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The IIFR Comes to Apache Gold

Local cowboys expect big things at the International Indian Finals Rodeo

By Jenn Walker

The International Indian Finals Rodeo was looking for a venue this year. Apache Gold Casino told the commissioner to come on down and bring their cowboys, so they are doing just that.

This year marks the 9th annual International Indian Finals Rodeo, which showcases the best Native American talent in the rodeo world, and this is the first time it will be held at the casino.

“It is one of the best facilities in the country to have a rodeo,” says Simon Hooke, a San Carlos cowboy. He is involved in organizing this year’s rodeo, alongside the rodeo’s commissioner Harrison Charley.

Picture 2Other rodeos have been held at Apache Gold in the past, but this is a first for the finals rodeo.

Top professional team ropers Derrick Begay and Erich Rogers will be there, in addition to 240 to 280 cowboys and cowgirls from: Navajo Nation; White River; Neilburg, Saskatchewan; Box Elder, Montana; Alberta, Canada; and Gallup, New Mexico. Hooke estimates that as many as 28 competitors from San Carlos will also show.

Last year’s rodeo was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in Farmington, New Mexico, the year before.

“We always run the rodeos pretty good,” Charley says.

This is Charley’s first year as commissioner, though he has been rodeoing with the association for a long time, and judging for more than 30 years.

The rodeo will showcase a little bit of everything, including: junior barrel racing and junior steer riding bareback, ladies’ barrel racing, ladies’ breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping and senior breakaway roping. In addition, there will be Queen Pageant Ceremonies, trade shows, educational seminars and the opening grand entry.

L to R: Simon Hooke and Fred Wesley
L to R: Simon Hooke and Fred Wesley*

The finals rodeo originated in Saskatchewan, Canada. Though racial lines are fading, there was a time where if a colored person won a rodeo, they were excluded, says Fred Wesley, Hooke’s uncle-in-law.

That is how Native rodeos started.

Wesley used to ride himself. Now he trains horses for rodeo riders like Hooke.

“There are always horses that buck,” Wesley says. “In order to win, you have to have a trained horse.”

This rodeo will highlight the top cowboys from each region, says Hooke. Hooke is well-acquainted with the rodeo world. He takes part in calf roping and steer wrestling competitions, and is one of San Carlos’ team ropers at this year’s finals.

Most recently, Hooke and his partner won in roping in the Steve Lupe Memorial Roping at White River. Last year he won the veteran’s reward (two saddles) in the Veteran’s rodeo.

For 12 years, Hooke also rode bulls. He stopped when he started a family. His kids didn’t think it was a good idea after they saw his arm twice its normal size. (A bull stomped on his arm.)

Training as a bull rider requires calisthenics, and watching the bulls, he says.

“A bull never bucks the same way,” Hooke explains. “You have to know how tight to pull the rope… You have to be ready for what the bull will do.”

According to Hooke, calf ropers work even harder.

“Every event takes a lot of work to win, mentally, spiritually and physically, to be competitive, to win,” Hooke says. “It looks easy, but it actually takes a lot of hard work. You gotta be in shape to do that.”

One practice session may mean roping a dummy calf 100 times.

Though it is hard work, “The life of a cowboy is a real good life,” Hooke says. “It seems like cowboys are fading, but the ones true at heart, they still carry on to be an example.”

As Hooke says, the finals rodeos is another opportunity to carry on the rodeo tradition.

*There was a misprint in the the fall 2013 issue, where this article was originally published. In the photograph above, the man to the right was mistakenly identified as Harrison Charley. That is in fact Fred Wesley.

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