By: Justin Felisko
July 28, 2016
BIG SKY, Mont. – Keyshawn Whitehorse woke up last weekend in Gillette, Wyoming, with one thing on his mind, and that same thought began repeating inside his head as he slid into the bucking chute for the final bull ride of his high school career.
“I really wanted to go freaking 90 that day,” Whitehorse said on Thursday evening while driving to this weekend’s Big Sky, Montana, BlueDEF Tour event. “I woke up with my mind thinking, ‘Today is the day. Give me a bull to be 90 on.’ When I was getting on in the short round, I was like, ‘This is it. I might as well try and go out with a bang.’ I wanted it. I just thought, ‘Ride this bull for what he is worth. And have fun with it.’
“‘No matter what, be you Keyshawn Whitehorse. You can do it.’”
Whitehorse then nodded for the gate and he kicked into full throttle until the 8-second whistle blew during the final round of the 2016 National High School Rodeo Finals at the CAM-PLEX Event Facility.
The 19-year-old from The Woodlands, Texas, jumped off his bull and heard the in-arena announcer say “79 points.”
It wasn’t by any means the kind of bull ride he was hoping for score-wise, but he was extremely pleased to end his high school career with an 8-second ride.
“It was not the best bull or bull ride,” Whitehorse said with a laugh. “I did alright. I was kind of disappointed, but this year was more about trying to have fun with it. It was my last year and I never was going to go do it again. I wanted to take it all in when I could.”
Whitehorse wound up placing second in the short round, and his 2-for-3 performance placed him fifth overall.
Fellow PBR rider Jess Lockwood placed third after bucking off in the short round and breaking some fingers on his riding hand.
Even though Whitehorse came up short of a national title, he did help Team Texas win the boys national team title, as well as the overall team championship.
“Oh yeah, I was real happy about that,” Whitehorse said. “Going into the week, that was kind of the main objective. I feel like I accomplished enough in my high school career. I enjoyed every moment of it. There could have been more. Being a part of the Texas team, even though I didn’t win the national title in the bull riding, it put a nice end to my high school rodeo career. I really wanted to take part in that, and I really wanted to win it for Team Texas.”
Whitehorse added that he felt for Lockwood, who was leading the event heading into the final round of competition. Whitehorse came within a bull ride of winning a state title in Texas.
“Every year bull riding is learning something new about how you ride, each event or another mentality,” Whitehorse said. “I mean, hey, you never stop learning. I know he knows that. The key to being a good bull rider is realizing you are always learning. As long as you keep learning and digging through it you’ll be alright.
“Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win.”
Now Whitehorse, who made his Built Ford Tough Series debut at Iron Cowboy, is ready to completely shift his focus toward his PBR career. He heads to Big Sky ranked 47th in the world standings and is only 147.5 points behind the Top 35.
Fans can watch the Big Sky BlueDEF Tour event on PBR LIVE beginning at 8:50 p.m. ET on Friday and Saturday.
Whitehorse is 18-for-51 (35.29 percent) at all levels of PBR competition this season.
“I want to keep my riding percentage up,” he said. “After I got off my last high school bull I rode, I realized I enjoyed it, but I can focus all of my attention to my career and my life. I can enjoy this part of my life. I had to separate my business from high school rodeo. Now I can have more of a businessman attitude toward it, but also have fun with it.”
Whitehorse ideally wants to put together a late-season run to qualify for the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals on Nov. 2-6 during PBR Finals week.
“My main goal is to make the World Finals and continue on that way to be on the Built Ford Tough,” Whitehorse said. “I would really love to be back on the Built Ford Tough because that is where I feel more comfortable at.”
The winner of this weekend’s Big Sky event will receive a future 2016 BFTS exemption.
“It would really mean a lot,” Whitehorse said. “Right now, this whole year has been ups and downs for me trying to collect points and money. Now I am like if I get points, I get points. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m slowly working my way up. I would really love to be there, but I am just trying to keep focused on my main primary goals and build up from there.”
He is also hoping that bringing a laid-back mentality that he had at the NHSFR will benefit him during the second half.
“At the beginning of this season, I really took everything too seriously,” he said. “I was really trying to be on top of everything. I really didn’t enjoy myself. I finally taught myself I need to have fun. That is why I started doing this. I feel like nationals is one of those places that reminds me of how it is all about your heart. You are not there for the money, you are riding with your heart and your passion to ride.
“Your passion to win.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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