BENSON — It’s safe to say that Caden Hooper has made a name for himself in the action-packed world of junior rodeo.
At 13, Hooper has won 30 trophy saddles and has qualified for the national junior rodeo finals.
And he’s just getting started.
He said he competes in several different rodeo associations, including the Arizona Junior High School Rodeo Association, the Queencreek Junior Rodeo Association, the Hidalgo Youth Rodeo Association in Lordsburg New Mexico, and others.
Hooper won his first saddle in 2013 when he was six-years-old, which fed his passion for rodeo and served as a driving force behind his competitive spirit.
“The top four qualifiers in every event in every state are eligible to compete in the nationals. I qualified for the nationals for the past two years. In 2019, the nationals were held in Huron, South Dakota, and I would have been competing in Des Moines, Iowa this year, but the event was canceled because of COVID,” said Hooper, who said he loves traveling to different states and meeting people from all over the country as part of the rodeo experience.
The nationals draw thousands of competitions and spectators from across the United States as well as Australia, Mexico and Canada, Hooper said.
Rodeo is part of the Hooper family’s makeup.
Caden’s parents, Wendy and Jeff Hooper, used to team rope together and Caden’s 10-year-old brother, Landon, has already won a dozen trophy buckles and two saddles.
The family lives in Mescal on property with an arena and steers the boys use to practice roping.
“Both Caden and Landon love rodeo, but they also are really good students and enjoy school sports,” Jeff Hooper said of his sons. “In some of the competitions, Landon has to go up against his older brother, which is tough, but he does well and is an up-and-coming competitor.”
The two brothers started competing at a very young age, from the time they were four-years-old, Wendy Hooper said.
As a junior high school competitor, Caden competes in tie-down calf roping, goat tying, breakaway calf roping, ribbon roping and chute-dogging, she said.
So, what the heck is chute-dogging?
“In chute-dogging, a steer is confined in a chute, and the competitor hangs onto the steer’s neck, Caden explained. “When the chute is opened, the steer bolts for the gate, while the young cowboy attempts to wrestle the steer to the ground.
Chute-dogging is the kids’ version of steer wrestling, which is also known as bulldogging. In a true bulldogging event, the cowboy wrestles a steer to the ground by dropping from a running horse while attempting to grab the steer’s horns as he races across the arena.
Caden says he hopes to continue competing in rodeo events through high school and college, and looks forward to tackling the more advanced events seen in professional rodeo competitions.
“My brother and I are lucky that we were born into a rodeo family,” he said. “Rodeo is my sport. I got my roping horse, Snoopy, from a professional calf roper named Joseph Parsons in Marana. I’ve had him since late January, and he’s an excellent horse. I think we make a pretty good team,” he added.
Caden has two other horses that he uses for different events. Jo Boo is his team roping horse and Pixie is the horse he uses for goat tying.
“Rodeo is a fun sport for families,” said Jeff Hooper, who also grew up competing in junior rodeos as well. “I rodeoed with people that I see today at different competitions with their kids. So, it’s a multi-generaltal sport,” he said.
The Hoopers enjoy traveling wherever competitions take them as a family and are sometimes gone two and three weekends a month.
“There are times when rodeo and 4-H events are about all we do,” Wendy Hooper said. “Even though rodeo is their main focus, both of our kids enjoy school and are honor roll students. Caden is in eighth-grade and Landon is a fifth-grader. They attend school in Cochise because Jeff and I work in Willcox.”
While competing in rodeo events is exciting and fun, Caden says he likes the friendships he’s made all over the region as he and his family travel to competitions.
“I have a lot of friends that compete, and we cheer each other on and get excited for each other when we do well,” he said. “I think that’s what I like best about rodeo. We are competitors, but we’re also good friends and we’re good sports. And rodeo is a great family sport. My dad’s dad did it, my dad rodeoed, my mom and dad used to team rope together and my brother Landon is getting into it. I would recommend rodeo to everyone.”