Turlock's Blake Hirdes travels around the West to make it in the world of rodeo

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJuly 19, 2013 

    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
    Recent stories written by Brian
    On Twitter: @modestobeek
    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

— Technically, when there's a rodeo at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, Blake Hirdes gets a home game.

But within this band of itinerant sportsmen, a home game means only that Hirdes might spend a weekend hour or two less than usual on the highways.

Early Thursday morning, the 26-year-old Turlock High graduate drove to Salinas to compete in the morning session of a rodeo run under the banner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys California Circuit.

Then, it was a quick two-hour drive back over Pacheco Pass, waving at Casa de Fruita on the way by, to make it back home for the 6:30 performance at the Stanislaus County Fair at an event run by California Cowboys Pro Rodeo Association.

"I damn sure make money at this or I wouldn't do it," Hirdes said.

"Every weekend we go somewhere. Like last week we were in Lakeport and Orick (four hours apart), and this week Salinas, then next week I'll drive to Fortuna."

Thursday's round-trip journey on Highway 152 paid off for Hirdes upon his return to Turlock.

Competing first in calf roping, Hirdes stopped the watch in 9.7 seconds, which led the event until Napa's Ethan Garcia, the final competitor, clocked a 9.1 to win the event.

About 30 minutes later, Hirdes and team roping partner Cord Forzano of Madera were first out of the chute and set an early time to beat at 6.1 seconds. This time, the mark held.

So the hometown boy not only cashed in two events but recorded a first and a second.

"I have no idea what I won tonight," Hirdes said. "Maybe $1,500 or $1,600. I'm not sure, but I hope more than that."

The showing boosted his summer winnings to close to $10,000, so he is enjoying success at this weekend warrior level of cowboying. He said he'll compete in 30 rodeos this summer, and about 70 events a year.

At the same time he hasn't ruled out taking a shot at the big-time, the PRCA's national circuit that sends its best to Las Vegas each December for the National Finals Rodeo.

"For me, I like staying around here and getting work done during the week and just go to these on the weekend," Hirdes said. "I've been to the big rodeos, like the one in Tucson. But if you go down there, and we were there for three weeks, you sit around during the week and do nothing. You really feel worthless. If you stay around here you can work during the week."

And there is plenty of work to be done at home.

Hirdes was born into rodeo. His grandfather Les Hirdes is a Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer who was the world's top all-around cowboy in 1963.

His father, Ed Hirdes, a local dairyman and rancher, was the all-around champion at the Oakdale Rodeo in 1983 and 1993, and Blake Hirdes put his name on that same perpetual trophy in 2011.

So Hirdes has tasted success in the rodeo arena. He might be good enough to make a living among the full-timers, but that would mean a massive change in lifestyle.

In short, this working rodeo cowboy wants to keep the word "working" in his job description.

"For a guy to make it there you have to put a lot of time and money into it," Hirdes said. "You have to do well once you're there and you have to have good horses.

"I've been to some rodeos where a lot of the guys are going non-stop all year and seem to always be going somewhere."

But if he's going to make that jump, it probably needs to be soon. Hirdes knows his last rodeo can be as soon as the next bad fall. So far, he says, he's been fortunate.

"So far I haven't had any problems, and in team roping you might burn your hands a little bit," Hirdes said. "And last year I hurt my back a little bit, but no big deal."

Until he can find either that long streak of luck to give him the top paydays in these regional events, or sponsors want to step up and pay for his fuel, equipment and entry fees, Hirdes will be a fixture on West Coast blacktops.

"It damn sure gets tiring when you have to drive all night a couple days in a row," Hirdes said. "But as long as you're winning it's OK."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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