DUNCAN, Okla. – Hunter Herrin has been one of the best tie-down ropers in ProRodeo much of his eight-year career.
After winning the Guymon (Okla.) Pioneer Days Rodeo and placing at the Chisholm Trail Stampede in Duncan, Okla., the
first weekend of May, he’s surged into the lead in the Prairie Circuit’s tie-down roping standings. Now he’s one step closer to reaching one of his goals, winning the regional title.
Destination Duncan is now part of Herrin’s itinerary, where he will be shooting for a third straight average title set for the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for Oct. 18-20 at the Stephens County Expo Center.
“It means a lot to me to qualify for the Prairie Circuit finals, because I’ve qualified for the finals the last two years in Oklahoma City,” Herrin said of the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which features the year-end and finals-average champions in each event from each of the 12 ProRodeo circuits. “We’ve had some success there, and if a guy’s going to rodeo, you’ve got to try to make it there.”
If cowboys and cowgirls compete in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, then the destination is Duncan in October. Only the top 12 contestants in each event at the end of the circuit season qualify for the regional finale. With most of the season remaining on the schedule, any one of the hundreds of contestants can make a move into the top spot.
With it being one of the largest springtime events, the Guymon rodeo’s payout helps contestants make a significant move in the standings – in rodeo, dollars equal championship points, so the top earners are atop the money list. For most of the Prairie Circuit standings leaders, a good portion of their earnings came from the Oklahoma Panhandle: bull rider Dustin Elliott of North Platte, Neb.; steer wrestler Dean Gorsuch of Gering, Neb.; steer roper Cody Scheck of Ellinwood, Kan.; bareback rider Justin McDaniel of Porum, Okla.; barrel racer Tana Poppino of Big Cabin, Okla.; and team ropers Charles Pogue, a header from Ringling, Okla., and Jett Hillman, a heeler from Purcell, Okla.
“Doing well in Guymon is pretty important to me,” said Elliott, who earned $2,164 by placing third. “This is one of our bigger circuit rodeos, and being in the Prairie Circuit, it’s one you don’t want to miss.”
In addition to placing in the opening go-round in Guymon, Poppino won the championship at the Old Settlers Reunion Rodeo, a once-every-five-years event that takes place in the tiny western Oklahoma community of Cheyenne. Poppino pocketed $925 for that feat, which is why she carries a $1,500 lead over the second-place cowgirl, Ashlie Withrow of Henryetta, Okla.
“The Old Settlers Reunion is just one of many celebrations of Oklahoma history,” Poppino told the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. “Rodeo is a natural fit for the celebration that brings visitors to town. It’s always an honor to win an event that means so much to a community, and it kind of makes you feel like you are part of Oklahoma history.”
Elliott, McDaniel and Gorsuch are three of the many world champions who call the Prairie Circuit home. They’re also regulars in championship events like the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo. They know the importance of making it to Duncan in October.
Elliott won his Montana Silversmiths gold buckle in 2004, while McDaniel won the bareback riding title in 2008 – the 25-year-old cowboy is a four-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo who added NFR
average titles in 2008 and 2010. Gorsuch won gold in 2006 and 2010, winning at least a share of the average championship both years.
“With the circuit finals being in Duncan, I’d really love to be there to represent Oklahoma,” McDaniel said. “I’ve never won the circuit before, and one of my goals is to win the circuit. If I could do it in Duncan … win it in my home state, that would be awesome.”
Of the leaders, only Weston Ireland of Sallisaw, Okla., and Scheck haven’t played on ProRodeo’s biggest stage in Las Vegas, but he owns a circuit year-end championship. Ireland, a saddle bronc rider who attended college at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, won the region three seasons ago.
But Scheck is a three-time qualifier to the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping, the equivalent to the NFR in his chosen discipline. In fact, Scheck won the average title at the Clem McSpadden in 2010.
“Winning in Guymon is pretty big, because it helps the summer run if you have a little money won,” he said. “Hopefully I can strike it big at the big rodeos.”
The key to winning a championship is staying on that roll and being consistent throughout the season. Both Pogue and Hillman understand that as well as anyone. Pogue qualified for the NFR 15 times in his career and won the average title multiple times in Las Vegas. He and Hillman have won the last two team roping titles in the Prairie Circuit; they’d like to make it a three-peat.
“By staying close to home, I try to get to enough rodeos to make sure I get to the circuit finals,” Pogue said. “With it being in Duncan, that’s just 40 miles from my house. That makes it even better.
“I know the people on the committee, and they’re working hard to make it a good finals, a special rodeo for us.”