Hayden teen riding high, heading to Junior National Finals Rodeo in Vegas
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There are plenty of times 14-year-old Hayden High School freshman Keenan Hayes isn’t riding bucking broncos.
He plays on the Tigers football team. He’s out for wrestling this winter. He attends classes (mostly) like any other student, and he spends at least some of his time away from school, like any other student, diving into shows on Netflix.
There aren’t many times Hayes isn’t at least thinking about hanging on to those horses, however, and even when other members of his family are resting comfortably on the couch during a Netflix binge, he’ll start waving his arms and bucking with a horse that’s not there, practicing spurring and kicking and balancing, and all the other things he needs to do.
“It’s in everything he does,” said his sister, 18-year old Kaitlynn Hayes. “He’s always practicing, working on his balance, trying to stay in shape and trying to equate everything to bareback or saddle bronc.”
That dedication has long-since helped Keenan Hayes establish himself as one of the best young riders in the region, perhaps even in the country, and he’s headed to Las Vegas again next week to prove it.
Hayes will compete for the third consecutive year in the Junior National Finals Rodeo.
He was fifth in bareback riding two years ago in his first appearance, then was second last year, losing in a heartbreaking fashion he’s still not entirely over.
He’s hoping to avenge that night this year and to make the most of his journey to the Las Vegas Strip.
“I was in position last year, but there was some stupid stuff,” he said.
He thought he’d won the title, but a competitor was awarded what Hayes termed a questionable re-ride, then used that to register a higher score and win the event.
“Yeah, it still annoys me,” he said. “It lights a fire under me.”
Hayes will be back in bareback riding, but he’ll also compete this season in saddle bronc riding.
He has some ingrained skills that help him with both. He pointed to his natural size, a bit bigger than most kids his age. Others point to strength, balance and technique.
The key for bareback riding, he said, is bringing your feet up with a horse as it jumps, but driving those feet back down to be in place before hooves hit dirt.
Saddle bronc is more complicated.
“There are so many moving parts,” he said. “It’s the hardest of all the rough stock events to excel at.”
He won $1,400 at last year’s Vegas event, and he plowed it into plenty of hobbies, including his snowmobile habit and an old pickup truck he’s working to repair. He’ll have twice the chance for checks this weekend, and, “yes,” he said, he’s kind of excited.
Only “kind of,” however.
He’s only 14 years old, but he plans to be in rodeo for a long time, and it’s already important. There’s not always room for emotions like excitement when he’s focused on business.
“It’s a routine,” he said. “I get pretty serious with this, so I don’t get too jittery.”