ENTERPRISE — Gabe McKay said a couple weeks ago he knew the ranch saddle bronc riders at Mountain High Broncs & Bulls would be looking to take the title.
They certainly tried, but the Juntura cowboy was still able to repeat.
McKay turned in the ride of the day Saturday, June 26, posting an 81 on the final ride of the afternoon to take the title in the 16th running of the rodeo at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds.
“Honestly, I was just having fun,” he said. “To get it again, I feel pretty blessed. There’s not one guy that was riding that didn’t deserve to win it either. They’re a bunch of good guys, they can ride just as good as me.”
McKay was one of three riders who turned in two successful rides in the ranch saddle bronc Saturday, and had the top mark through the first round of rides with a 74.
But he was tested in the finals — where the top average of two rides would be the standard — in his bid for a repeat title. Jack Whitiker of Meridian, Idaho, opened the final round with a 73 on board a hopping bronc named Domingo, sending him to the lead. Dillon Cornelson and Rance Snapp were both thrown off next, then Cody Lovgran moved to the lead with what at the time was the best ride of the day. He controlled Night Moves — whooping and hollering as he went — as the bronc bucked across the arena. The ride resulted in a score of 77 and gave him a two-ride average of 73.5 and in position for the win.
Local rider Rylie Warnock, of Imnaha, who had the second-best ride of the first round at 71.5, was bucked in his chance for the title, which set the stage for McKay on the final ride of the day.
He was almost thrown over the front of Rimrock, who he rode in the final, but regained his control and mastered the bronc as it bucked across the arena.
“It’s more just reaction. You can get bowed over the front, but if you keep lifting and charging your feet you can stay in there,” he said. “When the whistle blew I wasn’t staying in there any longer than I had to.”
His two-ride total of 77.5 outpaced Lovgran, who settled for second. Whitiker had an average on two horses of 70.5. Warnock took fourth.
“They scored pretty good. Everyone of those guys is capable of winning this thing that rode tonight. It’s nice to be in that kind of competition. That ride — it was a good horse.”
The bull rides Saturday were a one-sided affair, as each rider was tossed from his bull — many lasting just a couple seconds, well short of the requisite eight seconds. All six riders who reached the finals did so on time. The closest to making it was Lewiston, Idaho, rider Damon Shaw, who went about 6.5 seconds on his first attempt. In the final round, he also made it about six seconds on board Hot Spot, keeping his balance on the way, before losing control as the bull went right.
In perhaps a fitting ending to show how dominant the bulls were, Mossy Waite — in his third go in the final after earning a re-ride earlier — barely made it out before his bull tossed him back into the loading chute.
Wild horse racing was dominated by the Rickey Lyons team, which won all three times the event was done on Saturday.