Updated: July 10, 2014 at 8:20 pm
Ellicott's Stephen Heitmann didn't win the rings event at the new Equicross competition. It wasn't for lack of effort.
The 17-year-old cowboy was dragged about 25 yards through the arena dirt and across the finish line by three competitors while they tried to tear the ring out of his hands. If one had, they would have advanced to the semifinals of the 16-contestant competition Thursday at the Norris-Penrose Event Center.
Their motivation for dragging the teen was the same as why he held on so desperately; a chance to win $1,000 as event champion.
"In rodeo, it all comes down to the check," he said while shaking dirt off his hat. "It's just cowboy stuff that happens all the time."
The rings race was the most crowd-pleasing of the four events in the ages 14-18 competition sponsored by CINCH, the title sponsor of the annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which continues through Saturday night.
"It was crazy," said Simla's Miranda Johnson, who won the flag race. "I know Stephen well and he deserved it."
She was the first to cross the finish line after taking a flag from one barrel and dropping it into a bucket atop another while on horseback. In all but the rings, the riders competed in a single-elimination tournament with Faith Hoffman winning the keyhole and rescue races to claim $2,000 out of the available $4,000.
The keyhole competition is a head-to-head elimination race with the riders going between a narrow gap between two poles across the arena floor and back across the start line. The rescue race featured a rider grabbing a fellow competitor from atop a barrel and racing them back before their competitor did the same.
Chase Bowers, Hoffman's partner in the rescue race, won the rings competition, beating her in the final head-to-head race.
"It's different than what I am used to," the 18-year-old bull rider from Peyton said. "I wasn't going to enter until I found out you can win $1,000 and it came in a check, not just as a scholarship. It's really cool."
Hoffman, 15, of Kiowa, wasn't so worried about the money since tuition is a concern a couple years from now.
"I like it for the fun, family and competition and the chance to share the faith," Hoffman said. "It's so fun. I am looking forward to watching this get bigger each year."
But the $1,000 was the main draw. Ellicott teen Allie Knar was hoping to raise money for her younger brother Aden, now 11, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
He was featured in a Gazette article in April. He still needs a bone marrow transplant. Those wanting to register or donate can do so through the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society at lls.org.
CINCH started the program earlier this year to encourage teens to compete in horsemanship events, said sponsorship manager Megan Grieve.
"We have quite a few rodeo committees asking about this so fans will see this more and more," she added.