YAKIMA, Wash. —Many of the competitors at this weekend's Columbia River Circuit Finals at the Yakima SunDome put in countless hours honing their craft, developing the skills needed to qualify for the prestigious event.
Others just show up and do their thing, then go back to their stress-free, relaxing lives until the next rodeo. So long as those bulls and horses keep bucking their riders, they're sure to be well taken care of until they're invited back to the arena.
"You just kind of see what they can take and if they can take a lot more, you just give it to them," said Ritzville-based stock contractor Chad Hutsell, the co-owner of Flying Five Rodeo and Big Bend Rodeo.
He's developed a reputation for breeding great animals, especially bucking horses. Hutsell's companies will send about 50 horses to compete in all the weekend's different events, along with 18 bulls, which Hutsell said is a smaller number than they usually take.
Two-time National Finals Rodeo champion Spring Planting and the circuit's top saddle bronc of the year, Kool Toddy will highlight Hutsell's bucking horses set to take center stage. He'll be rooting for them to toss their riders into the dirt, something that comes naturally thanks to good bloodlines.
Hutsell said four or five generations produced Spring Planting, the 2013 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Saddle Bronc of the Year who began bucking at the age of five and enjoys eating considerable amounts of food. CoBurn Bradshaw won the saddle bronc riding finals thanks to a 90-point ride on the 15-year-old mare who competes in ten to 12 rodeos each year, according to Hutsell's wife, Lindsay.
Three-time Columbia Circuit saddle bronc of the year Kool Toddy's showing no signs of slowing down after breaking one of her own arena records last July at the St. Paul Rodeo in Oregon. Hutsell's looking forward to several more good years from Kool Toddy, the horse Jesse Kruse rode to a saddle bronc record at the 2009 Ellensburg Rodeo.
"She's been sensational all of her life," Hutsell said. "She's just very honest and she just bucks. Nobody can deny her of that."
Just like their human counterparts who must be among the top 12 in earnings to qualify for this weekend's finals, the animals chosen are deemed to be among the circuit's best. Hutsell said stock contractors make the selections with some input from riders based on performance, so it's always an honor to have his animals chosen to compete.
Pro rodeo livestock program administrator Scott Dorenkamp said horses don't do any bucking until they're at least three years old, when owners generally use a dummy to see if the horses are willing to buck. Most won't start bucking full-time until the age of five, and Hutsell said horses can compete for anywhere from 10 to 40 years until they let their owners know they're done.
"It's not just all bloodlines," Hutsell said. "If they want to do it, give them a chance."
He loves taking care of the animals and watching them compete, something he's been doing for 50 years as part of the family business. This weekend in Yakima will be no different.
Ellensburg's Minor family will be well represented once again at the Columbia Circuit Finals.
Brothers Riley and Brady Minor won the first round of last year's event and look poised to capture a spot at April's National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Florida as the top team roping earners from last year's circuit events. Cousins Jason and Jake Minor also qualified as team roping headers.
Jason Minor is also fifth in tie-down roping and second in the all-around standings, less than $1,000 behind leader Caleb McMillan. Another Ellensburg cowboy who won the first round of tie-down roping at last year's circuit finals, Jake Pratt, enters this weekend as the event's top earner.
Ellensburg's Kevin Lusk easily qualified for the finals in sixth place among bareback riders and Wade Kane of Ellensburg took the 12th spot in saddle bronc riding.