Steer Wrestler Breaks Record

Trevor Knowles breaks the Great Falls record in 2.9 seconds aboard two-time steer wrestling horse of the year Rocks Eye Opener.

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
August 14, 2013

Steer wrestling horse of the year Rocks Eye Opener

Steer wrestling horse of the year Rocks Eye Opener

Steer wrestler Trevor Knowles has been around long enough to understand the folly of making too much of one good rodeo, even if it was really, really good, one of the best performances of his 10-year career.

Trevor won the first round of the Big Sky ProRodeo Roundup at the Montana State Fairgrounds in early August in a time of 2.9 seconds, which was a personal best, an arena record and the fastest time anybody’s managed during this 2013 season.

By tacking on a 3.9-second run in the second go, Trevor finished with the two-head win in 6.8 seconds, breaking another arena record and matching a career-best; he was 3.0 and 3.8 at the 2010 Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Nebraska.

“(Former World Champion Bareback Rider) Clint Corey was quoted in the later stages of his career as saying that he might not be as quick as he was in his 20s, but he was a whole lot wiser,” said Trevor, 32. “I really get that now. I’ve been going a long time and I may have lost a little, but with time, you learn how to handle pressure better and do a better job of avoiding mistakes.

“I’m competitive whether I’m playing checkers or rodeoing, and while you always want to win, you know that’s not possible. You make more money by making a series of consistent runs, rather than trying to win every round. You try to score good, be solid (technically) and place every time.”

Occasionally when you do the little things right, everything falls into place for something special.

At Great Falls, that meant Trevor was able to ride Lee Graves’ great horse Jesse – a two-time AQHA-Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association steer wrestling horse of the year selection – and he had a steer that was just kind of made to order. Trevor was ready to seize the opportunity when it presented itself.

Jesse is registered as Rocks Eye Opener, a 1995 gelding who won the horse of the year title in steer wrestling in 2007 and 2009. He’s one of those good ones.

“That little black horse came off the track here at Sallisaw (Oklahoma),” said Joe Watkins, the man who broke the horse to saddle. America’s Horse interviewed Joe in 2009. “He couldn’t be trained. … I got him for $2,500.”

So the racetrack dropout entered Joe’s rope horse and barrel racing program. But he didn’t like to rope. He had a lot of speed, so Joe’s daughter started barrel racing him. That worked unless the gelding didn’t want it to. Then, he’d pitch his rider. Steer wrestling was a better fit.

Joe told us that the horse ended up with steer wrestling world champion Lee Graves in 2006.

“He had some issues, and a lot of people thought I was really going out on a limb by buying him,” Lee told America’s Horse in 2007, when the gelding that he re-nicknamed “Jesse” won the steer wrestling horse of the year award for the first time.

He’s still a little hard-headed, though, Joe said, because the horse’s new nickname comes from the Old West outlaw Jesse James, “because some days he’s good and some days he’s not good.”

The time of 2.9 seconds broke the arena record of 3.5 seconds set by the late Levi Wisness in 2006 and equaled a year ago by Jordan Holland of Dillon, Montana. Hunter Cure and Straws Milan both equaled the old record in the first round and Milan, who also rode Jesse, finished second overall with a time of 7.3 seconds on two head.

“More than anything that (2.9-second run) was just smooth,” Trevor said. “I got a good start and the steer had a lot of action. He didn’t stop, but he let me catch up fast. As soon as my feet hit the ground, the steer was in the air. It was one of those (runs) that you know is really fast; you just don’t know how fast.

“I probably should be excited (about the 2.9), but at this stage of my career I’m really just focused on being steady and consistent. This may be one of those things where you look back after you’re retired and you tell people, ‘Yeah, I was ‘2’ one time.’ ”

Steady and consistent is really an apt description of Trevor's career arc. He is about to qualify for his 10th consecutive Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and only four other men are working on a streak of that duration or longer – Bobby Mote, Will Lowe, Cody Wright and Cody Ohl, all of whom figure to be first-ballot inductees into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. 

Trevor has finished fourth in the world standings three times and his average world standings position over the last 10 years is 8.5. His career earnings of $1,173,130 put him sixth among steer wrestlers on the all-time earnings list. He enters the last two months of the season second in the world standings with $58,740 – about $18,000 ahead of last year’s pace.

The missing item on his resume is a gold buckle and while he’s “dreamed of that since I was a little kid,” Trevor is not obsessed with the quest.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was 24 and borrowing money so I could stay out on the road and compete,” Trevor said. “When I started, I just thought I’d do this for a couple of years, but here I am still at it after 10 years. I do it because I love it so much.

“I’ve had some chances to win (a world title) and I know that if things line up right at the NFR and I don’t screw up, it can still happen. I just try to do the best I can and see what happens. At the end of it, I’m still going to go back (to Mount Vernon, Oregon) and feed the cows.

“Whatever happens at the NFR isn’t really going to change the way I approach things. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to do this and meet all the wonderful people I have along the way. Those relationships last way beyond when anybody remembers what you did (in the arena).”