Young Hayden cowboy rides to titles at Junior National Finals Rodeo
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hayden cowboy Keenan Hayes couldn’t help but feel like someone was looking over him this week during his quest to win the bareback title at the Junior National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“I felt like he was up there watching the draw — helping them get me the good horses that I could win on,” Hayes said of his grandfather, who passed away the last week of November. “I was kind of hoping I could do a little better in the (saddle) bronc riding because that was his favorite event, but he still liked me riding bareback horses, so it was just good to win it for him.”
The high school sophomore, who takes classes online, had to chalk up the highest score, an 89, in the final round of the novice bareback competition to take the lead at the event Monday, Dec. 10. He had to wait for Texas cowboy Bradlee Miller, who was sitting in second place headed into the final round, and top-seeded California cowboy Brent Applegarth to have their shot.
“I was hoping that he would do good,” Hayes said of Applegarth, who is a good friend. “The night before, we were joking and saying, ‘I guess the only way we could do it, and both be happy, was to split the title.’ Then it happened.”
In the end, Hayes and Applegarth both finished with 246 points to share the title. Miller fell just off the pace, finishing a point back in the final totals.
The bareback title was one of two that Hayes would win during the week. He also pocketed the all-round title.
“He was all-around last year,” Hayes’ mom Jackie said of her son. “But he has wanted to win the bareback title for years. It was a good feeling when he won because he has been working so hard. He has always had the ability, but he just wasn’t getting enough horse under him the past few years.”
The draw in this year’s finals didn’t favor Hayes in the early going.
Hayes didn’t get the horse he wanted in the first round and was sitting in 16th place in the standings after scoring a 70 on his first ride. But he won the next round to move to third before posting the top score in the short-go to move into the top position.
“I knew that if I could draw good, I would win it,” Hayes said. “That was the problem every year that I’ve been here, until this year. I drew not so good horses.”
But, things turned around this year, especially in the last two rounds. Hayes posted an 87 in the second round to close the gap and then finished strong with one of the best scores of his career in the third round.
“Bareback has been my main event for most of my rodeo career, so I was just running for that title,” Hayes said. “I’ve been close in the past, but I was always a few points out every year.”
When Hayes, who was making his fourth Junior National Finals Rodeo appearance, climbed on the back of GF Buckers Hyna, the local cowboy knew he needed a high score to win the title.
“It put a lot of pressure on those guys,” Hayes said of his 89-point ride. “But I knew it was going to be a good score, and that put a lot of pressure on me, too.”
Hayes’ mom said it was a nail biter as she watched the final two riders go and then had to wait for the point totals to come in. In the end, Hayes got to share the title with a good friend.
“We have been friends for a long time,” Hayes said of Applegarth. “It was just nice to have a good buddy there and then to tie.”