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Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo opens with a flourish in Cortez

Stetson Wright won the SaddleBronc event Thursday at the Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds with a new arena record score aboard Powder River Rodeo’s Big Handful. (Jessica Potter/Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association)
Arena records fall as Stetson Wright and family kick off rodeo

In the buildup to the 93rd Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo, the conversation dominating the Four Corners rodeo scene centered around the headlining reappearance of Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association world all-around leader Stetson Wright.

The 23-year-old from Milford, Utah, with seven world titles to his name, electrified the crowd for his incredible saddle bronc and bull riding showcase in the 2022 version of the Roundup and made sure that he would put on a show again.

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Meanwhile, dozens of top-tier athletes from across the western United States joined Wright at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds for Thursday’s “First Responders Night.” Among them, world bull riding champion Ky Hamilton, Wright’s traveling partner, making Thursday’s action a star-studded, must-see spectacle for the 1,500 fans in attendance.

Ky Hamilton set an arena record and sent cowboy hats flying with his 91.5-point ride on Powder River Rodeo's Bull No. 958G. Jessica Potter/Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
Kadin Jodie of Churchrock, New Mexico, during her breakaway roping run Thursday night at the Ute Mountain Roundup in Cortez. She caught her calf in 2.1 seconds. Jessica Potter/Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
Zac Dallas is sent flying over his saddle bronc Thursday night at the Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Walker Rezzonico hits the ground head over heals in the saddle bronc competitionThursday night at the Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo. Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Rooster Yazzie lands on his steer as he wrestles it down during the Thursday rodeo. Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Michael Bates wrestles the steer Thursday during the Ute Mountain Roundup at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Carter Hansen is sent flying off the rear of his mutton Thursday at the Ute Mountain Roundup. Sam Green/Special to The Journal

Under the bright lights of the arena, against the backdrop of the hundreds of local adventure seekers enjoying their own thrills at the nearby Frazier Show Carnival rides and games, the eight different professional disciplines took center stage.

In the Saddle Bronc competition, Wright and his family turned the evening into a showcase to see who could outduel whom. All accomplished riders, Rusty Wright opened the fireworks with a score of 87, only to be edged out by Statler and Spencer Wright, who each posted matching scores of 88.5 points.

Enter Stetson Wright. After signing autographs along with his brothers and cousins in the lead-up to the day’s festivities – the rodeo superstar stole the show, narrowly edging his family members with an electrifying ride atop Big Handful from Powder River Rodeo. Wright posted an 89, earning an eruption from the crowd, who stood to honor the incredible spectacle.

As the night’s crescendo, Hamilton and Wright squared off for the bull riding duel that everyone came to see.

With a lineup of fearsome bulls bucking the early competitors, Hamilton waited for his moment to throw down the gauntlet for his friend and fierce competitor. Atop the bull named No. 958g, Hamilton put together a master class – adjusting well to a mid-ride swerve from the bull, before seeing out the eight-second ride and captivating the crowd and the judges – posting an arena record of 91.5.

Stetson’s opportunity to match on the last ride brought the crowd to their feet in anticipation, and as the rodeo savant held tight through his own tornado of horns and hoofs, it would come down to a matter of scoring. As the dust cleared, the score of 87.5 flashed on the scoreboard, notching the win for the Aussie, but just as importantly, providing the UMR fans a fitting conclusion to a fantastic night.

“You’re only as good as your competition,” said Hamilton of his win over Wright, “and so to be competing against the best in the world is only going to make you better.”

Kicking off the evening, Bareback Riding and Steer Wrestling brought the energy with Tristan Hansen from Ronan, Montana taking the top performance of the night in Bareback Riding, scoring a ride of 78.5 atop bronco Yours Truly. Colorado’s Tait Kvistad won the day in Steer Wrestling, taking down his bovine opponent in 5.2 seconds.

Team Roping went to the New Mexico duo of Erik Becenti and Shawn Murphy, whose time of 5.8 seconds earned them the best run of the 10 teams in the competition.

Church Rock, New Mexico’s Kadin Jodie went under two seconds in the Breakaway roping competition to earn the best run of the day, while Texas’ Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi wasted no time to set the bar high in Barrel Racing, earning a time of 17.31 to best the field by almost two-tenths of a second.

The best Tie-Down Roping effort came from JD McCuiston of Estes Park, whose time of 10.1 seconds placed him among the circuit’s overall leaders in the category.

Action continues on Friday and Saturday, as a full slate of new athletes take to the arena floor for another round of action-packed competition.

Wright and Hamilton praise the Roundup

With a summer itinerary covering more miles than even the most seasoned travelers, Stetson Wright has made it a point to keep the UMR as one of his regular stops in his pursuit of another all-around world title.

“I love to getting to every single rodeo, big or small,” said Wright. “I can’t wait to compete – and that’s what keeps me going every single night.”

After putting on a stellar show last summer, Wright added that he couldn’t wait to come back to the Four Corners for an encore. “The fans here have been great, the hospitality’s awesome,” added Wright, “and you can see that the community has put their heart and soul into this whole event.”

“This is a big-time event for smaller communities,” added Hamilton, “and so the atmosphere is fantastic, and it’s fun to see all of the support.”

For as good as Wright is now, he still views his journey as one in which he can continue to improve. “It seems like every year my mind matures a little bit more, which helps my confidence to keep going up – and I’ve been able to go about the competitions and the success in more mature ways.”

As for Hamilton, testing himself against premier athletes includes the quality of the bulls that make the PRCA events a nightly test for the best riders in the world. “The caliber of the bulls here is more consistently good,” added Hamilton, “and that makes all of us raise our level to get better.”

After taking dozens of pictures and signing autographs for an adoring crowd before competition on Thursday – many of whom were children – Wright recognizes his status as a role model for the sport’s next generation. “I write down my goals, look at them every day, and then believe that I can achieve them.”

UMR fans left the Montezuma County Fairgrounds hoping that one of those goals includes a return visit to Cortez in 2024.