Two local athletes won the biggest title of their careers at the revered Pendleton Roundup. Riley Wakefield of O’Neill, Nebraska won the steer fight, while the breakaway rope loop went to Jacey Fortier of Billings, Montana.
Neither Wakefield nor Fortier qualified for the national rodeo finals, even though that was on their list of goals for this year. In fact, the two were in a “crisis,” failing to draw many checks as the 2021 season ended on September 30. The NFR is out of reach for them, but a win for Pendleton to end their year was a real highlight. Incredibly, none of them intended to go to Pendleton this year.
Fortier had entered Pendleton, but was withdrawing from fall rodeos as the NFR and then the Tour finale left her at the end of the season. She was undecided whether or not she should go to Oregon the week before the rodeo. Still, she had been to “The Green Mile” before and decided the rodeo was still worth going back. “The atmosphere is so fun,” she said.
When Fortier curled her little round calf in 2.7 seconds, she held her breath as several skilled stringers tugged for her best average time. She was announced champion and was stunned in disbelief, wondering if they had made a mistake. “It’s something that could never happen, but I made it happen. I’m still overwhelmed,” she says. Equally overwhelming was the realization that many career cowboys and cowgirls covet that title for decades, like Kaycee Feild, who won her first Pendleton Roundup this year.
Fortier rode “Teddy,” a 14-year-old gelding who came to her family from the Blackfeet reserve. Teddy is a 1D barrel horse and was a switch on the stringing team, but is now used exclusively as Fortier’s breakaway horse. Their combined times of 3.3 and 2.7 topped the average by just 0.2 seconds. Fortier was launched in the standings from 62nd to 42nd. While that didn’t help her for this year’s NFR, it put her back in the top 50, giving her qualifications for major winter rodeos such as the Fort Worth Stock Show and San Antonio. She hopes to “capitalize” on these rodeos to take her through spring and summer.
The Pendleton Roundup carries a certain nostalgia, even if we have never set foot there. “It’s a cowboy setup,” says Wakefield, comparable to Cheyenne Frontier Days. Pendleton’s history and reputation make a cowboy’s hair stand on end, or at least the Nebraska hand did.
Wakefield, who has always been a three-event athlete, actually won the event which is not his usual trade. He works the hardest at the tie-down, but steer wrestling has been a constant in his life. In fact, you could say his bulldog career came full circle when he first competed at Pendleton.
A skinny teenager, Riley Wakefield hopped her first steer at Allen Good’s barn in Long Valley, South Dakota. “I was a lot more nervous on my first turn than Pendleton. I dropped my reins on my first ride and caught the saddle horn,” says Wakefield. Fortunately, this horse, which he later bought from Good, knew his trade. Wakefield rode another good horse for Pendleton, with Allen Good hazing for him. Everything was exactly like it was Wakefield’s first time running a steer, except this time the race was worth nearly $7,000, a huge boost in confidence, and everlasting notoriety.
Wakefield’s father, Jim, qualified for the finals of the Badlands circuit five times. Wakefield’s late brother, Brady, was an avid bull dogger during his lifetime. “I lost my brother when I was a senior in high school. It was hard on my family and on all of us, but we got through it. We built a dorm in his honor. We love to talk about him all time. We like to talk to people about their faith when they’re going through tough times,” says Wakefield. Although he’s struggled to earn as much as he wanted this year, his outlook remains positive in light of the tough times. blessings and losses of life.
“I want people to realize that not quitting is the most important thing,” he says. After asking his parents if he should quit and come home this summer, they told him to finish his season. “If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have won Pendleton. I would have had that blessing in my life. Don’t give up just before the miracle,” says Wakefield.