Jesus Perez tried bareback riding.
The Payson High senior worked at the rodeo event for two years.
“I didn’t do good,” he said.
So, a couple of months ago, he decided to give saddle bronc competition a go.
He loved it.
“I haven’t done anything like this before,” he said. “You get a real adrenaline rush. When they jump up in the air, it feels like you’re floating. Then you’re hitting the ground hard. Then you’re floating again.”
Perez said the concentration level is so intense during the experience that people just get tuned out.
“When you’re on (the horse) you can’t hear anything,” he said. “Everybody around you just goes blank.”
The 17-year-old hasn’t wasted any time making a name for himself in the event.
Perez won the champion buckle in the Arizona High School Rodeo Association’s season-opener in Payson on Sept. 21-22. It was his first time competing in saddle bronc riding.
He didn’t expect to do so well the first time out.
“I was real surprised,” he said. “I was really happy and proud.”
Winning isn’t something he’s used to.
“I had never won anything,” he said. “That’s why I was so proud of winning this rodeo.”
It took him a while, but he’s found his event.
“I used to rope a little bit when I was younger then I stopped,” Perez said. “I just liked the bronc riding, so I got into that. I borrowed a bare rigging and started doing it two years ago.”
Now he’s made the transition to saddle bronc.
“With a bareback rigging, you put your hand in there real tight,” he said. “It’s like a suitcase handle. In saddle bronc, it has no horn on it like a roping saddle. You use a bronc rein.”
Rodeo didn’t come naturally for Perez. He doesn’t come from a rodeo family. Friends introduced him to it. One of his friends is Clint James.
“Some people I know that are older got me into it,” he said. “I was around the James family. I roped with them for a little bit.”
His buddy and classmate, Trey Hale, also competes in saddle bronc riding. Another friend, Jason Amon, knows a place in Queen Creek where the two have been going to practice for the past month or so.
“Trey is really into it,” Perez said. “Jason has been helping us out a lot.
“We try to go down to Queen Creek every Wednesday and get on some practice horses down there.”
The Arizona High School Rodeo Association holds rodeos about once a month from September through April. A friend from Young involved in team roping usually rides with them to rodeos, with either that friend or Hale driving.
Perez is eyeing the next AHSRA event, which is a three-day affair Oct. 24-26. The first day will be held at the Arizona State Fair and the final two days in Wickenburg.
But it costs money to compete. And rough stock events — saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding — cost more than the other competitions.
“The entry fee is $136 for a two-day rodeo,” he said. “Since this one is three days, it’s $204.”
“Me and Trey are looking for sponsors for every rodeo. Every month has a rodeo. It’s a little tough, but I just go ask for sponsorships. I ask for whatever they can do. Any money will help.”
Perez asks that anyone interested in sponsoring him call him at (928) 970-2976. Anyone interested in sponsoring Hale should call (928) 978-4153.
Perez isn’t satisfied with winning the season’s first event. No, he has big ambitions. He hopes to qualify for the High School Nationals next summer.
“I’m going to try to make it to state and nationals,” he said. “That’s one of my big goals.
“The top four from every state go to the nationals. So my goal is to be in the top four at state.”
Rodeo isn’t his only interest. He also enjoys hunting and fishing. And he was the starting center fielder as a junior on the varsity baseball team that reached the state semifinals this spring.
He’s hoping the Longhorns can win a state championship next spring.