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Free Riders go from underdogs to top dogs, winning Kid Rock’s Rock N Rodeo

The team comprised entirely of WCRA qualifiers led from the jump in AT&T Stadium, proving all its doubters wrong.


ARLINGTON, Texas – Before barrel racer Makenzie Mayes took the final run for the Free Riders at Kid Rock’s Rock N Rodeo, head coach Bobby Mote had a simple message for her.
“Just bring it home.”
The fact that the Free Riders were in the championship round at all was perhaps an overachievement. Comprised of all WCRA athletes who qualified based on their finishes at Rodeo Corpus Christi, the team roster wasn’t finalized until May 11—just six days before the KRRR kicked off in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Not only that, the only athletes available were ones who weren’t drafted by another team in March.
“Not everybody expected to get drafted, but at the same time, I feel like it puts a little bit of a chip on your shoulder,” Mote said. “It did me, because when we were at the draft, they were kind of just writing us off. Like, ‘Well, the benchwarmers.’ They had all kinds of funny nicknames for us.
“But what I knew is that it’s hard to qualify for Rodeo Corpus, and it’s hard to win there, and these folks all won there, and all won $15, $20, $20,000-plus. And then they come in on a roll, and they’ve got something to prove. So really, our whole plan every single round was just to go make our run or make our ride.”
The Free Riders did just that, storming to an early lead in the gold medal tally that they never relinquished. They won barrel racing gold thanks to Mayes and Bayleigh Choate, bareback riding via strong showings by RC Landingham and Nick Pelke, and team roping courtesy of Luke Brown/Jade Corkill and Jake Smith/Douglas Rich.
In the championship round, which was a best-of-seven format, the Free Riders won bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, breakaway roping, and barrel racing, defeating the Misty Mountain Hop to take home $500,000 and gold medals befitting a rock’n’roll rodeo.
Mayes took the first run for the Free Riders in AT&T Stadium, as well as the last, bringing things home just as Mote instructed.

“There’s a lot of special things that you could say about Makenzie and her good horse. They call her Rousey,” assistant coach Linsay Rosser-Sumpter said. “That mare is kind of a little bit of a renegade. I was petting her, and I was telling Rousey, ‘You are special, and you’re the reason that we’re here, and you’re going to win this for us.’ I was telling that mare how amazing she is. She’s proven it with the three runs she made in here.
“Makenzie and Rousey, that’s a team that is pretty dang special. They went and set the arena record at Cowtown Coliseum on Wednesday, and that arena record is one to cherish because they run in that arena weekly with hundreds of girls. So Makenzie and Rousey are definitely something that we were blessed with on team Free Riders.”
Despite blowing away the competition in Rounds 1-3, the championship round was a different story. The Misty Mountain Hop kept things even, forcing every discipline to be contested as they racked up three wins of their own.
It made Mayes’s final run fraught with tension.
“It was special,” Rosser-Sumpter said. “It gets you choked up. It gets you pumped up because really, if you guys could’ve heard, for six months, the coaches' calls that Bobby and I endured. These are phenomenal coaches in their own right, but they were pretty adamant that we were the Bad News Bears, and we were the underdogs, and we were all these things. Obviously, they were wrong because we’re in here (at the winner’s press conference), and they’re not. It gives you a lot of pride.”
Perhaps the Free Riders’ underdog status and all the factors working against them were what gave them the advantage in the end. Despite just being assembled last weekend, they were together in Corpus Christi. Mote says they immediately scheduled a media shoot, and the squad communicated throughout the week leading up to the KRRR. They were all at AT&T Stadium the morning of the event to run cattle through, strategizing and making game plans.
“This team got together at Corpus Christi and became a team right then and has been a team ever since then,” Rosser-Sumpter said. “Bobby and I went through and made a spreadsheet and a list, who’s going to do this, who’s going to do this, and we never had a time that there wasn’t a teammate in the box or right there with you, or I could call (steer wrestler) Levi (Rudd) and tell him everybody’s going to be in B, make sure everybody’s there, and they took care of it, and they executed. So the team mentality for this team was deep, and they were embedded in the roots when they met last weekend in Corpus Christi.”
Regardless of what the X-factor was that propelled the Free Riders to victory, they – the KRRR’s Bad News Bears, the benchwarmers, the underdogs – were the ones screaming with joy and celebrating on the dirt at the most innovative event rodeo has ever seen.
“These guys are awesome,” Mote said. “Everybody did their part. A lot of them won matches in advance, but then everybody was pitched in, helping. They were pushing cows, pushing calves on their head, doing whatever. It was a team effort, right from the beginning, all the way through the end.”
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media