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Pros compete in Heber rodeo this weekend

Bareback rider Jess Pope hangs on during a round on horse Annual News in the 2022 American Rodeo final in Texas.
Andy Watson
Bull Stock Media, LLC
Bareback rider Jess Pope hangs on during a round on horse Annual News in the 2022 American Rodeo final in Texas.

This weekend, Heber City will host a rodeo with competitors from around the west in pursuit of big prize money.

As seen in a Super Bowl commercial, the American Rodeo Contender Tournament is holding its western regional finals in Heber City.

Luke Branquinho is a retired professional rider. He’s won rodeos in Heber and elsewhere in his day and is working as an analyst this weekend. He said this event is special because it gives platform to lesser-known competitors.

“It gives the local cowboy or cowgirl that does not compete professionally full-time an opportunity for $1 million payday in March,” Provost said. “It gives the opportunity to those that don't compete as much a chance to be on the same stage, the bright lights, and show how talented they are. They can go toe-to-toe with those contestants, athletes that compete full time.”

The events are barrel racing, tie-down roping, women’s breakaway, steer wrestling and rough stock.

Out of hundreds of men and women who compete, four in each event will move on to the national final in Arlington, Texas, where they’ll try for the million-dollar purse. That’s on March 11.

The contest fielded hundreds of riders from the region and many from Texas and Oklahoma. After preliminary rounds Thursday and Friday, only 12 from each division compete in the regional final Saturday.

It’s happening at the Wasatch County Event Complex for the first time. The Heber stadium is known for hosting several major events each year, and Event Complex Director Jon Provost said Saturday’s is up there with the highest-profile rodeos on this year’s calendar.

“This would be what the NBA All Star kind of thing is to the rodeo,” Provost said. “So, we've got two amazing events going on in our state right now — both at different ends of the spectrum. It's a very prestigious event that these guys are trying to qualify to go to. Once they get there, yes, all the all stars are going to be a part of that.”

He said tickets were still available as of Friday morning but are likely to sell out. They’re available online and at the door.

Branquinho encouraged the community to come out, praising the culture around rodeo in Heber and throughout Utah.

“I've actually won the Heber City rodeo in the summertime,” Branquinho said. “I've competed here a handful of times, and it's one of the coolest venues, one of the coolest places — just the atmosphere around the mountains and everything. Utah, in my opinion, has one of the strongest rodeo fan bases you could have for the sport, which as a contestant, you really appreciate and are thankful for.”

More information and tickets are available on the event webpage at wassatchparksandrec.com.