ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. — The thinking part of bull riding pretty much stops once a guy gives the nod and the chute flies open.
But now that he’s had some time to reflect a little, bull rider Austin Herrera says that 81-point ride in the second go at the 70th annual National High School Finals Rodeo (July 15-21) was a pretty special ride.
The Soap Lake cowboy came from 20 places back to finish second in the largest high school rodeo in the world to cap his high school rodeo career with a big ride on the big stage.
“There’s no time to think. All you can do is react, but I knew it was a pretty good ride,” said Herrera, who works with former-Wrangler world champion Shane Proctor on Mike Corey stock. “When I got off and saw the 81, I felt pretty good about myself.”
The field was chasing Cole Skender from Crossett, Ark., who put up an 86-point ride on the second day (July 16). Herrera didn’t get much help from a bad draw on his first ride, covering the bull for a score of 68, finishing the first-go some 20 places off the lead.
The schedule at the NHSFR in one that some guys will ride early in the week and not for several days. Others ride on consecutive days. For Herrera, he was up in consecutive performances. He didn’t have much time to overthink the process, posting the 68 in the morning and coming right back that night. His 81-point ride hurtled him into the lead in the average and into a tie for first in the second-go.
The 81 was the best on Wednesday night (July 18) and secured his place in the short-go and a chance for the national championship. His bull that night blew out of the chute with a big jump, then went into a hard clockwise spin to the right.
“I like bulls that go into my hand. You can jump back in seat and cut him off every time,” said Herrera, who competed at the NHSFR in Gillette, Wyo., as a junior. “He took that one big jump, then circled, getting faster as the ride went on. I had a good seat on him and it felt really good.”
Dalton Shepard, Norco, Calif., Briggs Madsen of Honeyville, Utah, and Herrera put up the second-round scores of 81 to earn a shot at the gold buckle along with the top 20 riders that advanced to the short-go.
“I led the average all week, but didn’t make the ride in the short-go,” Herrera said. “That’s where I lost it, but it was a good run.”
Skender (71) and Morgan Rising of Wibaux, Mont. (45) were the only cowboys to cover in the finals, which was enough to boost Sekder to the championship. But the Soap Lake bull rider, who’s headed to Northwest Wyoming Community College in Powell, was right there in the thick of things in his final high school rodeo.
Skender’s big ride was enough to hold on (86-0-71-157). Herrera (68-81-0-149) was just eight points back in second place.
“I used to do a little bit of calf roping, but I’m going to focus on bull riding in college,” Herrera said.