yearâs Timed Event Championship of the World will be showcased in an RFD-TV prime-time special Wednesday, March 12, just a few days after this yearâs winner is crowned. Itâs a grand celebration for the 30th anniversary of the âIronman of ProRodeo,â the most unique and challenging rodeo competition in the game. Only 11 cowboys have won one of the most prestigious titles in rodeo.
âThey all work at it, and they know to not beat themselves,â Mitchell said about past champs.
MARSHALL, Texas â Jeremy Hight and Jeremy Willis took very different paths to their careers as pickup men.
Hight grew up around livestock but never competed in rodeo; Willis rode bareback horses professionally before transitioning to his existing role. They bring it all together quite well as pickup men for Pete Carrâs Classic Pro Rodeo, which will produce the Marshall Pro Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6-Saturday, March 8, at Marshall City Arena.
âI grew up around some amateur rodeos, but I never did really rodeo. I was more of a cowboy, working at ranches,â said Hight, now in his fifth year on the job. âI went to Texas A&M and stayed down there for five or six years working for big ranches.â
Now he spends most of his time at the Carr Ranch near Athens, Texas, where he cares for the animal athletes on a daily basis. When heâs not on the ranch, heâs at a Carr rodeo, where he handles continues his trade of livestock care while also tackling all the chores of some of the most versatile cowboys in the game. In addition to handling many of the behind-the-scenes duties that help make the rodeo happen, Willis and Hight will assist cowboys who ride bucking horses and bulls for a living.
âI think it takes someone who is well mounted, who can read livestock and can do all the things that need to be done in and out of the arena,â said Willis, of Elkhart, Texas. âWhen I rode, I always liked guys who rode bucking horses before they started picking up. I felt like they could read the horses more. I can tell by what lead the horse is in where heâs going to be.â
Though he played college baseball, Hight understands all the intricacies that come with the job.
âOne of the biggest things is in the horses you ride,â he said. âYou have to keep good horses coming along all the time. As long as theyâre working good, you look good. Itâs also important to be able to read the stock and read the situation so you can be in the right place at the right time.
âYou also need to be able to work with a team with whoever else youâre working with. There are two of us out there for a reason. It makes things more fluid, easier when weâre working together and when the horses work good.â
Willis and Hight have worked together for several years. They know what it takes to make things work, especially when theyâre in the arena together.
âThe biggest thing I like about Pete Carr Pro Rodeo is that Pete hires the best guys he can get,â Willis said. âWhen he hires them, he trusts them to do their jobs, and he doesnât micromanage what weâre doing. Itâs also a nice thing working with guys that know the horses.â
Hight and Willis do. Theyâve seen the animals perform and know how to work each animal that comes out of the chute.
âWhat we shoot for is a good, smooth performance, and a big part of that is that we spend the least amount of time with that animal,â Hight said. âWe want to get that flank off them so they get that release. Iâve been told by very smart rodeo people that the best pickup men are the ones you never notice; they donât do anything wrong, they donât rush things and theyâre donât get in a bind. We want to shoot for that every time.â
That push for excellence is what defines Willis, Hight and Pete Carr Pro Rodeo.