By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (July 1, 2015) — In the old western, the young cowboy is told, “Head west, young man, head west.”
Never scared to buck a trend, Stephenville cowboys Bobby Mote and Marty Yates have headed north instead. And other star rodeo athletes from Erath County and the surrounding region have followed suit.
North of the border. Into Canada.
Yes, there are rodeo fans there. Lots of them both cowboys say. They’re plenty hospitable says Yates, and possess a surprisingly keen knowledge of the sport, says Mote.
“The committees and fans love rodeo and know quite a bit about it,” said Mote, a four-time world champion bareback rider who says he competes in Canada four to five times a year. “They are actually very welcoming and the stock is typically good.”
Mote is the current world leader in the bareback standings, while Yates is fourth in the world in tie-down roping. Yates is making his second tour through Canada after venturing north of the border for the first time last year, his first to rodeo full time.
“It’s way different. From the food to the people, everything is a little different. But the people are friendly and they all talk to you, so it’s a cool experience to meet new people and see a different lifestyle,” said Yates, who won or shared three rounds in his first National Finals Rodeo appearance last December.
Yates will turn 21 in Canada on Monday, July 6, but there won’t be much, if any, time for a party.
“I’ll be running my fourth calf at Calgary that day, and the next morning I fly back out to Wyoming,” Yates said. “There’s no down time to stop and celebrate.”
As a rough stock rider, Mote can fly to and from events, making the travel easier for him than for a young roper like Yates, who transports horses to each rodeo.
“The travel gets to where it’s not fun, especially this time of year,” Yates explained. “From the last week in June until the second week of July we are blowing and going. ‘Trains, planes and automobiles’ is what we call it. You’re driving here, catching a plane to go there and sending trucks and trailers everywhere.
“II’ve gone from Alberta to British Columbia and now i’m in Cody, Wyoming, and that’s just the last three days,” added the 2013 graduate of Huckabay High School. “For me, it will continue just as wild. I rope (Wednesday night) in Cody, catch a charter plane to Spokane, Washington, then fly to Portland to rope in St. Paul Oregon. Then I get on another plane and get to Calgary for the first round.”
The Calgary Stampede won’t help Yates, Mote or other cowboys in the PRCA standings. But the prize money and the prestige associated with the event are too good for any cowboy to turn down a chance at the invite-only event.
For the first four rounds at the Calgary Stampede, the star-studded cast of athletes compete in one of two 10-man flights in each event. The top 10 then move on to a short-go style finals, with the top four going from there to a shootout that pays $100,000 to the winner. Every round pays winners $5,500, Yates said. Round one is Friday through Monday, July 3-6, round two is Tuesday through Friday, July 7-10, and the finals and shootout are set for Sunday, July 12.
“It’s awesome to get to rope for that kind of money no matter where it’s at,” Yates said. “To be in that set up in a one header type of scenario, you have to come up as fast as you can, and that’s just my kind of deal. It’s not an average like most rodeos.”
Five-time world tie-down champ and 2001 top All-Around Cowboy Cody Ohl of Hico is competing in the pool opposite Yates. Also headed to Calgary is Stephenville saddle bronc rider Jacobs Crawley, a four-time NFR qualifier who has won or shared 15 event titles already in 2015 and is currently ranked seventh in the world.
Former Tarleton cowboy Richie Champion is in Pool A along with Mote in the bareback riding. Champion reached the NFR last year and is best known as the “Million Dollar Cowboy,” after becoming the first challenger to defeat the world’s top 10 and win the RFD-TV The American in 2014.
Brittany Diaz of Desdemona is Calgary-bound for the barrel race. The young cowgirl reached the NFR in the event last year.
But while the Calgary Stampede may be the best known and richest rodeo in Canada, it’s not the only event drawing cowboys and cowgirls to the country.
Jacobs Crawley and his brother Sterling combined to win more than $13,000 at the Ponoka Stampede, a PRCA rodeo in Ponoka, Alberta. Sterling was eighth and Jacobs ninth in the first round before Jacobs took second and Sterling fourth in the finals. Jacobs was third and Sterling fourth in the average, and Jacobs then placed second in the showdown. Jacobs earned $9,155 and Sterling $4,200.
Travis Woodard, team roping header of Stephenville, reached the shootout and placed second with heeler Manny Equsquiza for $1,875. They won the finals and were second in the average, earning$4,700 each.
Other area team ropers in Ponoka were heeler Patrick Smith, who tied for third in the first round, and header Billy Bob Brown, who was seventh in the second go. Brown also competed in the tie-down roping and was sixth in the second round, combining to win $1,550 in the two events. In the Airdrie ProRodeo in Airdrie, Alberta, Brown tied for ninth in the tie-down, winning another $414.
Yates and Mote also ventured to Ponoka. Yates earned $2,164 for placing second in the second round, when he was just one-tenth of a second behind reigning world champ Tuff Cooper. Mote placed sixth in the average and earned $1,772 in all.
Mote said though the competition is just as serious, there is a more laid back atmosphere at the Canadian rodeos.
“The rodeos are a little more low key as far as the production. No one gets in a big hurry or yells at you to hurry up,” said the four-time world champ. “I’d say they are finitely for the cowboy. I’ve seen them stop the rodeo in the middle of the bronc riding to haul in dry dirt when it was too muddy.”
That’s something you won’t normally find in an American rodeo. Of course, if the cowboys were just looking for the same routine week in and week out, they could have stayed and competed much closer to home.
But that’s not how the rodeo circuit works, be it PRCA events, or a big independent rodeo such as the Calgary Stampede. To win big, you must travel.
“Crossing the border can be an obstacle but it usually is no trouble,” said Mote. “On the odd chance they decide to hold you up, it can take take a while and be uncomfortable.”
But even though not every competition north or south of the Canadian border counts toward PRCA standings, Yates says the hardships of the road are worth it to reach the NFR.
“This might sound crazy, rodeoing all day and night and staying up all night traveling, but when you get to those 10 days in (Las) Vegas, it’s all worth it,” Yates said. “It’s worth every sleepless night and every mile traveled to get to the Thomas and Mack (Center) and run those 10 calves in 10 days for the world title.”
That’s true whether you’re seeking your fifth bareback title or your first tie-down championship.
Even if it takes leaving the country to give yourself the best possible shot.