ENTERPRISE — Two years ago was Gabe McKay’s first run at Mountain High Broncs & Bulls.
It was a profitable day, as the saddle bronc rider from Juntura won the ranch bronc riding during the 2019 event.
McKay is back for an encore performance when Broncs & Bulls returns to the Wallowa County Fairgrounds on Saturday, June 26, after a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic.
“I’d heard about it in the prior years, but I’m drawn to the rodeo because it’s got good money added, and it’s just a fun time being able to get on a good horse,” McKay said. “I like that area up there. It’s beautiful up there this time of year. It’s a fun time.”
The rodeo, now in its 16th year, has three main events packed into the afternoon — three rounds each of bull riding, wild horse racing and ranch bronc riding. Rodeo announcer Lee Daggett also said there will be about 25 mutton busters, a handful of wild pony racers — wild horse racing, but for youths on smaller animals — a drill team featuring members from the Lewiston Roundup, and $20 the hard way for youth — a spin off of $100 the hard way, but again on a smaller animal. The day wraps up after the rodeo with what Daggett called bull poker. The event, which starts at 3 p.m., is free to the public.
“The big thing is it’s free admission,” Daggett said. “We’ve had huge community support (and) sponsorship. We’re funded without having to charge anybody admission.”
That means no cost to see McKay and the roughly 17 other bronc riders, the 12-16 bull riders, and the 7-10 wild horse racing teams.
McKay, whose score of 76.5 won the event in 2019, has arguably the best — and most unlikely — story of any of the competitors.
He and five siblings — three initially, and three later on — were adopted out of Haiti by Joe and Joyce McKay in the early 1990s.
My adoptive parents couldn’t have kids, so they were kind of looking around, looking to adopt. They had a close friend that mentioned something about you could adopt kids out of Haiti,” Gabe McKay said. “They prayed on it. They adopted my brother and I and my sister. About two years later, they brought my three other siblings to the state, so they adopted twice.
“They were running a ranch. They brought us out there, raised us as their own and gave us a good life — a chance at life.”
Gabe McKay ranches with his family in Juntura, and also competes as a saddle bronc rider in the PRCA, ICA and NPRA circuits. His brother, Levi, also rides saddle bronc, but will be competing in Meridian, Idaho, this weekend.
The two often compete together, both continuing a tradition of sorts in the sport as their father and relatives competed. They plan to get to about 30-40 rodeos this year.
“My dad did it, my cousins did it and it went down the family line,” McKay said. “My first horse I got on, I really liked it. You either like it or you won’t.”
He knows, too, the challenge to repeat as champion will be stiff, but he is up for it.
“Those guys are going to be gunning for it, but I’m not going to give it over easily,” he said.