Katie Jo Knez, 5, of Craig, rides to the season championship Saturday in pee-wee barrel racing at the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, which wrapped up a 21-performance, 10-week run in Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Katie Jo Knez, 5, of Craig, rides to the season championship Saturday in pee-wee barrel racing at the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, which wrapped up a 21-performance, 10-week run in Steamboat Springs.

Cowgirl steals hearts, wins buckle at final rodeo of Steamboat season

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Pro Rodeo Series wraps up season

Saddle bronc rider Brandon Munn wins fourth championship

Rodeo season champions

Pat Mantle: Brandon Munn

All-around: K.C. Jones

Barrel racing: Julie Haskins

Pee-wee barrel racing: Katie Jo Knez

Tie-down roping: Mark Black

Bareback riding: David Streweler

Steer wrestling: Shawn Mills

Saddle bronc riding: Jake Griffin

Team roping: Lance Allen and Jake Day

No. 11 team roping: Greg Barnes

Bull riding: Brady Menge

— Katie Jo Knez had a simple answer to an obvious question.

The 5-year old Craig cowgirl has spent the summer flying on her horse, guiding the trusty steed Duke up and down Brent Romick Rodeo Arena in downtown Steamboat Springs, weaving between the barrels as crowds have serenaded her with applause between cries of “Oh my, how cute!”

Her blond hair whipped all summer from beneath her cowboy hat as she powered Duke away from the final barrel, in front of the audience and across the finish line, racing with an eagerness more often seen in competitors five times her age in women’s barrel racing.

Katie Jo, do you ever get scared?

“No,” she said quickly.

Her parents, Erin and Toby Knez, however, told a different story, at least back in June when the rodeo started and the Katie Jo show had yet to launch itself upon the 10-week Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, which reached the end of its season Saturday night.

“This week, I was very surprised. She didn’t hold anything back at all,” Erin Knez said. “I was terrified that first week.”

Katie Jo’s prowess won her parents and a fawning crowd over, and Saturday night it locked down a season championship in the pee-wee barrel racing. She accepted the belt buckle that comes with the championship with a smile that outshined even the sparkly buckle and had one piece of advice for anyone considering mounting up and trying the barrels themselves, turning to Brooks and Dunn and her favorite song.

“Cowgirl, don’t cry,” she said.

Knez was joined in her championship by several newcomers and plenty of Steamboat rodeo veterans. Julie Haskins took her fifth Steamboat buckle and third in a row in the barrel racing. Shawn Mills made it back-to-back championships and three overall in the steer wrestling, and Lance Allen won his third buckle in the team roping, joined by Jake Day in a tie. Jake Griffin fought Saturday night through an injury to claim his second consecutive saddle bronc championship.

Greg Barnes was tops in the No. 11 team roping, Mark Black was the champ in tie-down roping, David Streweler was first in bareback riding, and Brady Menge was the best in bull riding. K.C. Jones was named the all-around cowboy for the season.

Saddle bronc rider Brandon Munn, meanwhile, put together one more piece of a Steamboat rodeo career that was already long ago impressive. He won his fourth Pat Mantle saddle bronc riding competition, besting a field of six in the season’s final event to win a rifle and $2,000.

Three cowboys finished that showdown with score-worthy rides, but Munn’s 73 proved best.

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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