Three area athletes sitting on top
Rodeo athletes from the northern plains went to Casper to conquer, and had made a lot of headway after two go rounds.
After two complete rounds of competition, three area athletes sit at the top of the aggregate. Riley Wakefield, Jacey Hupp and Kailee Webb each posted two consistent runs to place them in the #1 position on two runs. There is one more round to go, followed by a short round on Saturday.
The College National Finals Rodeo kicked off in Casper, Wyoming, on Sunday, June 11 The short go will be June 17.
Riley Wakefield, of O’Neill, Nebraska, leads the two-head average in the team roping with his Canadian partner, Cooper White. The pair roped their first steer in 6.6 and their second steer in 6.1 for a combined time of 12.7. Both ropers attended Gillette College and have a special bond. “We’re best friends,” Wakefield said, “To win a national title with him, it would mean everything.” Their work ethic has helped get them here and might take them to the top. “We worked all winter. We roped as many steers as we possibly could,” he says.
Wakefield heels on his 8 year old gelding, William. “He’s always been a weirdo about some things,” he says, “Some things freak him out.” Despite the horse’s nervous quirks, Wakefield says, “He’s really easy to catch on and that’s why I brought him to Casper.” Consistency is the name of the game at the college finals.
Wakefield had a disappointing season last year and did not qualify for the CNFR. However, it only fueled his desire to be in Casper competing this year. “Not making it last year just lit a fire in me. I was heartbroken. I put in all that work and I said to myself, ‘Riley, you’re just going to have to work harder,’” says the all-around cowboy. This year, Wakefield qualified in all three of his events; team roping, calf roping and steer wrestling.
His success comes from hours of practice, even through bitter Wyoming winter. He worked on improving himself every day, and went to the weight room in the evenings to improve his physical fitness. Wakefield gained twenty pounds in muscle by weightlifting, and he says, “It really advanced my bull dogging and calf roping.”
After the last two years at Gillette College, Wakefield will attend Northwestern Oklahoma State University in the fall, where NFR steer wrestling qualifier, Stockton Graves, is the head coach. “I love my team there,” says Wakefield of Gillette College. “It makes it really fun, having that close of a team.” Wakefield says the athletes would often get together at a teammate’s home for dinner. Wakefield would even assist his teammates with their math homework.
Wakefield credits his family for their incredible support. His father, Jim, retired from his job at the local car dealership to be available to help his sons practice daily. They have a barn at their house, and Jim is always there to help however he can. Wakefield says, “If we’re practicing out there, you’re going to find my dad.” Wakefield’s mother, Susan, works at the Interstate Farm Office.
Riley has yet to rope his third steer, but feels confident in the work he has done. “I feel pretty good. Obviously the nerves are gonna be there just like they were in the first two rounds. That’s how it’s going to be because we work so dang hard for this.”
Jacey Hupp, led the goat tying average after two rounds. Her time of 6.1 was the fastest time in the first round, and her second round time of 6.7 was good enough to keep her in the lead after two runs. Hupp hails from Huron, South Dakota, and receives a vast amount of support from the town. “It’s been a little overwhelming. I’ve found it hard to be on my phone lately.” Her high school volleyball and basketball teammates are giving her lots of attention on Facebook, while her old sports announcer is keeping the city of Huron updated on Twitter. Moreover, her large family keeps her phone lit up with calls and texts.
Family support is a huge factor in Hupp’s success. Her parents, Bill and Ladonna, are credited with support from every angle. “My parents are just awesome,” says Hupp, “They give me endless amounts of goats to tie. They’ve held millions of goats for me and are still doing it here. My name goes in the paper, but they deserve to be in there too.” Jacey’s older siblings, Tarin and Trevor, also helped her become the competitor she is today. Tarin and Jacey both qualified in the goat tying event last year, and constantly push each other to be better. “We pick up on a lot of things that other people wouldn’t see,” Hupp says of their practice sessions.
