When the bull lifted its flank up, the somewhat secure spot Kenneth Heltibridle had spent the previous eight seconds instantly was a couple feet below him.
He went up. He came down. Right on top of a team-roping gate. Heltibridle momentarily was pinned between an animal weighing nearly a ton, and the metal tubing surrounding the arena. But the cowboy from Elizabeth, Colo., popped right up, narrowly escaping injury during the final day at the Colorado Professional Rodeo Association Finals Rodeo on Sunday afternoon at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.
“That was just a weird situation,” Heltibridle said. “I fell straight on it, the gate was falling on me and gave me a complete holy (crap) moment.”
To make matters worse, despite Heltibridle hanging on the whole eight seconds, the bull hadn’t kicked enough during the beginning of his ride, leaving him with a score of 68 and an option for a re-ride. But the weekend had been brutal for bull riders. Only Pueblo’s Clay Mattaracci registered a score on Day 1. On Day 2, five of 12 riders registered scores. Mattaracci notched a 72, good enough for fourth behind Jamie Shoemaker of Walden, Matt Weber of Gill, Colo., and Travis Weber of Baggs, Wyo.
After Heltibridle’s 68 became the first registered score of the day, he decided to hedge his bets, settling for a low score in hopes three or fewer riders registered scores, rather than risking a no score on the re-ride.
A 68, it turned out, was good enough for fourth place on Day 3, earning him $118.
“They hadn’t rode anyone, and I’d been doing (poorly) all weekend,” said Heltibridle, explaining his decision to forgo a re-ride. “I had a bull rode and had a decent score. I had two bad days early, and people were dropping left and right. I got a bull rode, I’m happy.”
Another indicator of how tough the bulls were at the CPRA Finals, Hayden’s Jake Booco, who won the final money total by more than $1,000, only registered one ride on the weekend and didn’t win any money.
“I try to ride anything. The motivation is the same,” Booco said. “Most of the time it’s the same. You just have to hang on. Grit and toughness are big when the bull doesn’t have a set pattern.”
Matt Weber’s Day 3 ride of 85 Sunday gave him the top spot in the final round. It also allowed him to secure the average title with a score of 163 over two bulls.
Three-time reigning season champion Larry Carter of Nucla secured the average and Day 3 title in bareback riding despite dropping his first season title to David Streweler of Golden.
Streweler’s Day 3 score of 76 put him two points behind Carter in the average standings.
“I really would have liked to have got the average and season-end titles in the same year,” Streweler said. “It would have been nice to have a better horse, but overall I felt like I accomplished what I came here to accomplish.”
In steer wrestling Dan Cathcart, from Carpenter, Wyo., locked up the titles for Day 3, average and the season. His time of 17.0 for average total was a full second faster than Ty Lang of Palisade, Neb. Cathcart finished in the money each day of the event.
Pueblo native Erin Johnson, the top ranked breakaway roper in the nation, won the season title in breakaway roping despite not placing on Day 3 and finishing third in the average.
“I’ve had a really good year, and my horse has been outstanding,” Johnson said. “I feel like I capitalized on most of the opportunities presented to me.”
Johnson is headed to the WPRA World Finals in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 18–21.
Durango cowboy Calvin Brevik won the all-around championship, making the most money in three or more events. Brevik qualified for the finals in mixed team roping, open team roping and tie-down roping. He finished fourth in the average for tie-down roping. He and his partner Kory Bramwell of Chromo, Colo., topped the season standings in open team roping.
Willow Raley, of Baggs, Wyo., won the women’s all-around championship. She finished in the top three in breakaway roping and mixed team roping. Her time of 2.5 seconds in breakaway roping on Day 1 was also the second fastest time of the CPRA Finals. She also competed in barrel racing.
“It’s tough to prepare for each event because they’re so different,” Raley said. “I just try to be quick and consistent in everything I do.”