Ride of his life: 17-year-old J.C. Mortensen makes his World’s Oldest Rodeo debut
World's Oldest Rodeo
070219 Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo
PRESCOTT — Seventeen-year-old pro bull rider J.C. Mortensen of Paulden is so easygoing that it’s hard to tell when he’s nervous.
Perhaps it’s because once Mortensen steps into a rodeo arena, he feels right at home.
Mortensen, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rookie who’s named for his maternal grandfather, Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo General Manager J.C. Trujillo, realized a dream Tuesday, July 2, at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds.
An hour before the second performance of the “World’s Oldest Rodeo,” the lanky 5-foot-10, 145-pound Mortensen was all smiles behind the bucking chutes as he prepared to ride a bull named Bank Roll.
“I was talking to people earlier [Tuesday], and I’ve been rodeoing all summer,” Mortensen said. “To come here may not be like the biggest rodeo with [prize] money, but it’s the longest-going rodeo in my home state. It’s the biggest one for me, by far, this summer.”
Trujillo, a world champion in 1981 who won multiple buckles in bareback riding at Frontier Days during his time in rodeo, and several family members watched Mortensen ride Tuesday. In high school rodeos, Mortensen always had family and close friends with him at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds, where he won four saddles.
“This is probably my most-winning arena that I’ve ever been in,” said Mortensen, whose father, Judd, was in pro rodeo and now promotes Professional Bull Riders (PBR) competitions.
On Tuesday, Mortensen wasn’t sure what to make of Bank Roll, a younger bull raised by the Colorado-based Harry Vold Rodeo Co.
“He’s only had one trip before at the pro levels,” said Mortensen, who graduated from Chino Valley High School in May, of Bank Roll, which he later fell off of during his ride.
Mortensen, ranked second in the Turquoise Circuit’s All-Around standings (competitors in two or more events) in Arizona and New Mexico rodeos, grew up riding bucking horses and bulls. He’s third in the circuit’s standings for bull riding and ninth in bareback riding.
“He’s one of the best riders I know,” said Michael William McCarty, Mortensen’s 17-year-old cousin from Chino Valley. “I go over to his house all the time, and he bucks out bulls right there in his arena.”
The Turquoise Circuit Finals are Oct. 4 and 5 at Prescott Valley Event Center, and Mortensen’s already qualified. If he performs well at the circuit finals, he could earn a trip to the National Circuit Finals next March in Kissimmee, Florida.
“It’s kind of just fallen into place,” Mortensen said. “My main goal was to make the NFR [National Finals Rodeo, pro rodeo’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas] this year, which it’s not going very good as of now. Most rookies don’t make the NFR. But the Turquoise Circuit’s probably the second-best thing as a title to win. So, if I win the All-Around in that, I’d be pretty good.”
At pro rodeos like Prescott Frontier Days, Mortensen said he prefers to enter as a bull rider because the bucking horses are tough to ride.
“I haven’t got any pro buckles yet,” he added. “I’ve got four pro rodeo wins, and an all-around pro rodeo win, but still haven’t gotten a buckle out of any of them yet. The main buckles to really win would be Prescott, Pendleton (Oregon), Salinas (California) or Cheyenne (Wyoming).”
Mortensen said he’ll rodeo the rest of the summer. After he leaves Prescott, Mortensen heads to the St. Paul (Oregon) Rodeo tonight, July 3. He then heads to the Calgary Stampede in Canada.
In mid-July, he’ll ride at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Wyoming.
Originally, Mortensen was supposed to ride at Prescott Frontier Days on July 3. Plans changed when he was able to enter at St. Paul and Calgary and travel with world champion bull rider Sage Kimzey.
“I just jumped in with Sage Kimzey, five-time world champion, and Tyler Bingham, who made the NFR last year, [as travel partners],” Mortensen said. “So, they were giving me [crap] and telling jokes the whole way up here [to Prescott]. But it’s cool being with guys like that.”
Daylon Swearingen, 19, who’s presently a Top 20-ranked bull rider in the PBR circuit and the top rookie in the world, and Tanner Willis (currently injured), are other travel partners of Mortensen’s.
Mortensen said he’s already traveled with Swearingen to a handful of rodeos this summer, and either he or Swearingen has won “a pretty good check at all of them.”
This fall, Mortensen enrolls as a freshman at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, where he will ride for the college rodeo team. It’s another experience where nerves won’t faze him.
“You get on bulls so often that every time you go climb in the chute, it’s like a wrestling match or somethin’,” Mortsensen said. “You’ve been practicin’ the whole time, and you think more about what you’ve got to do than what the prize is.”
The 2019 Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo’s third performance is at 7:30 p.m. today, July 3, at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds, 840 Rodeo Drive.
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.