WATCH: The 19-Year-Old Who Outlasted NFR Legends

SAN ANGELO, TX – Forgive Keenan Hayes for kicking himself.

The young cowboy had a decision to make last fall, and he chose to continue to compete in his tryout campaign in professional rodeo for a second straight year. After winning both rounds and the aggregate championship at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, he pushed his 2022 earnings to nearly $40,000. 

Most young men would have taken their earnings from their first permit year and given themselves at moving up the world standings, but Hayes isn’t eligible for that. He’s eligible to battle for permit-holder earnings and points, and that’s it. He was really kicking himself after finding out he pocketed $16,506 in San Angelo.

“I entered my circuit finals on my permit and won money at the circuit finals,” said Hayes of Hayden, Colorado, who collected $6,200 at the Mountain States Circuit Finals last October, and that money counts toward the 2022 standings. “At the time, I figured if I bought my card, I’d have to lose the money I’d won. “Now, I’m kicking myself for not buying my card.” 

He looked like a seasoned pro inside Foster Communications Coliseum. He won the first round with an 86-point ride on Hampton Pro Rodeo’s Rising Tide. That took place nearly two weeks ago. He returned Friday with incredible earnings already in his pocket, then dominated the championship round with a 90-point ride on Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Night Crawler. 

In his wake, he left behind five cowboys with National Finals Rodeo credentials, including three- time world champion, nine-time qualifier Caleb Bennett, six-time finalist Tanner Aus and a couple of bronc busters that have been to ProRodeo’s grand finale once in their careers. 

“It’s the biggest rodeo I’ve ever won,” Hayes said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time. I had some truck problems this week, so after this, we’ll have the cost of that covered.” The reality of rodeo life is young contestants can compete on a permit, then they can purchase their PRCA cards after earning at least $1,000 in a year. Hayes had that option, but he took what he thought was the best approach; there are several talented, young bareback riders out there, and he wanted a bit more seasoning. He looks like he’s well done. 

“At this point, I’ll just keep after it and maybe set a new record for money won on a permit and see what happens next year,” he said. “It’s just awesome the kind of money they are paying at this rodeo. I’m stoked that I had a chance to compete for it. I’m super blessed it ended up in my favor.” 

Even to those in rodeo, it seems as though Hayes has come out of nowhere. That’s just not the case. He’s refined his craft in the Rocky Mountains and now has a chance to prove it. 

“Casey Colletti put on a rodeo school in Craig (Colorado),” Hayes said of the NFR qualifier. “He taught me the basics, and I took it from there. From then on, it has raised my riding level.” He’s riding pretty high in west Texas this weekend.

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