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MISSOULA — Kenny Haworth has been in the rodeo game for so long that he has his own trainer.

His name is Kenny Haworth.

"I tape my own knee and elbow and everything," the Idaho cowboy said Thursday at the Missoula Stampede, wearing what appeared to be a whole roll of tape on his elbow. "You ride bareback horses long enough, you start figuring out what you need to do."

Haworth drove close to four hours, from Orofino, Idaho, to compete in the bareback broncs competition at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. By the time he hit Zootown, he wasn't even sure he wanted to compete.

"I was kind of hesitant to get on or not because I have a sore knee," he offered. "I have a torn MCL and I just prayed about it on the way here.

"I didn't have a lot of tape and we were kind of late and I just wasn't really sure if my knee was going to hold up. But I got a couple encouraging texts from my girlfriend and a buddy saying they believed in me. I just trusted God and got on and it was a really good ride."

Haworth taped himself in his truck and set the standard on the first of three days of competition, scoring 80 on a critter named Blues Man. The ride made his first experience in the Missoula Stampede something to remember.

"I've never been on that horse, never seen it," he said. "But I talked to a buddy this morning who said he won Billings on it, so I was a little more excited. She was outstanding today."

Right behind Haworth is Skyler Erickson of Bearcreek, Montana. If you've never heard of Bearcreek, you're not alone. It's an unincorporated town near Red Lodge with a population of about 80 people.

It's safe to say Erickson is the pride of Bearcreek after posting a score of 73 aboard Pick Up Sticks.

"I knew that horse was going to be real fun and I was pretty excited to get on 'er," he said. "I felt like I did my job pretty alright."

Like a lot of cowboys on the PRCA circuit, Erickson's fortunes are directly connected to the horses he draws. He was on a streak of drawing real good ones for a while, then it slowed down.

"My riding hasn't been very good either," he related, "but I got a good one a couple days ago and got it together and tonight I did pretty alright."

You might say Erickson was born into rodeo. His father rode bucking horses for many years.

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"I used to ride steers when I was a little kid and started out riding bulls," he said. "I started riding bucking horses a couple years ago and I sure enjoy it."

Polson's Brett Fitzpatrick was the star of the show in bull riding. A night after taking fourth in the Xtreme Bulls competition, he posted a score of 81 Thursday aboard Bronze Age. Idaho's Trent Jacobson sits in second with a score of 74.

Becky Fuson of Conrad posted the fastest time in barrel racing (17.59). Cindy Woods of Oregon sits in second at 17.80.

Seven cowboys competed it tie down roping, including 2016 world champion and No. 1-ranked Tyson Durfey of Weatherford, Texas. Unfortunately, only one man posted a time, Browning's Nolan Conway at 9.7 seconds.

Five of the eight saddle bronc riders walked away without a score. Travis Nelson of Broadus leads the event with a 78, followed by Tanner Lockhart of Colorado at 71.

Canadian Brendan Laye posted the fastest time in steer wrestling at 4.6 seconds. In team roping, Nolan Conway of Browning and Casey Bird of Cut Bank set the standard with a time of 5.3 seconds.

The Missoula Stampede continues through Saturday, starting at 7 p.m. 

Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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