Steven Ware handled the pressure like a seasoned veteran.
Singled out as the featured bull rider in Friday’s opening performance of the Boot Corral Wrangler ProRodeo Classic, the 20-year-old Vancouver, Wash., native stood alone in the darkened Coliseum arena.
A bull was turned out of the chutes and a spotlight came on as announcer Jerry Todd reminded the sold-out crowd of 5,084 that bull riding is America’s most dangerous sport. Then a spotlight hit Ware.
Seven riders after the introductions, with the crowd roaring, Ware covered Courageous Clyde with a high-mark ride of 76, earning him a horseback ride around the arena.
Being the featured rider helped.
“It really gets you pumped up to ride that bull a lot harder,” he said before heading to Olympia for a ride tonight. “Even though you have to give 100 percent and really concentrate every ride, that really makes you want to go out there get a ride.” The horseback ride for the event winners each performance was something else as the horse reared up when Ware bumped him with his spurs, bringing another roar from the crowd.
“I thought for sure I would get plopped on my head,” the grinning cowboy said. “I never learned anything about saddle broncs. He probably bucked more than the bull. He was sure harder to ride.”
Most of the cowboys in all events had a much tougher time than Ware. Only two of nine ropers caught their calves and then they struggled getting them tied. The fastest time was 17.8, which won’t win anything by the time the rodeo ends with a performance at 8 tonight and 2:30 Sunday.
Seven straight steer wrestlers missed and only two of 10 got steers down. The leading 8.8-second run is unlikely to win a paycheck.
A good production, guided by Todd and featuring clown Flint Rasmussen, made up for the performances of man and beast, who were hampered by deep, wet dirt.
Ware is only a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association permit holder, which means he has to win a minimum amount of money to earn his card. Until then, he isn’t guaranteed entry into any rodeo that fills up with card-carrying bull riders.
“I try to get to everything,” he said. “On permit you’re second priority to card holders and I got in this one.”
Ware, who travels out of Santa Maria, Calif., while he learns from a former champion, said he knew absolutely nothing about Courageous Clyde.
“Sometimes it makes it easier when you don’t know what the bull is going to do,” he said. “It makes you ride jump for jump. He’s not one of those that feel good all the time, he kind of lunges forward. There’s not as much timing as a bull that has rhythm.”
One of the other top performances was turned in by team ropers Guy Gregg of Milton Freewater, Ore., and Dave Inman of Colfax. With Gregg roping the steer’s horns and Inman catching both hind legs, they took the lead with a 6.5-second run.
“A good header makes a good heeler,” said Inman, a former National Finals Rodeo qualifier. “A good heeler is nothing without a header. Sometimes two really good ropers can’t rope together because of styles. Guy runs up close, I know what he’s going to do every time. He can be solid and I can be fast. Guy’s good, that’s where it’s won or lost.”
Living 100 miles apart makes it difficult for the pair to practice. Thursday night they met in Walla Walla and Inman, who is a part-time farmer for his in-laws, got home at 1 a.m.
Inman, 35, has rodeoed hard for 15 years and worked with four or five different headers before hooking up with Gregg about 18 months ago. They’ve steadily improved and won the PRCA Columbia River Association finals in Yakima last month.
Saddle bronc riders had a tough time as many horses didn’t want to stand up straight in the chutes and most got bogged down in the dirt. Justin McKinnon, 22, of Cokeville, Wyo., out-waited balky Charlies Girls to take the lead with a 72.
“When you go to get on a horse you already have a game plan,” he said. “You want to get on and get out while your mind is still on the horse. Something like that takes your mind off the horse.”
Watching the other riders struggle, McKinnon, the last bronc rider out, said, “I knew I had a good horse. As the other guys bucked off I knew I had to ride hard and I could probably place. He was learning against the gate. When he stood up I called him out (nodding his head to have the chute opened) but he learned again and he had to take a little run to get bucking or I probably could have scored higher.”
McKinnon said he traveled to Spokane because rodeo is in his blood.
“I started when I was a little kid. I used my brother for practice. He was 220 pounds and I’d put his belt around his chest.”