SOAP LAKE — Bull riding has a way of making a cowboy out of you in a hurry. The bull only has to win a couple of times before you figure out making it to the whistle makes more sense than the alternative.
Two-time National Junior High School Finals Rodeo competitor Austin Herrera from Wilson Creek will take his place on the biggest stage he’s ever competed on July 16-22 at the 69th annual National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyo.
Herrera will be a part of Team Washington and take part in a rodeo featuring more than 1,750 contestants from 43 states, five Canadian Provinces and Australia. It is the world's largest high school rodeo and NHSFR contestants will be competing for more than $350,000 in college scholarships and the chance to be named an NHSFR World Champion.
Herrera has some work to do if he plans on joining the likes of Wyatt Covington, the only bull rider from Washington state (2015) to win a gold buckle at the National High School Finals Rodeo, but dreaming big is a way to make things happen.
“I think it’s going to be fun overall. I’m the first in my family to ride bulls. My goal is to make the short-go and the top 15 for sure this year,” said Herrera, who like most rough stock riders made his way through the ranks from sheep, to calves and mini bulls. “I have to cover two to get there. The top 20 make it to the short-go, everything depends on how I score and how many of the other guys cover their rides.”
To cover a ride is to make it eight seconds for the official score. The judges award points to both the rider and the bull. Best combined score on two head narrows the field to the top 20 riders, where the best score on championship Saturday wins the gold buckle.
Herrera’s had some help with technique along the way, but he really tapped into the skill set of PRCA rider Shane Proctor at his annual bull riding school in Grand Coulee.
“Shane rides on the PBR. He kind of taught me everything,” Herrera said of the Grand Coulee cowboy that won a PRCA World Championship in 2011. “I just tried to take it all in and make (his information) my own.
“The key to riding is all mindset. You have to be relaxed and not beat yourself up if you get bucked off. You have to respect the animal, but you also have to have a little swag, get back on and try it again.”
One thing is for certain, he will see the best high school rodeo stock in the country and compete in a world-class arena at the Gillette Cam-plex. He’s never been to Gillette, but that’s part of the excitement as well. Rodeo is rodeo, having competed in Des Moines, Iowa at the junior high national event, he’s ready to step on the stage that has proved to be a launching pad for PRCA careers.
“I definitely want to rodeo through college. Northwest Wyoming Community College in Powell (Wyo.) has shown some interest. I’ll take a visit while I’m there,” he said. “This will be a chance to show what I can do.”
His pre-ride routine, he said, is always the same. Calm the mind by visualizing the ride.
“I like bulls that spin into my hand,” he said. “Most of the time the go into their spin for two or three times, then switch it up. It all depends on the bull. Spurs help keep your feet in front of your rope, so you keep a good hold.”
He leaves on Thursday and will make his first ride on Monday. He’s not up again until July 21.
Again, this year, the Saturday championship performance will be televised nationally as a part of the Cinch High School Rodeo Tour telecast series on RFD-TV. Live broadcasts of each NHSFR performance will also air online at NHSRATV.com. Performance times are 7 p.m. on July 16, and 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day thereafter.
Rodeo fans can follow the action at the NHSFR by visiting NHSRA.com daily for complete results. For more information visit www.cam-plex.com.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org