CR cowboys head to Oklahoma
Cowboys may be a rarity in Delaware, but for two 16-year-old boys from Camden, rodeo is all they’ve wanted to do since a very young age.
“I really just saw it on TV when I was little...and I [was] like I want to do that,” Dawson Mitchell said with a reminiscent grin. Wyatt Long, on the other hand, grew up hearing about his dad’s bull riding days, and he was on horseback by the time he was two or three years old. His mother, Paula Kohout, said she wasn’t surprised. “I knew Wyatt was going to be a cowboy from when he was born,” she said.
While the two rising juniors at Caesar Rodney High School started with bull riding, the dangers drove both of them toward roping and other competitions.
This year, they joined the Pennsylvania High School Rodeo Association, since Delaware does not have a chapter. After competing about a dozen times, they qualified to go up against cowboys and cowgirls from across the country in the National High School Rodeo Finals.
The televised competition is July 17-23 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. It’s a big stage in a sport that requires a lot of mental focus and strength. “Right now, I’m pretty cool and relaxed,” Long said. “But, when I show up I’ll probably be nervous.”
They are one of four Pennsylvania teams in team roping. Long will compete individually in tie-down roping.
In team roping, two riders attempt to lasso a steer as quickly as possible, and they only have one go at it. The first rider is the header and ropes the steer’s head, usually aiming for its horns. While the header turns the steer, his partner, the heeler, can rope the steer’s legs.
“The thing about team roping is you rely on each other,” Mitchell said. “Without one another, it just ain’t going to happen.”
Training at Long’s family farm, the pair try to practice roping cattle two to three times a week. All the other days, they practice on the ground using dummies. “It’s definitely an all-day every day process,” Long said. Mitchell agreed, saying, “From the morning, that’s probably the first thing I do, I go out there and swing a rope just for fun.”
Taking care of the livestock adds to this lifestyle. “A lot of people think it’s a very abusive sport, but they never really see how much work goes into it and the care for each animal,” Long said. Dawson agreed, “The cows that we rope, they’re all athletes, too. And the horses.”
Both sat up a little taller as they talked about how grateful they were for their parents investing an abundance of time and money. Beyond replacing ropes almost every week, the costs for caring for the livestock and buying equipment surpasses most other sports.
Standing nearby, their mothers said, yes, it’s expensive, but their voices picked up with excitement as they talked about their sons’ achievements. “I’m kind of in awe of him,” Kohout said. “It’s been an awesome evolution to see him go from being this little kid on a horse to now he looks like a grown man and both of them [sometimes] compete against adults.”
Tina Mitchell said it’s simply watching Dawson get so much enjoyment from the sport, especially in one competition called chute dogging, which is similar to steer wrestling. “I love the chute dogging, and that’s his favorite and probably my favorite to watch, just because it’s so entertaining.”
Driving an average of three hours to get to rodeos in Pennsylvania, Long and Mitchell said the community and meeting new people makes it worthwhile. “I have friends all over the East Coast,” Long said. “I won’t see them until I go to the rodeo, but once you’re there it’s one big family.”
Beyond friendships, many competitors travel the country to go to rodeos with their family. Wyatt’s friend and mentor Ted Bledsoe, of Felton, said that’s one thing a lot of people don’t know. “You can’t get more family than rodeo,” he said.
Originally from Missouri, Bledsoe started doing rodeos at 9 years old and got back into team roping years after moving to Delaware in 1990. He crossed paths with Wyatt Long at a clinic in Pennsylvania, where he was impressed by his skill at such a young age. Later, they serendipitously met again when a mutual friend connected them for roping lessons.
Long spent an entire summer training with Bledsoe, who didn’t ask for anything in return. “People have helped me and never charged me for it, so I wanted to pay it on forward,” he said.
Since then, Bledsoe said he has watched his young friend grow. “I’ve seen him get a whole lot better,” he said. When I first saw Wyatt at my house, I told his mom, ‘He is a natural. He’s got all the natural ability. He’s just got to set his mind to do it.’”
When he found out Long qualified for nationals, he said, “I was very proud of him. I told him that.”
Bledsoe gave Long and Mitchell his advice: “‘Go out there and soak everything in, enjoy yourself, do your best’ and know that everybody, especially in the Mid-Atlantic region here, that we’re pulling for them.”