A knack for winning

White Cone bareback rider Tsosie pursues his rodeo potential

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

SANDERS, Ariz., April 8, 2011

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(Times photo - Leigh T. Jimmie)

Earl Tsosie Jr., of White Cone, Ariz., rides for a score of 69 to win the bareback event at the Puerco Valley Rodeo on Sunday in Sanders, Ariz.

While growing up on his grandparents' homestead in White Cone, Ariz., Earl Tsosie Jr. had no inclination of riding in rodeo.

Surprisingly though, the 21-year-old cowboy had been introduced to the "western way of life" while doing ranch work at the family farm.

Still that didn't change his interest until his grandfather, Guy Belen, mentioned a rodeo article in the Navajo Times four years ago.

"Out of the blue my grandfather said, 'Why don't you try rodeo?'" Tsosie recalled. "There were a bunch of photos with cowboys and cowgirls riding and he told me, 'What if it said Earl Tsosie Jr., bareback champion?'

"Back then I didn't really think about it and a year went by before I decided to give it a try," Tsosie said.

Needless to say, his first rodeo was quite an experience. Not only did he draw a big horse by the name of Junior at the Shiprock fair in 2008, Tsosie had very little to compete with.

"I didn't have the right equipment and I rode my horse for about seven seconds," Tsosie said. "At that time all I had was a bare riggings and spurs."

The other equipment such as gloves and chaps came later and he found a knack for winning. In fact, the following year the slim yet athletic 5-foot, 10-inch cowboy signed up in four different associations and won both year-end and the rookie-of-the year awards.

"I didn't exactly grow up in a rodeo family, but when I started to enter more rodeos I kind of learned as I went," he said. "And the more I went I basically fell in love with the sport."

When asked why he chose bareback riding as opposed to roping, Tsosie said was drawn to the event because he grew up around horses.

"I rope around the house doing ranch work, but not at rodeos," he said. "That's what I've been raised to do and they've told me that it was the toughest event because of all the jerking."

Of course the greatest thrill for a rider is to cover your animal for eight seconds. But for Tsosie, he says he stays grounded.

"A lot of people tell me that I have potential, but I just keep it in and I don't show it," he said. "When I ride I really don't talk big or yell and after my rides I just pack my stuff and move on.

"I think that's the best way to do it where you try to be as humble as you can be," he said.

Tsosie remained true to his word as he tried to exit the Sanders rodeo grounds quietly on Sunday afternoon during the 2011 AIRCA Membership Drive Two rodeo before he was coaxed into a interview.

At that rodeo, he won the bareback with a 69-point ride on Showtime, which paid him the top prize of $183, ahead of Hopi cowboy EJ Kalemsa, who earned $122 on Sugar.

"I drew a good horse where he wasn't too easy or too strong," Tsosie said. "I just did my part and the horse did his."

Eventually he's hoping to ride in the big leagues by joining the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association later this year.

"After I get enough money I want to ride in a couple of rodeos to fulfill my permit," Tsosie said. "But I'm looking for some more sponsors."

Currently he is sponsored by Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise.

"It's really hard to find good sponsors because there are a lot of good cowboys out there," he said. "I was lucky to get (Navajo Arts & Crafts) to sponsor me because they treat me good. With gas going up I would like to get another sponsor to take me to all my rodeos.

"But with what I have I can't complain because I think it's pretty wicked for the cowboys that rope," he added. "They have to pull those big rigs."

ot of guys and they helped me out," he said. "I know I have to keep working if I want to get to the top."

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