The Hupp family stumbled across a “fixer-upper” horse 5 years ago. The mare, French Fry, was spoiled by her previous owner. “My brother was actually the only one that could ride her through the buck she had,” laughs Hupp. “She’s bucked me off more than any other horse I’ve had.” French Fry was never meant to be a goat tying horse, and the family used her to rope on for 2 years. Hupp’s goat tying horse at the time was getting old, and needed replacing. Jacey trained French Fry for goat tying, and the pair now has two CNFR trips under their belt. Hupp says, “She’s pretty honest and pretty cool nowadays.”
French Fry and Jacey received bad news in March, 2016. The horse was having trouble breathing, and needed an excessive amount of recovery time after little exercise. French Fry was scoped, and the veterinarians discovered that surgery would be needed to remove excess skin from her epiglottis. “That was really hard to hear, because French Fry and I were getting along awesome and were leading the region,” says Hupp. Jacey finished the season on the same old horse that needed replacing years before, and qualified for the CNFR. French Fry was able to compete last June, and the pair finished 3rd in the nation in the goat tying. “I think she honestly enjoys the arena just as much as I do,” she says of French Fry.
Experience is on Hupp’s side as she competes in her second college finals. Her favorite time to compete is during a performance. She says, “I’ve competed in state tournaments for volleyball, basketball and rodeo and there is no comparison to Casper, Wyoming, on a performance night. The whole place is rumbling. It’s amazing.” Hupp tries not to let the atmosphere distract her from the job at hand, however. “I just try to keep my head cool and rely heavily on my muscle memory.” A common phrase she says to herself before a run is, “Jacey, you’ve tied how many goats over the years. What’s one more?”
South Dakota sends another incredible female athlete to the college finals in Kailee Webb. Webb, from Isabel, led the standings in the barrel racing after two rounds. Matter of fact, she ran in the first performance of the third round and leads the standings after three rounds, as well.
Horsepower is key in the barrel racing event. Webb is running her 15 year old black gelding, named Flying for Perks, by Dash for Perks. The special horse made its way into her life by accident. Webb was not looking for a barrel horse at the time she found Perks. “He sort of found his way to us,” she says. Her father, Butch Webb, sent her a video of a barrel horse, and she thought it was merely a broodmare prospect for their breeding barn. However, Butch knew that Kailee needed a horse, as her mare at the time, Famous Wildone, was soon to be retired. “He knows a good horse when he sees one,” she says of her father. She has had Perks for a little over a year, and Webb’s first run on the horse was in Longmont, CO last year. Webb wound up in the ER with bronchitis the next day and could barely breathe during her run. However, she ran Perks at the same rodeo this year, only to set the arena record.
Webb’s father, Butch supports his daughter in all her rodeo endeavors. Butch ensures that she has the resources, horses and knowledge to succeed. “I really appreciate it,” says Webb.
This is the junior’s second trip to the CNFR. Last year, her trip ended abruptly due to an injury sustained while going into the arena. The setup is quite tricky, as an excited barrel horse must enter the arena by going around a tight corner and through the heading box. Webb’s knee hit the corner and she tore her ACL. The experience is not phasing her this year, however. “When I’m in the arena, it’s not on my mind whatsoever. I did learn from it. I’m a lot more patient letting my horse get around that corner.” Webb mentions that every barrel racer wants to take their barrel horses around the corner before the rodeo after hearing about her incident. She now has help from her coach, George Howard, and a friend, Prestyn Novak to safely enter the arena.
Perks ran three times in 48 hours at this year’s college finals. It was even more stressful on him, because Perks is a bleeder. Webb says that “bleeding” is an, “Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.” She goes onto say, “He gets blood in his lungs if you do not give him lasix.” Lasix dehydrates horses once they are administered. She says, “It was exhausting on both of us.” After their run on Monday and two runs on Tuesday, the team has been resting comfortably.
Webb and Perks will compete Saturday in the short round to vie for a national title. She feels that her mental game is stronger than ever. “I always used to block things out in high school, and that kind of got away from me in college, and now I feel like I’m right back to blocking things out again,” she says, “I’m just really focused on making my run. It’s just another rodeo.”