Cowboys Ride Hard, Win Big

Spring Rodeo draws top riders with local roots, but small crowds


Hanging on tight and hoping the buzzer comes quick, Bryan Miller grimaces as he rides Single Shot during the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo held May 14 through May 16 at the Payson Event Center.

Hanging on tight and hoping the buzzer comes quick, Bryan Miller grimaces as he rides Single Shot during the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo held May 14 through May 16 at the Payson Event Center. |

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Taryn Brady proudly rides around the arena with the American flag waving as the festivities for the 16th Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo get under way, Friday.

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Bareback bronc riding is a challenging event and more and more competitors are now wearing protective gear as shown by this cowboy during the early evening competition Friday at the Payson Event Center.

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Jeff Garner may be dressed as a clown but some of his antics help protect cowboys thrown from their mounts. Garner is actually a good comedian and put on two lively skits that had the audience laughing with glee.

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Courtesy photo

Stock contractor Skip Beeler, rodeo boss Bill Armstrong, former justice of the peace Ronnie McDaniel and spur maker Leon King were on hand to award silver spurs to the winning bull rider at the Gary Hardt Memorial. The spurs were donated in memory of Diane McDaniel.

A 22-year-old cowboy with Payson ties and storied accomplishments on the collegiate scene took all-around honors at the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo.

Wyatt Althoff, now of Anthony, N.M., is the son of Brent Althoff and the grandson of Ken and Nancy Althoff, all three longtime Rim Country residents.

Wyatt, now a student at New Mexico State University, was also the men’s all-around champion at the 2008 College National Finals Rodeo.

Both his father and grandfather were in Casper, Wyo. to see Wyatt take the prestigious all-around title.

In January, Wyatt was also the recipient of the L.J. “Curley” McCarey scholarship at New Mexico State.

During the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo, Wyatt pocketed $1,688.86 in prize money for a third-place finish in team roping and a second in steer wrestling.

In the team roping, he partnered with Harley Martin of Casa Grande to turn in a time of 5.6 seconds, just five-tenths of a second off the winning clocking of Brock Hanson and T.J. Brown.

His time in the steer wrestling of 4.2 seconds was also five-tenths off the top effort turned in by Marana’s Cutter Parsons.

Rodeo boss Bill Armstrong called the rodeo a complete success, drawing some of the top cowboys from around the country, including Pro Rodeo roping legend Jake Barnes.

However, the crowds that turned out were not the big numbers Armstrong and the rodeo committee were hoping for.

“There were many things going on that weekend and so much to choose from,” he said. “We could have done better, but the cowboys were happy and that’s important.”

Among the highlights of the rodeo was former Payson Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel awarding custom, handmade spurs to the winning bull rider. He awarded the spurs in memory of his wife Diane McDaniel who died about two years ago.

“We want to make this (awarding the spurs) an annual event — this was the first,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to the bull riding winner because that’s what I did for so many years.”

The spurs, which were handcrafted to certain specifications by Leon King, now ride on the boots of Justin Scarbrough of Prescott Valley. He rode Prime Logic to a score of 88 to win prize money of $1,222.42.

Representing Payson as a hometown cowboy in the competition was Trevor Haught who finished fourth in the bareback riding by turning in a score of 61 on Border Town.

The past two years, Haught has been an Arizona State High School Rodeo bareback champion and a national qualifier.

Cody Marshall of Hermiston, Ore. won the Gary Hardt Memorial bareback title with a score of 79.

In the barrel racing, Kelsi Elkins took top honors in 17.59.

Chuck Schmidt rode Head Light to a 79 and first place in the saddle bronc competition.

Tie-down roping honors were garnered by Benson’s Casey Wilson who roped and tied his calf in 8.8 seconds.

Spectators who left the arena believing the announcer on horseback looked familiar were on target. He was Rob Smelts a five-time world champion bullfighter on both the PBR and PRCA circuits and one of the biggest names in the sport. Also a Pro Rodeo hall of famer, he took up announcing after an injury ended his career.

For the rodeo, stock contractor Skip Beeler paid out $27,317.50 to the cowboys.

Following the event, Armstrong expressed thanks to the rodeo committee volunteers who, he said, worked behind the scenes to insure the event went off without a hitch in anyone’s piggin’ string.

He also thanked all the sponsors, saying, “Without them, especially the little sponsors, we couldn’t have a rodeo.”

The rodeo is held each spring in memory of Gary Hardt, once one of Payson High School’s finest athletes and a former bull rider.

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