By Jeremy McDonald
There’s always strategy when it comes to rodeo, but when you’re dealing with Wild Horses you are in for a crazy ride all puns intended as you have no idea what the horses will do. It takes strategy to a whole new level when your competing takes awareness in the arena to the next level and challenges your toughness for the win.
David Gregory, a 1996 North Marion graduate and former Track and Field athlete at Western Oregon University in the Hammer and Discus, described one time where a horse about 800 to 900 pounds collided with him during a Professional Wild Horse Racers Association competition last season.
“Just this last year in Prineville at the Crooked River Round-up, we had to cross (the finish-line) say second or first to win the Rodeo. We ran our horse down to the barrel and another team was coming right behind us and tripped me up and my rider, Dakota (Lyons) was saddling,” starts Gregory, who’s grown up around horses his whole life. “As he jumped on, I was on my hands and knees and I looked up and here comes another horse running full speed and I knew it was going to hit me and I wasn’t getting out of the way, we needed to win.
“So the horse, I know it was going to take me out and runs me right over, right over top of me. It hurt, and we had to go from there, once we got done at the arena, we got our buckles and awards and we drove right to the airport and got on the airplane and went to South Dakota to run a horse the next day.”
It’s part of the sport, there’s times where you are battling banged up ankles or hands after an event from February through November. There is little connection between the athletes and riders as it’s a surprise when the chutes open and they work to the barrels to saddle up the horses at the barrels and then 30 to 35 feet from the finish line and get to the finish line the fastest. Horses sometimes work with you, sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes there’s even worse injuries in the arena, but you keep going if your physically able because if you don’t compete, you and your team don’t get paid and it effects your placing in the standings.
So, it lives up to the saying of ‘Fighting through the pain’ and being tough as nails as Gregory wrapped up his seventh year in the Professional Wild Horse Racers Association.
“There’s no injure reserve in rodeo. If you’re not going, you’re not making money. It’s not pro athletes when they get hurt and they’re on the bench and they’re collecting checks every game, every match or whatever it is. It doesn’t work like that in rodeo,” said Gregory. “If you’re not out there, you’re not making money and you’re not earning points in the Standings if your trying to make the finals.”
Standings work with earnings and you get that by competing in sanctioned events within the organization. This year saw the David Gregory team earned 17,000.66 dollars through competition, more than twice that of the second-place team in the Kyle Miller team (8,325.81) when the National Finals Rodeo wrapped up in Winnemucca, Nevada over the Halloween weekend.
But it took some time to build up to the National Finals Rodeo and Columbia River Region Championships that they were at in 2018.
They got into the sport for the thrill of the sport, but they didn’t really make some noise until their third-year and that’s when they really took off in terms of in the standings.
“Our third-year, things started getting better. We started crossing and we started making money. Our third full year we ended up finishing in fourth and going to the National Finals. So it took three-years for us to make any money,” said Gregory.
The team this season of Gregory, Ricky and Dakota Lyons had their first full-year last season when they finished behind Jason Smith, someone who Gregory called one of the best and a ‘Hall of Fame Cowboy’ with how extensive Smith’s resume is in the sport.
“Going into last year, he had such a big lead in the race that the best we could shoot for was getting second in the world,” said Gregory on Smith, who had six first-place finishes. “Finishing second behind Jason is humongous.”
Ricky Lyons was pondering retirement after the 2017 season, having been in the game for a long time, but after some consideration Ricky decided to stay for one more season and boy did they make the most of their opportunity.
They worked their asses off in each competition starting in Winnemucca, Nevada and giving it 110-percent in every arena. They got a win in 13-degree Winnemucca in February.
They made money or won in competitions in Red Bluff, California, Warm Springs, Oregon. Grande Coulee, Washington, Enterprise, Oregon, Prineville, Oregon were on the list as the squad went to South Dakota, Cheyanne, Wyoming saw the brunt of the David Gregory Team and their success in 2018. Competing in every chance they could work in with their day jobs back home.
And every time the standings were released, they were there towards the top of the list that created a surreal moment for Gregory.
“Every time they post the standings, I would have to do a double take at it because I couldn’t believe that’s where we were,” he said. “For so long there was someone number one above us and seeing our team number one you can’t describe it. It’s surreal.”
At the final event of the year, the David Gregory team won the Professional Wild Horse Racers Association title for most money won. They won the Average event when each of their six horses crossed the finish line and won the Columbia River Circuit Region.
With the season now wrapped up, 2019 will be interesting as they decide how to go from here. But it’ll be a while before they make anything definite.
“Ricky’s retired now (and) it leaves a big void as a team. I know Dakota wants to take a little time off for his wife, she’s a barrel racer so she wants to go to a few rodeos. This next year might be a not hit it so hard year for us as a team. We haven’t really discussed what’s happening next, we’re still excited about what happened a few days ago,” Gregory said.
For the former Huskie and Wolves athlete, he’s still competing hard into his 40’s but in a different sport. But it’s a sport he’s been around his entire life.
Growing up around horses, doing competitions with Bulls from ages 11-15, he fell away from the sport before coming back to it while he works around his job as a Inventory and Longisitics Manager for the Marion County Agriculture Service Inc. in St. Paul.
“They’re a support, they help me out. They give me the time I need,” Gregory said of Marion County Agriculture Service. “Bob (Hockett) is one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet, I love working with Bob and Tom and John. It’s great to ahve a support group that lets you do what you want to do as long as you get your job done before you go everything is ok,” smiled Gregory.