Top Hand Material
For all nineteen years of his life, Eastan West of New Underwood, South Dakota has been a cowboy and during the 2023 Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo he proved just how good of a cowboy he is by winning the Top Hand award.
Eastan’s team, the Corn Creek Bandits, sponsored by Miller Mathews Angus, was made up of himself, Caden Stoddard, Mathew Heathershaw and Sam Stoddard.
“I think we had the three youngest kids and the oldest guy there,” Eastan says. “Caden and his dad Sam live near a place called Corn Creek.”
In fact, Eastan is in the running for possibly the youngest competitor to win top hand says Tif Robertson, chairwoman for the ranch rodeo.
“We’re really seeing the next generation of cowboys coming, you know it might have been their dad that was in it several years ago and now they’re old enough kind of like Eastan and they’re coming up in the ranks and showing those top hand skills that they do on the ranch,” Robertson says.
Forty-one teams from all over the tri-state area competed in a preliminary round prior to the ranch rodeo finals where each team had 5 minutes to complete three tasks: steer loading, doctoring and stray gathering. The Corn Creek Bandits did well, winning money in the preliminary round and advanced with 10 other teams to the finals that night where they did not place as a team, but while Eastan was taking care of his horse, a buddy told him they were announcing that he won something and Eastan was shocked, telling his mom that he thought his horse would have been chosen before he ever would.
“Riding a good horse always makes you look good and do good, I guess,” Eastan says.
The horse he chose to ride that day, a 14-year-old AQHA mare, All Warm N Fuzzy, or Brandi as she is known to the West family, happened to be the one closest to the corral when he was getting ready to head for Rapid City. Although they raise barrel and rope horses and stand an AQHA stud, Three Bars by Shawne, one of the last living grandsons of Three Bars standing to the public, Brandi, a daughter of Frenchmans Guy, was bought as a 2-year-old broodmare prospect. Since then, she’s won around 40,000 dollars running barrels and the Wests have gotten colts out of her through embryo transfer.
“She doesn’t get too jazzed up,” Eastan says. “She stays pretty laid back, she’s gentle, she’s extremely broke and anything you ask her to do she’ll do with 110 percent. She’ll try her hardest every time.”
As a filly, she was started when the Wests bought her, but finished by Eastan’s parents, Zach and Amber West.
Riding the colts that the family raises is just one of the many things Eastan does on a daily basis that helped him perform his best during the ranch rodeo. Day to day ranch work and the way he was raised also played big parts.
“We’ve always treated him like a hired man,” Amber says. “From the time he drug his first calf to the fire when he was five, he’s just grown up on a horse and with a rope in his hand. We’ve always just expected him to get in there and do what needs done when it needs done and Eastan has never been afraid to do that. He’s always thought he could do anything that a grown man could do and nothing has ever scared him or intimidated him.”
Which is exactly what the anonymous judges of the top hand award saw as they watched the events, saying that Eastan was in the mix on everything that the team did, always had a helping hand in completing the challenge, was riding a good horse and that you couldn’t tell Eastan’s young age next to his competitors, it was obvious that he has been a cowboy his whole life.
Along with entering in ranch rodeos together, Eastan and his teammate, Caden Stoddard, have roped together since they were 12 years old and in 2022 they were high school rodeo reserve state champions, sending them to rope at the National High School Finals in Gillette, Wyoming. They are both going to graduate from high school this spring and hope to attend Casper College and rope together on the rodeo team through college in Casper.
“When we heard, I was just bursting, I was so excited for him and its quite an honor, there was a lot of good cowboys in that stock show and to be picked among those hands is quite an honor,” Amber says.