It’s often the case that Seth Hatch is pacing behind the chutes, almost involuntarily launching slaps at his thighs or his helmet in the moments that separate him from climbing onto the back of a bull.
Staying on one of the Jackson Hole Rodeo’s bulls for eight seconds and securing a score is surely the goal, of course. But there’s a battle beforehand too, with those slaps being spills from the adrenaline he’s trying to bottle before the chute opens.
“I went to bull riding school when I was a little bit younger, and he just told it to me like this: Imagine if you’re walking down the street and someone walked up to you and slapped you in the face,” Hatch recalled. “Your adrenaline is going to start pumping, and you’re ready to go.
“But if you save that adrenaline, then the more you have for the ride.”
The 21-year-old Teton Valley, Idaho, bull rider has been a staple in Jackson Hole for the better part of six years. Though this summer hasn’t been his best, with an admitted struggle with consistently putting down scores, he walked out of the final JH Rodeo of the summer a winner, scoring 78 points on 1012 Winner Circle on Saturday night.
Winner Circle came out of the chutes spinning and bucking, though never straying far from the gates. Immediately after those coveted eight seconds were secured, Hatch was launched into the gate himself but came up out of the dirt with an explosive “Woo!” to burn off the excess wiring from that proverbial slap in the face.
Hatch said he’ll next be buying his pro card and seeing where that takes him, as the JH Rodeo is gone again until 2021.
“I’ll be hitting it a little bit with my buddies and seeing where I go from there,” he said. “Have fun with it, man, that’s what it’s about.”
Lander’s JoAnn O’Neal and her barrel racing horse Sling Shot have been involved in two competitions all summer in Jackson.
One being against the field itself, with a number of cowgirls frequently dipping into the low and mid 17s to keep the race for first always competitive.
The other has been making a run at the rodeo record of 16.7 seconds.
She came close last month with a 16.8 and had hoped to take another dip below 17 seconds in the final three rodeos last week. She won all three but stayed just above 17 seconds all three nights.
She won Wednesday night at 17.417, Friday at 17.25 and Saturday with a 17.057.
“I wanted another 16, but I’m just thrilled that he tries his little heart out for me all the time,” she said of Sling Shot, the 13-year-old horse. “I’m just so thankful for him.”
In any other year, this final week would uptick to the frantic energy, as it usually serves as a finals week. The rodeo was unsure all summer how long it would go on, so the membership card that cowboys and cowgirls usually buy to make a charge at the year end title wasn’t available. The rodeo will crown year-end champions, however, based on point totals from the summer as a whole. Those winners will be crowned once the point totals are added all up.
Still, there are no complaints from O’Neal, who was just happy to have a place to make clover patterns with Sling Shot.
“I’m just thankful because I love coming here,” she said. “They do a great job. It’s beautiful. It’s always nice when they can [have finals], but that’s not the reason for me. There’s other years, and I’m just thankful everybody here was healthy. The prizes are like frosting, but there’s more to it than just prizes.”
It’s not easy to be a first-generation cowboy, as Pinedale’s Zack Marino has quickly learned this summer in Jackson.
The 14-year-old mini bull rider said there’s no one in his family who rodeos, but he decided to put a cowboy hat on anyway and get after it this year.
Of all the sports he could have chosen, why rodeo one might ask. Marino just shrugs.
“Oh I don’t know, I was bored,” he said.
The rookie rider said he made a bucking barrel in spring to practice, but it was the Teton County Fairgrounds this summer where he began to figure out just what this sport entails. He admitted to struggling through the season, though he capped it with victory on the final night of the rodeo, scoring 68 on Sour Milk to carry a note of confidence with him into next year.
“It was pretty good, with more practice I’ll get better at it,” he said of his ride. “I’m just going to be training over the winter, and the first rodeo of next summer I’m going to be in it.”