Moffat County rodeo program anticipating wide range of talent, ages this season
For the Craig Press
Summertime has hardly been a period of slacking off for members of the Moffat County High School rodeo team, but now that high school competition has rolled around, they are spurred on yet again this fall.
MCHS will be in the mix this weekend during the fall opener for Colorado State High School Rodeo Association at Eagle County Fairgrounds.
What’s more, the group will encompass more of a regional roster this year.
Chris Rhyne, who oversees area athletes along with Joyce Barnes, said the MCHS team of 17 will include high school and middle school kids from Moffat County — among them from Craig, Maybell and Hamilton — as well as Routt County’s Steamboat Springs and Grand’s Kremmling.
Part of that is to create an affiliation of rodeo families, with a side benefit of making registration easier.
“Everybody is encouraged to put on a team because it helps to put on the rodeo, and you don’t have to pay an extra fee for being an independent member instead of on a team,” Chris said.
Chris added that the new format for this season allows fifth-graders to compete in the CSHSRA junior high events, a handy fact for the MoCo team, which will see multiple athletes who were big on the middle school circuit move up to the next level as high school freshmen.
That includes multi-year state bull riding champion Logan Durham, Cactus Barnes, who competes in team roping and tie down roping — and possibly more, after leaving behind junior high-only events such as boys goat tying and chute dogging — and Chris’s daughter Jolene Rhyne, whose activities range from barrel racing to pole bending to goat tying, as well as picking up a state title this spring in ribbon roping.
All three also went on to the junior high national rodeo event in June.
Among the more seasoned members of the regional high school team this season are Steamboat’s Grace Eck and Chris’s son, Pepper Rhyne, both of whom are entering their senior year.
Pepper was close to attending the high school national finals this year in the tie down event — with Moffat County represented by then-seniors Kaden Cox and Clay Durham in the rifle shooting and bull riding, respectively, and incoming MCHS sophomore Katie Jo Knez qualifying in goats but relinquishing her spot to an older competitor — and he’s already evaluated how he can improve.
“I didn’t rope very good last spring. The ones I got I was able to flank and tie fine, but I met some calves I shouldn’t have and that hurt me in the standings a little bit,” he said.
During the state finals, held in Craig during Memorial Day weekend, Pepper had a better experience in the team roping, winning one round outright with former partner Coy Evans. This fall, he’ll instead work as the header to heeler Seth Anderson.
“I feel good about it, I feel prepared. I’ve been roping as much as possible and practicing as hard as I can,” Pepper said. “We’ll probably just do the best we can this fall and try to set up for a good spring. We’ll worry about getting to nationals first, and then that will take care of itself once it gets here.”
While he showed his skills at the Moffat County Fair and competed in a rodeo in Gillette, Wyoming, earlier this month, Pepper has been balancing dual sports in the summer, also readying for the winter wrestling season.
The fall rodeo schedule only runs through September, with Moffat County kids in their own arena the weekend of Sept. 3, followed by events at Montezuma County Fairgrounds and Elbert’s Latigo Hills Equestrian Center before a lengthy hiatus until April.
However, the Bulldog senior will have more than activity on his mind in the colder months.
“I think you should use that time to get better and look at what you did right in the fall and make sure you keep doing those things right in the spring. You also need to look at what you did wrong and try to do those things better come spring,” Pepper said.
Junior high and high school rodeos are run concurrently, so having two kids at the high school level won’t be too different, though Chris expects a little bit of change.
“There’s a transition with both of them being on the high school team now, that’ll be kind of nice now having them on the same side of things,” she said.
Given the physical distance between teammates in the region, practicing as a single group isn’t always an option, but Pepper hopes this year he can help younger athletes if they need advice or mentoring.
“Since we’re all so spread out, we don’t get to rope together often, but when we do rope together, there’s opportunities for that,” he said.
Overall, the final year of high school rodeo is one Pepper hopes to relish.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it while it lasts and taking it day by day, doing the best I can do,” he said. “The old saying ‘you’re only as good as your competition’ is definitely true. That’s the nice part about high school rodeos is that’s where the best of the best kids are, so they always push you to get better.”
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Next week, Colorado Northwestern Community College and Moffat County are hosting a free day-long seminar for local ranchers and agriculture producers.