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Rodeo season gallops to an end at EIRA regional finals

Softball01BRIGHTON — The rodeo season ended with a rousing show in Brighton May 18-19 at the Eastern Indian Rodeo Association (EIRA) regional finals. Cowboys and cowgirls worked hard for a spot in the Indian National Finals Rodeo to be held Nov. 5-9 in Las Vegas.

“This is the end of the season, so it should be pretty exciting,” said Jo “Boogie” Jumper, EIRA secretary. “There’s a lot of pressure on them and they know what they have to do to qualify.”

All categories were competitive, but contenders in barrel racing and team roping were just points apart. Year-end and sudden death winners will compete in the INFR in the following categories: Bareback, steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping, barrels, breakaway, saddle bronc and bulls. About 32 people compete in each INFR event. Competitors will have two performances per day, said Jumper, who competed in barrels and breakaway in 2010 and 2011.

Justin Gopher, who will compete in team roping, has been to INFR 10 times in the last 12 years. He plans to drive to Las Vegas with his brother Hilliard Gopher and their horses.

“It can get a little stressful, but if you just go and plan to catch all four of your cows, you should be alright,” said Gopher, of Okeechobee. “You can’t let the pressure get to you. I have to work on taking that advice; it’s easy to get carried away in the moment.”

Maci McKerchie, 16, has only been competing in the rodeo for two years and has never been to the finals. Even her horse Rio is new to the rodeo; he has only been racing barrels for about seven months and she is still working with him.

“I’m excited and was shocked to win,” said McKerchie, of Davie. “I’m looking forward to going to Las Vegas, but I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve talked to people who have been there and they told me the crowd made it so much fun.”

The rodeo circuit requires a lot of travel and work, but it also creates an atmosphere of camaraderie among competitors. Most of the people Jumper knows have competed since 1994.

“The best part is being there with family and friends,” said Jumper, who travels through Florida and Oklahoma for rodeos. “It’s always nice to win money, but the biggest thing is you get to see people you haven’t seen all year. Everybody is like a big family; it’s like a big reunion.”

During the arduous travel across the country, as competitors make sure their horses arrive safely, they will have plenty of time to think about what will happen in the competition.

“I’m just looking forward to hopefully winning a world title,” Gopher said.

Cowboys and Cowgirls who will compete in INFR Nov. 5-9 in Las Vegas:

Year-end winners: Bareback: Jacoby Johns; Steer wrestling:  Dayne Johns; Saddle Bronc: Sisto Hernandez; Calf Roping: Preston Williams; Team Roping: Josh Jumper/Preston Williams; Barrels: Maci McKerchie; Breakaway: Leanna Billie – but Leah Platero will represent EIRA because Leanna was also sudden death winner; and Bulls: Kelton Smedley.

Sudden death winners: Bareback: Jacoby Johns; Steer wrestling: Warren Rubio; Calf Roping: Preston Williams; Team Roping: Justin Gopher/Hilliard Gopher; Barrels: Jo “Boogie” Jumper; and Breakaway:  Leanna Billie.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at