HERMISTON — Blake Knowles has made a name for himself as one of the top bulldoggers on the professional rodeo circuit where he has won and competed well at some of the biggest rodeos around.
But the Heppner native always enjoys coming back to home in Eastern Oregon for the Farm-City Pro Rodeo every year. Knowles made his runs in Hermiston on Friday and started off his day as well as he could have hoped with a 3.4-second run to jump to the top of the leaderboard for the first round. Later during Friday evening’s performance, Knowles was the last of the 14 competitors to make the run. And as he got set to go, announcer Randy Corley set the scene and built up the energy prior to the ride, getting the crowd cheering behind the hometown boy.
“I try to block it out as far as fundamentally to go make a steer wrestling run whether I’m at my house practicing or right here in front of my hometown,” Knowles said. “However, I like to feed off the crowd a little bit ... I like to get pumped up a little and that adrenaline gets going and you can do a lot on adrenaline. I try to use a little of it, you know, but don’t overdo it and make a stupid mistake.”
As Knowles finally got settled with his horse, he nodded his head and the steer started to sprint out of the chute, but it didn’t get too far before Knowles wrestled it to the ground in a fast 4.0 seconds. The time wasn’t good enough for the $100 nightly bonus or the top time of the round, but it was fast enough to jump Knowles into the lead of the average with a time of 7.9 on two head.
After the run, Knowles acknowledged he was a bit lucky for the time because the steer nearly got away from him.
“I had a steer tonight that I watched a good friend of mine, Sterling Lambert, run this afternoon and he (Lambert) missed him,” Knowles said. “Sterling’s a real good competitor and dang sure knows what he’s doing, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. The steer’s not bad to throw down, but he stops. And Hermiston’s set up to go fast, so you gotta end up being able to see a little bit and catch one standing still out there, and that makes it a little tougher.
“But man, I was fortunate just to kind of make a plan and it worked out for me.”
Knowles was one of five Oregon bulldoggers to run on Friday night, including Hermiston’s Ryan Bothum, Prineville’s Sean Santucci, Joseph’s Greg Schaffeld and Heppner’s Clayton Morrison. Santucci had the fastest time of the night with 3.7 seconds, while Bothum scored 5.0 seconds.
The barrel racing lineup saw a lot of Eastern Oregon and Columbia River Circuit riders running Farm-City’s course on Friday.
Eight of the 12 riders call Oregon home, and at the end of the night it was Hermiston’s Mary Shae Hayes that scored the best run and earned the $100 bonus and coveted bottle of Chute 8 whiskey. Hayes completed the course in 17.39 seconds on her eight-year-old horse Ace, holding off Pueblo, Colorado’s Christine Loughlin’s time of 17.40 seconds.
“I feel like I got a little more nervous than usual,” Hayes said. “My horse, he’s consistent but we still have our moments. That’s not one of my best runs, but it worked, and you just never really know with barrel racing. Even with the best horse, something can always go wrong.”
Hayes also took home an extra $500 bonus for the Darrell Sallee gray ribbon challenge on Friday, which was extra special for her.
“Darrell was really special and we were good family friends with him,” she said. “So it just means a lot when you can win something like that.”
It was a quiet night in bull riding on Friday as only two of the 11 riders were able to stay on for eight seconds for a qualified ride.
But the event saved the best for last.
Omak, Washington’s Wyatt Covington hopped on Corey and Lange’s Hunky Dorie for the last ride of the night, and rode through all the twists and turns for 86.5 points. The ride gave Covington the top score of the night and pushed him to No. 1 on the overall leaderboard.
“That ride was a great feeling,” said Covington, who gave a big fist pump to the crowd and tossed his helmet in celebration after the ride. “I’ve been on that bull before and I was really excited to get back on him again. It bucked me off the first time, so I wanted a little redemption and it worked out perfectly in my favor.”
Honeyville, Utah’s Tim Bingham was the only other rider to get a score Friday, riding Korkow Rodeo’s Double Action for 81 points, putting him in sixth place for the round.
Canadian cowboy Kolby Wanchuk’s first trip to the Farm-City Pro Rodeo was a memorable one.
The rookie bronc rider hopped on Corey and Lange’s Duck Butter on Friday night and rode the horse to an 85.5-point score, giving him the top ride of the night and moving him to first on the overall leaderboard.
“It was a fun horse and everything went well,” Wanchuk said. “There’s not much more you can ask for.”
Tygh Valley’s Johnny Espeland was close behind Wanchuk with 83.5 points on Calgary Stampede’s Zealous Departure, while Cort Scheer of Elsemere, Nebraska, rode Calgary’s Urgent Delivery for 80 points.
The bareback riding portion of Friday’s performance was a short one.
With five riders withdrawing from the competition, it left only Orin Larsen and Kaycee Feild to make rides to start of the evening. And though the field was small, the cowboys did not disappoint. Feild started things off with an 83-point ride on Korkow Rodeo’s Broken Angel, but Larsen followed with a massive 88.5 points on Calgary Stampede’s Special Delivery — a horse that Larsen was very familiar with.
“I’ve been on that horse three or four years previous and it kind of made me look silly,” Larsen said with a smile, “so I was happy to have it and get some redemption.”
Larsen’s score moved him to the top of the overall standings, while Feild slides into sixth place.
Friday’s team roping competition may have ended in a tie, but it was Chad Masters of Cedar Hill, Tennessee, and Joseph Harrison of Overbrook, Oklahoma, who ultimately took home the prize money and bottles of Chute 8 whiskey.
The duo tied Brenten Hall of Jay, Oklahoma, and Chase Tryan of Helena, Montana, with an average time of 9.9 seconds. However, they edged them out by 0.1 seconds for the night’s main event, roping their steer in just 4.8 seconds, while Hall and Tryan finished in 4.9.
Masters is a two-time world champ in steer wrestling, taking the title in both 2007 and 2012. He’s also won the event in Farm-City in 2006. Harrison has already qualified for the NFR at the end of the season, where he’ll team rope with Charley Crawford of Prineville, Oregon. Still, despite their accomplishments, the team was surprised by the night’s results.
“I thought we took a lot longer,” Masters said. “It worked out really well. We drew a really good steer.”
Tomorrow, the team will compete in Bozeman, Montana in the hopes of keeping their streak going.
“I really needed tonight’s win,” Masters said. “I’ve been struggling, but Joseph’s been having a great season. I’m just trying to keep it positive.”
Ty Baker of Van Horn, Texas, may have won the night with an 8.3-second time in tie down roping, but it was Jason Minor of Ellensburg, Washington, who claimed the event’s No. 1 spot after Farm-City’s first three nights.
Minor trailed behind Baker by just 0.2 seconds, finishing at 8.5, but with Baker’s no-time in the day’s slack and Minor’s score of 10.4, he sits atop the average with 18.9.
It was a slow start in the event, with the first few cowboys out the gate receiving no-time for failing to rope their calves properly. It wasn’t until Baker and Minor took their turns when the competition really started to heat up.
“It was a little tough tonight,” Minor said. “The calves were all fresh and untrained.”
Although he’s from Ellensburg, Minor has roots in Hermiston — his wife Haley, who also competes in the rodeo, calls this town home. His cousins Riley and Brady will team rope on Saturday, and Riley’s wife Jordan took first in barrel racing on Thursday night.
“I have a lot of family and friends here,” he said. “But I try to make every rodeo feel the same. Right now, the goal is to make the event finals, one calf at a time.”