Cooper Cooke eyes National Title at NHSFR

Cooper Cooke will compete for a national title in bareback riding.

After his first two rides at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma, bareback rider Cooper Cooke was in position to challenge for a national title on Thursday night.

Cooke, out of Victor and Teton High, entered the Short-Go performance in second place, just behind Oregon’s Mason Stuller whose score of 82.5 pushed him ahead of Cooke, 161 to 157.5.

“I think that after last year I just got prepared a little better for this year,” Cooke said by telephone. “I knew coming in that I was riding at a high level and I just spent every minute that I could riding in rodeos back home. There was only about three days between State and leaving to come here that I didn’t ride in a rodeo somewhere.”

All of the hard work has paid off for the senior to be this fall, so much so, that he is in a position to graduate in December. Part of that hard work has meant sacrifices, including giving up wrestling, a sport in which he would have been one of the favorites to challenge for a state championship this past winter.

“I finished second as a sophomore and was looking forward to my junior year,” Cooke said. “I just did some thinking and felt that the best thing for me and my future was to forego wrestling, concentrate on my studies and rodeo because that is where my future will be.”

Cooke has been riding at a high level with the extra practice time and rodeo participation around the area. That prepared him for the NHSFR, he said.

With the draw being announced, Cooke discovered that the was going to be in back-to-back performances in Guthrie. That meant that he had to be prepared to ride in the Monday morning performance at 9 a.m. and then right back again in the Monday night performance at 7 p.m.

“I was laying in bed on Sunday night, thinking about the rides on Monday,” Cooke said. “While I was contemplating the rides it came to me that all I had to do was go out and ride just like I had been riding. Nothing different, nothing special. Just go out and let it all hang out and get the job done.”

That is exactly what happened for Cooke as he posted the highest score for a ride at 84.5. He backed that up Monday evening with a 73.

In the Short-Go, the riders will ride in reverse order of how they qualified, meaning Cooke will ride before Stuller as the final two competitors in the Short-Go.

“I will probably put a score in my mind and hope that it will be enough to get the win,” Cooke said. “I know I will have to get the job done and it isn’t like I haven’t been there before.”

“I am just hoping for a good draw right now,” Cooke added. “A year ago, I was in the same position and I drew a mediocre horse. He was not the best horse as far as bucking goes and I tried to make him hold up his end rather than just going out and riding him like I had been riding. I need to take care of what I can control and that is put the best ride that I can on the horse I draw. That is the plan.”