HELENA — Two of the top three bareback riders in the world were on hand for the first night of the Last Chance Stampede in Helena and they set the lead for the rest of the weekend.
Caleb Bennett of Corvallis and Tilden Hooper of Carthage, Texas, both scored 84.5 points to set the standard for the rest of the weekend.
Bennett, ranked third in the PRCA world standings, was aboard the C5 Rodeo Co. horse Sunday Sinner. He’d seen the six-year-old mare buck at the Calgary Stampede a few weeks ago, and was delighted that he’d drawn her.
“I was tickled to draw her,” he said. “I knew she was a chance to be 84 or 85 points, so I knew I’d better come.”
Hooper, ranked second in the world standings behind Tim O’Connell, rode the C5 horse Black Moon, another horse that bucked at Calgary a few weeks ago.
It wasn’t an easy ride, Hooper said, but that’s how bareback riding is, he said.
“You know, it’s not supposed to be easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
Hooper’s battle with the horse ended in a draw, he thought. “I would venture to say I matched moves with him more than I won the fight. He definitely landed a few on me. When you’re getting on big buckers like that, it’s going to happen. Hats off to C5 (Rodeo Co.) for having some great horses, and that’s one of them.”
In many sports, competitors don’t cheer each other on. But in rodeo, they usually do.
“All the (bareback riders) root for each other,” Hooper said. “Everybody loves bareback riding and they love to see good bareback riding. So when you see somebody out there doing it, you’re going to cheer them on.”
Hooper has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the PRCA’s world championship held in Las Vegas in December, seven times, and plans on being back there again this year.
“I would never want to be number one if the guys behind me weren’t the best guys in the world. It wouldn’t mean a lot to me.”
He believes the bareback riders competing in this era are some of the best in the history of rodeo.
“I’m excited (to go to the National Finals) and battle against these guys for ten rounds. That’s a place where you’ve got to get on all different kinds of horses and you have to ride them right, and I think that’s what’s so special about it. It’s physically tough and it’s mentally tough, and by the time it’s sorted out, the best guy’s going to strap on a gold buckle and the rest of the guys will be standing there, cheering for him.”
Hooper has been competing professionally since 2006. “I’m just very thankful to have this job, and to get to do what I love for a living. It’s the greatest job in the world and I thank God every day I get to wake up to be a cowboy.”
Bennett grew up in Utah but moved to Corvallis three years ago when he and his wife married. He has qualified for the Wrangler NFR eight times.
Other high scores and fast times from the rodeo include steer wrestler Logan John Beattie, Helena, Mont. (5.0 seconds); team ropers Shawn Bessette, Great Falls, Mont./Matt Robertson, Augusta, Mont. (11.2 seconds); saddle bronc rider Ben Anderson, Rocky Mountain House, Alb. (87 points); tie-down roper Caleb Berquist, La Crosse, Wash. (7.8 seconds); barrel racer Carly Taylor, Andersonville, Tenn. (17.82 seconds); and bull rider Cole Wagner, Valier, Mont. (85.5 points.)
The Last Chance Stampede continues tomorrow night with a Tough Enough to Wear Pink performance on Fri., July 30 at 7:30 pm