HERMISTON — The Farm-City Pro Rodeo opened its doors for the 31st consecutive year on Wednesday evening, where a few first-time competitors earned victory laps in their events.
Bridger Chambers (steer wrestling), Tanner Lockhart (saddle bronc) and Eli Vastbinder (bull riding) all finished the first night atop the leaderboard for the round, earning themselves a victory lap, a $100 dash-for-cash bonus and a bottle of coveted Chute 8 whiskey. Chambers, from Stevensville, Montana, made his debut at Farm-City on Wednesday in his debut season on the national circuit. He failed to record a time in afternoon slack, but was able to wrestle his steer to the ground in a blazing 3.7 seconds — only a half-second off the arena record of 3.2 seconds set back in 2000 — to win the night, holding off Scott Guenthner (Provost, Alberta) at 4.0 seconds, Chase Black (Coalville, Utah) at 4.1 seconds, and Andy Weldon (Greenleaf, Idaho) at 4.2 seconds.
“My game plan was just kind of to go for it,” said Chambers, who also earned an extra $500 bonus for the Darrell Sallee gray ribbon challenge, given in memory of the late Farm-City board member Darrell Sallee. “I was out of the average, so I just wanted to try to get some money out of it tonight.”
Chambers’ first year making the national tour has been well worth it for the 30-year-old cowboy, as he came to Hermiston ranked No. 6 in the world standings with more than $66,000 in winnings. After winning the RAM Montana Circuit Finals last season, Chambers said he thought he might as well give it a go outside of the confines of his home state and it has certainly worked out for him.
“At the beginning of the year, the goal was just to go at them chop by chop and try to win some money here and there,” he said, “and I think I’ve been able to do that, and stay consistent. It’s been a really good year.”
Lockhart, from Lewis, Colorado, rode Kesler Rodeo’s Break Away for 81.5 points to set the bar in saddle bronc. His ride also netted him an extra $500 bonus as his horse was selected as the nightly Coca-Cola bonus challenge.
“I knew a lot of people that had been on that horse,” Lockhart said,” and I knew if I kind of did my job it’d work out. That horse is usually real consistent in the way it bucks, and I’m glad it didn’t throw anything at me because I wouldn’t have been prepared.”
Lockhart held of Rusty Wright (Milford, Utah) and his 81 points, Ryder Wright (Milford, Utah) and his 80 points, and Spencer Wright (Milford, Utah) and his 79.5 points, and now heads to Missoula, Montana, where he will be keeping an eye on the competition in Hermiston as Lockhart hopes to stay in the money.
And Vastbinder, of Athens, Texas, was one of only two qualified rides in bull riding on Wednesday, as his 74.5 points on Korkow Rodeo’s Laser Beam was just enough to hold off Dallee Mason (Weiser, Idaho) and his 74 points to win the nightly bonus.
“I’ve sat out the last four or five days with a back injury, so coming back and getting a score on the board felt good,” Vastbinder said, “and that’s what I needed.”
Vastbinder currently sits 14th in the world standings, but is only a few hundred dollars above the cutoff line for the NFR qualifying line and finally came to Hermiston in search of some money to add to his winnings. He’s not confident that his 74.5 will keep him atop the leaderboard with three days left of competition, but he’s hoping to stay in the money.
“The bulls are good, some of the best in the world here,” he said. “They’re tricky, but you can get a lot of points on them. But they’re still a lot of guys that are really good left to ride, so we’ll see if it holds.”
Jessie Telford was the first racer out of the gates on Wednesday night, and she made a statement with her opening ride.
The Caldwell, Idaho, cowgirl finished the course in 16.89 seconds — only eight one hundreths of a second off the arena record of 16.81 seconds — to win the $100 bonus and help her case for a spot in the NFR.
“I’m really happy right now, but I’m right on the bubble of making the finals,” said Telford, who is 18th in the world standings. “It’s a different feeling than the first half of the year, where you were just out there hoping to do well. Now the competition is there.”
Telford has been involved in rodeo for most of her life, but found her passion in barrel racing.
“I love the speed,” she said. “It’s always exciting.”
Though she spends most of her time on the road, this year she brought her two daughters along for the ride.
“Having your family with you and watching you race makes the whole experience so much better,” she said.
She held off Stevi Hillman (Weatherford, Texas) and her 17.32 seconds and Kellie Collier (Hereford, Texas) and her 17.36 seconds to win the night. Echo cowgirls Amy Coelho and Bobbie Correa finished in 22.77 seconds and 18.09 seconds, respectively.
Clayton Biglow began the night with one of the best performances of the night, riding Candy Smile for 85 points to set a high bar for the rest of the week.
“I knew that horse was pretty good,” Biglow said, “and I knew if I just did my job, we’d be sitting pretty good. I don’t know if this will win first, but it’ll sure pull a check.”
Biglow, from Clements, California, is currently fourth in the world standings and held off Jamie Howlett (Weatherford, Texas) with 82.5 points and Jessy Davis (Power, Montana) with 81.5 points.
For Colorado cowboy Kyle Dickens, his first full season at the rodeo has been a learning experience.
Dickens, 26, finished the first night of the Farm-City Pro Rodeo at the top of the scoreboard, but not without a few road blocks along the way. The event was rough for nearly every competitor out the gate, as several calves refused to go down, and other cowboys failed to catch their calves.
Dickens tied his calf in 15.1 seconds — 5.1 seconds faster than his runner-up Kyle Lucas of Carstairs, Canada. But that didn’t do much to lift his spirits after the event.
“I got it tied and finished the event, and that’s about the only thing that went well,” he said.
Dickens completed the afternoon’s Slack with a time of 12.9 seconds, bringing his average to 28 seconds. He sees this season as a trial and error experience.
“It’s been a year of ups and downs,” he said. “What I’ve learned most is that you have to have a competitive mindset. The guys at the top are at the top for a reason. There’s a lot I can take away from them.”
Only one of seven teams that competed on Wednesday night were able to record a time, as the headers had trouble catching the steer most of the night.
The only successful team was Brooks Dahozy (Window Rock, Arizona) and Cody Hill (Rexburg, Idaho) as the pair roped the steer in 5.2 seconds to win the nightly bonus. Dahozy and Hill did not record a time in afternoon slack, where the team of Matt Sherwood (Pima, Arizona) and Buddy Hawkins II (Columbus, Kansas) scored 4.4 seconds for the go.
Action picks back up at the Farm-City Pro Rodeo arena on Thursday at 7:45 p.m.