Colorado cowboy to compete at the Junior National Finals Rodeo |

Colorado cowboy to compete at the Junior National Finals Rodeo

Tipping his hat to block the sun, Winsten McGraw, 16, stands along side the steer pen at his home outside Gill. In addition to calf roping Winsten also competes in steer wrestling and team roping.
Joshua Polson/ | The Greeley Tribune

Once you’re a cowboy, you’re one for life.

That’s what Winsten McGraw’s dad said on the family farm in Gill, Colo. And McGraw has been since he was little.

McGraw enjoys old Western movies. He loved them so much while he was growing up that he wanted to change his name to John Wayne.

The 16-year-old grew up riding horses, and competes in the Wyoming High School Rodeo. At the conclusion of the fall season, he was leading the state in steer wrestling.

Mcgraw spends time traveling to jackpots to compete, and will compete at the Junior National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

This will be the first time McGraw will compete in Vegas, but he doesn’t plan on it being the last.

McGraw will compete in team roping with Dakota Felton of Mountain Home, Texas. The duo took fourth at the International Finals Youth Rodeo this past summer in Shawnee, Okla., to qualify for the finals. McGraw said he didn’t realize he would be going to the Jr. NFR until they announced the top finishers earned a spot for the finals.

The fourth place finish is even more impressive considering they just paired up at the competition they qualified at.

It’s not uncommon to pair with someone new at a competition, but the match needs to work well together to do well, especially when pairs compete with partners they’re familiar with.

But for McGraw’s half of the pair, he put in all the work he could to perform his best, and that’s what got him to where he is now. The high school sophomore didn’t start rodeo until he was 12.

“A lot of it’s a gift. God gave him a gift,” McGraw’s dad, Jarrett said. “(Winsten) found it, and puts in the work.”

Everyday after school McGraw goes straight to the stables to work with the horses, and sometimes doesn’t finish his training until 10 p.m. But he knows what he wants, and what he has to do to achieve it.

McGraw writes out his goals, and knows they can and will change. But his goals give him something to focus on. He plans to be one of the best at all levels of competition, and his biggest test starts Dec. 8, and while he obviously wants to win, he said at the very least he wants to learn from the experience of being with the top people in the country.

“I want to come out learning something, and just to experience and learn how to handle things now and to do it in the future,” McGraw said.

This won’t be the first time McGraw spent an early December in Las Vegas. He’s been to watch the National Finals Rodeo a few times, but never to compete. There is something about seeing the professional riders compete that gives young cowboys the motivation to continue to improve to get to that final stage.

Jarrett likened a cowboy watching the National Finals Rodeo to a young baseball player watching the World Series or a football player watching the Super Bowl. It’s the highest level of competition in the U.S., and maybe — if the athlete works hard enough — he can make it there too.

Two of his teammates from Wyoming High School Rodeo will also be with him in Vegas. Kellan and Carson Johnson from Casper, Wyo. Winsten said he’s excited to compete along side his teammates.

But that’s something special with rodeo. No matter who you compete against, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Everyone will help anyone. There’s a lot of comradery at these events, and that’s part of the reason Winsten has been able to succeed. He’s worked with a number of people, young and old, across the country that work with and give him tips and ways to improve.

Those relationships, along with the right horse, take the hard work and talent to the next level.

Winsten is focused on his goals, short-term and long-term. He wants to do rodeo at a junior college in a couple years. He’s not too sure where or what he’ll want to major in. But he wants continue competing and improving in rodeo.

That’s because you don’t just stop being a cowboy. ❖

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