Ride ’em, rookie
Standing at only 6 feet tall and weighing but 160 pounds, 14-year-old rodeo rookie Jan Casarez was the underdog at this year’s Junior National Rodeo Finals, held recently in Gallup, N.M.
He competed against 150 other kids, most of them with much more muscle and financial weight behind them.
“It’s pretty unusual for a rookie to go to the (rodeo) finals first season,” Phil Casarez said, proud of his son’s achievement.
“First of all, a lot of those kids have the $40,000 truck and $50,000 horse trailer and a rodeo horse,” Jan said. “I didn’t have a very good horse. He was a 20-year old ranch horse, and I had to hitch rides for both me and my horse.”
But practice paid off for the aspiring roper.
Jan got “the rodeo bug” at the Penn Valley Rodeo, said his mother, Lorrie Casarez.
“Jan bought his own horse and trailer with his own money,” Lorrie Casarez said. “He works and pays for all of his own expenses.”
Practice pays off
For the past year, Jan chiseled his skills in the tie-down, team-roping and chute-dogging events – breaking the chute-dogging record at the Lincoln Rodeo grounds for the first time in 50 years at 2.5 seconds.
“Some weeks, I’ll ride two hours every day,” Jan said.
“He does a lot of practice roping on the dummy in the driveway,” Lorrie Casarez added. “He also chases our two steers in the pasture, and he ropes them.”
With that discipline backing him up, Jan and his old ranch horse took fourth place at this year’s California State Rodeo, the only winner from Nevada County.
That gave him a place at the national competition, qualifying with a chute-dogging time of three seconds, the aspiring rodeo champion’s main event – requiring that a 500-pound steer be laid on the ground, with its four legs parallel, within 30 seconds of its release from the gate.
“It’s pretty much steer wrestling,” Jan said, demonstrating his technique. “I have one hand that I keep on top of their neck, and the other I have underneath. I always shape my steers. I wrap them around me. It’s a lot of leverage.”
To finance his trip to the nationals, Jan held a spaghetti dinner at his parent’s restaurant, The Wildwood Grill, in Penn Valley. He also held a “fill the boot” drive.
“We raised three-quarters of the money we needed,” he said. “A lot of people were very generous, and it really helped out a lot.”
Next year’s rodeo
Although technique is a major aspect of chute dogging, luck plays a role, Jan said.
Judges create a more equitable chute-dogging event by placing participants’ names and the steers’ names in two separate hats and pair them by “drawing,” Jan said.
“The biggest part is the draw,” He said. “At nationals, I got just about the worst draw you could get. It really is the ‘luck of the draw.'”
He faced “wild” steers, Lorrie Casarez said. “They were throwing people into the gate. One just about ripped his shirt off. But when Jan is dogging, he doesn’t let go.”
“I only got one of my two times, 23 seconds. It was really bad,” Jan said, laughing.
Back home in Penn Valley, the young hopeful already is preparing for next year’s rodeo.
“I’m working on my new mare like crazy,” he said. “It’s kinda like a rat race. If I don’t have a horse, I can’t compete.”
To contact Staff Writer Lindsey Croft, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4247.
The Nevada County Horsemen will hold its Big Bad Bulls Rodeo and Wild West Show on July 20 and 21 at the Nevada County Horsemen’s Arena in Grass Valley.
Gates open at 5 p.m. and the event begins at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $12 at the gate and $10 in advance. Children 9 years old and under are free. Tickets may be purchased at Grass Valley Hay and Feed, Ridge Feed, The Farm Store, Tacky But Nice and Sierra Saddlery and Mercantile.
For more information, call 273-1507 or visit http://www.nevadacountyhorse
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