The 80th annual Poly Royal rodeo was the first time the rodeo was back in two years. The team is competing for a spot at nationals and a handful of athletes are either pro or plan on going pro after graduation.
The team is led by head Coach Ben Lando, a professional rodeo rider and Cal Poly graduate. He has been leading the team since 2013. Since 1956, the team has won 44 national titles.
A Recap of the 80th annual Poly Royal Rodeo
The Cal Poly rodeo team competed in the 80th annual Poly Royal rodeo from Wednesday, Apr. 13 through Saturday, Apr. 16, after being on pause due to COVID-19.
Mustang graduate agricultural education student Sierra Spratt and agricultural systems management senior Karson Mebane were the all-around winners.
“It was so awesome,” Spratt said reflecting on the rodeo. “I have always heard such incredible things about the rodeo here.”
Spratt won her Poly Royal buckle with a time of 6.5 seconds on the Long Go Goat Tying and 6.8 seconds on the Short Go. The Long Go is the preliminary round of the rodeo and includes all competitors. Meanwhile, the Short Go is the final round of the rodeo, where the competition field is cut to the top performers. In this case it was the top 10.
“[The Poly Royal Buckle] is by far my favorite buckle I have won,” Spratt said. “Not just because it was our hometown rodeo, but the entire team and [Coach Ben Lando] spent months putting on the rodeo.”
Mebane echoed this sentiment about winning the buckle.
“[The buckle] means the world to me,” Mebane said. “It is the only buckle I have ever wanted. Everyone I know has one: our rodeo coach, coaches at other schools, guys who have taught me.”
In roping, Mebane swiftly rode, caught and tied to earn times of 7.5 and 8.6 seconds in the Long Go and Short Go, respectively. Mebane was the outright winner of the Team Rope Heeler and the Saddle Bronc riding.
“It feels amazing [to be the all-around winner],” Mebane said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. There are not a lot of guys that can be an all-around winner from both ends of the arena.”
By both ends of the arena, Mebane was referencing both the roughstock and timed events.
In the Saddle Bronc competition, Mebane scored a 78 in the Long Go and an 84 in the Short Go on his bronc, Chainsmoker.
Saddle Bronc scores tallied are out of 100. Fifty points go to the horse for how high they kick and drop, while the other 50 go to the rider, who is judged on their ability to stay on the horse. The rider must stay on for eight seconds, not let their free hand touch the horse, keep their feet in their stirrups and have their spurs touching a specific point of the horse’s shoulders.
Cal Poly’s own Maggie Usher and Andrew Tilton were the reserve winners.
Usher won breakaway roping with a 2.8-second Long Go time followed up by a 2.3-second Short Go.
The breakaway roping event involves a calf that is released from a chute first, followed by a rider who follows and tries to get their rope tied around the calf’s neck as quickly as possible. Roping is a skill of time and finesse while moving at fast speeds on a horse.
Tilton came in first in the tiedown with times of 11.2 and 9.9 seconds.
Tiedown roping originates from the cowboy’s need to secure cattle for medical treatment. In the event, once a calf is released from a chute, a rider will rope a calf, dismount from their horse, flank the calf and tie down three of its legs.
The event requires a competitor to have good communication with their horse, as the horse is expected to keep the rope taut so the cowboy can tie the calf’s legs.
What is Cal Poly Rodeo?
Rodeo is an individual sport. However, when competing for a school, those individuals are part of a team. As a team, you are trying to score the most points throughout the season with the goal of going to the national finals.
In terms of national standing, Cal Poly’s women’s team is in second place with 4,078.50 points. In first place is Blue Mountain Community College with 4,416.83 points.
Blue Mountain Community College is not in the West Coast Region, where Cal Poly resides. In the West Coast region, the Mustang women’s team has over 2,700 more points than second place, Cuesta College, and the seven other schools.
“It is great to use the team to your advantage,” Spratt said. “You have people who are not only in your corner but also pushing you competitively as well. You show up to the rodeo and everyone has that green vest on. You have that community, you have that comradery.”
Spratt is currently dominating the region with 1,393 points, which is 127 points in front of second place. Five of the top six women in the region are Cal Poly riders.
Meanwhile, the men’s team currently stands in third with 3,530.50 points. Ahead of them are California State Fresno and Feather River College.
In the West Coast Region, Cal Poly has four of the top-12 men’s all-around athletes. Quintin McWhorter holds second at 1,344 points, trailing first by 58 points. No. 8 is Mebane, No. 10 is Joseph Johnson and No. 12 is Michael Green.
According to Mebane, the mindset between rodeo being an individual and team sport is a tough one to wrestle with.
“It’s hard to balance [individual and team goals], but it’s easy when you think about what it’s for,” Mebane said. “The more points I can earn for the Cal Poly rodeo team, the better chance we have of sending the whole team to the College National Finals.
The College National Finals Rodeo is scheduled to take place from Sunday, Jun. 12 through Saturday, Jun. 18 in Casper, Wyo.
Meet the Two Cal Poly Athletes Planning to Go Professional in Rodeo
Among others on the team, Spratt and Mebane, the two all-around winners, plan to pursue rodeo full time after college.
Spratt has been riding horses since she was three years old at her home in San Tan Valley, Ariz., and Cal Poly is the third college she has competed at for rodeo. Like other collegiate sports, rodeo has eligibility requirements, so Spratt has taken time off between transfers to be able to ride the whole season.
“I have always wanted to go to Cal Poly,” Spratt said. “It’s my dream school.”
Spratt is in the master’s program for Agricultural Education, which her rodeo Coach Ben Londo created.
“It essentially allows a fifth-year of rodeo and you get a master’s degree in one year,” Spratt said about the program.
After college, her plan “is going for rookie of the year.” Pro rodeo requires participants to buy a permit and compete to earn enough money in winnings to fulfill the threshold to then buy their pro rodeo card.
In 2018, Spratt placed fourth in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association finals, which fulfilled her permit. Once she purchases her card, her rookie year starts.
Spratt said competing at home for the Poly Royal rodeo was definitely an advantage.
“I just kept telling myself: this is your practice arena; this is just another day in the practice pen; this is no different,” Spratt said.
This year she has been able to practice on campus with others, compared to years before when she practiced at home by herself.
“To have some of the toughest ropers and goat tyers practice with me every single day has pushed me to be my best,” Spratt said.
For Mebane, he has been riding horses on his family cattle ranch in Bakersfield, Calif. since he was young and started rodeoing as a freshman in high school.
Mebane is currently a professional and competed over the weekend of Apr. 16 and 17 at the Red Bluff Round-Up.
Mebane explained that to jump into the pro ranks, his mental game is crucial.
“I’m going into bigger rodeos where the guys are always older and have more experience,” Mebane said. “To prepare for that is mostly mental.”
Amongst all his rodeos, he was able to look back at the uniqueness of his Poly Royal win.
“To have all your friends there, your classmates, and even some professors there to watch… I felt super lucky and thankful,” Mebane said. “[The Poly Royal win] helps build my confidence, but also it has kind of put my name on the map.”
At his most recent rodeo, the announcer introduced Mebane as the Poly Royal rodeo winner, something that Mebane said helps him get his name out to sponsors and be seen as a pro athlete.
For Spratt and Mebane, it is undeniable the impact a Poly Royal win has on their careers.
“I would say [the Poly Royal] is the number one rodeo in the world, besides the college finals,” Mebane said.