Hayden Ryan Franklin answered his phone, relieved to find his younger brother on the other end.
“Where are you at?” Franklin asked, his eyes slowly shifting around the final moments of the weeklong Routt County Fair.
“I got knocked out. I don’t know where I am,” he said.
Franklin didn’t know where he was, and he only vaguely remembered what he’d been doing. A bucking horse had taken care of that, tossing the 21-year-old Estes Park cowboy in front of the grandstands, 5 seconds into what was only his second ride in a saddle bronc competition. Franklin went up over the left side of the horse, hit the dirt and didn’t move again for at least a minute.
He laid there as fellow cowboys and emergency workers rushed to his side. Eventually, with their support, he slowly stumbled out of the arena.
More than 30 minutes later, his head still was fuzzy.
“I’m alright, I guess,” he said, pausing.
“Honestly, I have no ... I don’t remember what happened,” he said. “I just got into saddle branc ... bronc, I can’t even talk.”
It wasn’t a good day for Franklin, but he said it didn’t scare him, and that it was just a step in the way to the dream.
He wants to make it as a cowboy, and sometimes that means you get thrown for a loop.
In the world of rodeo, events like the Routt County Fair’s — part of the Rocky Mountain Bronc Riders Association — are the minor leagues, and Sunday, the event was filled with cowboys struggling to keep their dreams alive.
Some like Hayden's Keenan Hayes, 10, are hoping they’re only at the start of a long career under the sport’s brightest lights.
Keenan was among a group of young riders who saddled up for mini bronc riding, clinging to ponies that bucked around the ring. Hayes’ second ride, atop Studley, bucked him into the arena fence, but he hopped up and was smiling wide as he ran back to his buddies in the chutes.
“I like challenging myself against broncs,” said the soon-to-be fifth-grader, in his second year of bucking horses and his fourth riding steers.
“Sometimes I dream of the rodeo. I want to ride until I retire, then be a stock contractor,” he said. “Bulls or broncs, it will be whichever one I do better in.”
For other cowboys, rodeoing for a living was just as distant a reality, even if they were considerably older.
Moses Sidhu is 26, ancient for a rookie, and works construction in Wiggins.
He started off great Sunday, winning the ranch bucking horse division with an 80-point ride. His luck changed, however, when he competed in the rookie bucking horse category. He was tossed before his 8 seconds and picked himself up off the arena floor before brushing away dirt that made his hair look grey.
“Next time,” he said after returning to the chutes.
He’s only two years into his pursuit of life on a bucking horse, and for him, the RMBRA and the opportunity it provides to aspiring cowboys is a gift.
“I’m going into saddle bronc, and I want to go pro,” he said. “It will take a little time, but thanks to the RMBRA, I’m headed that way.”
Back on the horse
Franklin’s senses came back to him slowly Sunday afternoon. He tripped on fewer words the longer he talked, repeating fewer anecdotes. His brother, Alex, eventually caught up, and with him Franklin’s 14-month-old son, Jett.
Sunday was his second saddle bronc ride, but he’s not new to rodeos. He has several years of bull riding under his belt and still hits the road for 20 or 30 rodeos during the summer. He earned his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card but is quick to admit he took plenty of lumps similar to Sunday’s thanks to being thrown from bulls.
“I’ve never done too good with that,” he said. “This bronc riding though, this is a whole new ballgame. On bulls, with my size, I get way too far forward. I’ve got too much leverage to buck me off.”
He didn’t remember anything from before the gate flew open to his stroll into the fair’s parking lot, but he wasn’t deterred.
What’s a few concussions on the way to fulfilling the dream?
“This saddle bronc thing, I am liking this a whole lot better,” he said Sunday, clearly.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com