Jadon Hayes is no stranger to the Junior National Finals Rodeo.
Hayes is competing in the Junior NFR in Las Vegas for the fourth consecutive year, but the 14-year-old freshman from Cisco, Texas, added to his workload this year.
In addition to competing in senior saddle bronc riding and senior bareback bronc riding, Hayes will be competing in the 12-13 division of bull riding. Thursday, at the opening day of the Junior NFR, Hayes got his busy week started with a 59-point ride in saddle bronc at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. That has him sitting in a tie for fifth after the first go-round.
“That was probably only the 15th or 16th saddle bronc horse I’ve ever been on,” Hayes said after his ride. “I just never really found the interest in it, and then my grandpa introduced it to me and I’ve liked it ever since. It’s starting to click now.”
Hayes will have his second go in the saddle bronc Saturday. On Friday and Sunday he’ll compete in both the bull riding and bareback. That’s a busy schedule for a kid who didn’t grow up a fan of the sport.
“I never really liked rodeo when I was a kid,” Hayes said. “I went to a couple of rodeos and it really wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t really into it, I would just do it every once in a while for fun. But then I started doing it every weekend and that’s what got me where I am.”
Hayes enters the Junior NFR as one of the top young bull riders in the country. He won the regional finals to seal his trip to Vegas and finished third this past season in the Youth Bull Riding finals.
Hayes pushes the brim of his cowboy hat back and a grin comes over his face when he remembers his first bull riding experience six years ago.
“When I finally got on my first little bull I got up I had a smile on my face,” he said. “That’s where it all started.”
A similar path led Hayes to bareback riding.
“My grandpa said bareback always sounded fun, and I liked it,” Hayes said. “So one day he bought me about 10 horses and some bareback rigging. And every Tuesday at the church I would get on those horses.”
“Bareback is my favorite,” he said. “You have to really try and you have to spur on every jump, so it’s probably the most athletic event there is in rodeo.”
With a record number of competitors at this year’s Junior NFR – there are more than 700 total in both the roughstock and timed events – Hayes knows he’s got to be on his game this week. And that’s just fine with the Texas cowboy.
“There’s so many more kids that are starting to come here and compete,” Hayes said. “The competition is a lot better and that just makes you try harder. If you slack off even the slightest bit you’ll get beat. But I’ve always believed that whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.”
And Hayes plans on putting a lot into rodeo. After all, one of his rodeo heroes is Ty Murray, the Pro Rodeo hall of famer who won seven all-around world titles and two bull riding world titles.
“This is what I want to do until I can’t walk, so this is perfect,” Hayes said.