By Robb Garofalo
Colt Hokana recently captured his second straight South Dakota High School Rodeo Association bareback riding championship, and now sets his sights on a much loftier title.
“I’ve got the (High School) nationals coming up in Gillette (Wyo.), and I think I’m ready,” Hokana said. “My goal is to finish in the ‘short go’ (top 20), and right now I think I’m riding (well enough) to make it. “
One thing Hokana is doing, in addition to riding well, is riding often.
He has his workout and riding practices, which he does prior to competing in rodeos, but the best way to prep yourself for an event like the nationals is to get on as many horses in stiff competition as you can. For Hokana, that meant a stretch of six events in eight days.
On July 1, Hokana took part in an event in Belle Fourche. The next day he rode in Mandan, N.D. The next it was a stop in Mobridge, and then the next day he was in Fort Ransom, N.D., before taking a couple days off. Then he headed to Minnesota and after that it was up to North Dakota to wrap up the long week.
“I’ve been going pretty hard over the past few weeks for sure,” Hokana said. “After four straight rides, I took a couple days off, then finished the week with two more (rodeos) in Minnesota and North Dakota. (Riding) is just something I love doing, and I’m not going to stop until I don’t love doing it.”
That love of bareback riding came at a very early age.
“I got started (riding) when I was around 12 or 13 years old,” Hokana said. “My dad used to ride horses and bulls in college and spent some time riding professionally. I didn’t get a chance to see him because I was really young when when he rode, but he’s helped me grow into (riding) a lot and has always been there to offer advice and support.”
The goal in bareback riding is fairly simple; stay on until you hear that horn at the eight-second mark.
“When that horse is bucking, (the ride) sure seems longer than eight seconds for sure,” Hokana said. “A good horse can do between 15 and 20 jumps in eight seconds, and some of the (stronger) horses can do even more. It’s a wild ride, you just have to make sure your glove hand and balance hand are working well.”
Hokana’s grip had been causing him some issues earlier this summer, but he’s tweaked his glove to the point where there’s a little less give and the fingers have a more stiff feeling, which will help him from the first jump.
“When your grip gets loose, and you go flying, it’s a lousy feeling for sure,” Hokana said, laughing. “I think I set up the glove wrong and, with heat, (the glove) got softer. I added two pieces of foam over (the top) of my knuckles, and sprayed the glove with a little more benzoin to help with the (firmness). Your equipment when you ride really can make you or break you.”
Bareback riding is pretty lonely in a sense. It’s just you, climbing on a horse whose sole intent is to buck you off, and once that gate opens, it’s you against it. That’s not to say, competition aside, the riders who went before you and are waiting behind are rooting against you.
“Every time that gate opens you’re trying to win, not finish second or third,” Hokana said. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure right before (the gate) opens. It makes you more excited, especially if a buddy just rode. No doubt, I’d split a win with one of my buddies. It’s happened a couple of times, and it was pretty cool. We root for each other when the gate opens, and we all want each other to do well.”
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