Salt Lake and Cheyenne champs, World Series and USTRC results and more
When Tyler McKnight pulled into Salt Lake City to rope his first steer in the first performance of the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games, he had $300 to his name and a blown trailer tire, and his 19-year-old header JR Dees had $19 in his bank account and drove there on borrowed fuel money. When they got together to run some practice steers just hours before the first perf, they only caught three over the few pens they ran.
“I had never roped with him in my life, and I could not imagine being him and still thinking we had a chance to win it because I roped terrible,” Dees said of the ill-fated practice session with his partner for the day. “We had never roped together in our lives and I was terrible. He told me not to worry about it, we’d win it, but I don’t know how he thought that way.” But McKnight wasn’t worried.
“JR is pretty gamey,” McKnight said.
They were 4.5 on their first steer and finished second in the round behind Nelson Wyatt and Matt Kasner, worth $3,467 a man. They got to move on to the gold medal round the next Monday night.
“I won the #15 at the US Finals, and I had the same feeling (at Salt Lake City) I had the morning before I won that,” Dees said. “I wasn’t stressed—I was just ready. I think I was at the stage where I accepted
that if it went bad, it went bad, but I’d try my hardest. If it worked out, it worked out. My goal was to accept it either way.”
Dees was in Salt Lake City with his partner for the last year and a half and long-time mentor, three-time WNFR heeler Matt Zancanella. “Zanc” took Dees in when the South Dakota native was 7 years old and the kid’s parents ran into some tough times. Dees has been with him ever since.
“I haven’t had $20 since the Fourth of July,” Dees said. “No matter what I need, Zanc does it. Horses, fuel, if I’m broke he pays my fees. He might not have the money to do it, but he does it. He’s been rodeoing for 20 years. When you rodeo for 20 years, you know what you’re doing. It’s funny—he told me he didn’t want to follow everyone all around the country this summer. He wanted to get into Salt Lake through our circuit standings, and he told me if I got in there I’d make the NFR. I’ve been trying to get my circuit money. He didn’t get in, but I did.”
Neither Dees or McKnight say they were very nervous for that second steer on July 24, but both knew what was at stake.
“I kept telling myself I was going to win it,” McKnight said. “It worked out. I told myself the whole time that’s the only steer I needed to catch and I’d make the NFR.”
They drew the steer Lane Ivy and Trace Porter were 4.7 on in the first round, and Ivy told them it tried and ran right. McKnight told Dees he planned to take an aggressive haze, as Dees prefers his steers down the middle.
“He wanted to step right, and I think I scared him,” McKnight said. “He threw his head up and took a half a step and was just perfect. He handled really good and let me get a fast shot off on him.”
McKnight took such a good start thanks to his 23-year-old heel horse, Skeeter, that came from Matt Kasner, who happened to win the bronze medal with Nelson Wyatt for their 14.7-second short round run. Dees rode a 10-year-old gelding he calls Pistol Pete that he and Zancanella have had for the last six years, and Dees credits the horse with a lot of his success.
“I wish I had 20 of him,” Dees said. “He scores and never tries to screw me.“
The unprecedented payday put Dees at sixth in the PRCA world standings with $68,625 won after mostly circuit rodeoing all year, and bumped McKnight up to fourth among heelers with $77,120 won at press time. Both numbers surpass the threshold it took to qualify for the WNFR in 2016. This year, circuit finals and All-American Finals money counts toward the world standings, so in theory, it will take more to qualify in 2017, but sure enough both ropers are in contention for a trip to the Thomas & Mack.
DEES AND MCKNIGHT SKYROCKET UP THE PRCA WORLD STANDINGS AT SALT LAKE CITY’S DAYS OF ’47 COWBOY GAMES.