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Legends (in the making) Live Among Us: J.C. Mortensen
Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer J.C. Trujillo sees part of himself in grandson J.C. Mortensen

J.C. Mortensen, with his grandfather, 1981 World Champion Bareback rider J.C. Trujillo, poses at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds.
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

J.C. Mortensen, with his grandfather, 1981 World Champion Bareback rider J.C. Trujillo, poses at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds.

Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo general manager J.C. Trujillo has more in common with his 16-year-old grandson from Chino Valley than the initials of their first names.

J.C. Mortensen received Trujillo’s genes, including an affinity for being a rodeo cowboy, from his mother, Annie.

Trujillo, 69, a former world’s champion bareback rider (1981) and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Hall of Famer, has taught Mortensen aspects of the sport since he was a toddler.

“I grew up in rodeo, and I don’t think I ever want to do anything else,” Mortensen said in an interview with his grandpa earlier this month at the historic Prescott Rodeo Grounds.

Mortensen, a sophomore at Chino Valley High School, is currently ranked first in bareback riding in the 2017 Arizona State High School Rodeo Association (ASHSRA) standings.

In early May, Mortensen won the bareback and bull-riding buckles in the high school rodeo state championships at the Rodeo Grounds. Fifty-one years ago, Trujillo captured the Arizona high school bareback riding title.

“It’s taken 51 years for another Trujillo to come in [and win a state high school buckle],” Trujillo said.

Added Mortensen, “It was awesome to be able to ride here. It’s where I’ve always wanted to ride actual buckin’ horses.”

All-Around Strengths

Mortensen’s not only gifted at riding bucking horses. He’s a proficient bull rider who’s ranked second in ASHSRA’s 2017 standings. He also dabbles into saddle bronc riding and team roping.

Thanks to his prowess in the roughstock events, Mortensen sits in the top four of ASHSRA’s All-Around standings, reserved for cowboys who compete in multiple events. In 2016 at the National High School Finals Rodeo, Mortensen earned National Rookie of the Year honors. He’s not resting on his laurels, though.

“I can improve in a lot of stuff,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen partly credits his recent success in rodeo to riding “better stock.” That means the horses and bulls he’s assigned to ride at a rodeo are born and bred to perform at a higher level.

In modern-day rodeo, stock contractors are breeding more quality bucking horses and bucking bulls, Trujillo said.

“He’s got a better chance of drawing good horses and good bulls, say, than I did,” Trujillo added. “If you drew some horses [30-40 years ago], you didn’t have a chance to win anything.”

Judging is also cleaner and more professional than it was decades ago, Trujillo said.

Mortensen is fortunate. He’s been able to practice on former pro saddle bronc rider Steve Dollarhide’s bucking horses in a bucking arena at Dollarhide’s home in Wikieup, 125 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Mortensen said he rides bulls in a bucking arena equipped with a couple of chutes at his home, too.

“They kept some practice bulls there all winter,” Trujillo added.

On The Horizon

Mortensen is currently preparing for the Arizona State High School Finals Rodeo June 7-10 in Payson. He’s setting his sights on reaching the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) Finals for bareback riding. Nationals are scheduled for July 16-22 in Gillette, Wyoming.

Over the next five to 10 years, Mortensen will no doubt work to become a pro rodeo cowboy with hopes of eventually riding in the iconic annual Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo.

“I’d love to be able to do that,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen’s ultimate goal is to win a National Finals Rodeo (NFR) world championship in the All-Around. Trujillo said that as a young boy he told himself he wanted to be a world champ.

Trujillo added that he was fortunate enough and mentally strong enough to make it happen.

“You’ve always got to be able to set your goals high, I feel,” Trujillo said. “But you don’t want to set them so high that you can’t make them become a reality. You can set your goal to be a world’s champion and then make it become a reality.”

Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or via email at

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