Local bull rider to compete in PBR World Finals
Keyshawn Whitehorse has pretty much always known what he was going to do when he grew up.
The San Juan County resident first remembers watching Professional Bull Riding on TV with his dad when he was five-years-old. That day, Keyshawn told his dad that was what he wanted to do, and he’s been determined to achieve that goal ever since.
“Becoming the first professional athlete in my family, I didn’t really see it any other way,” said Whitehorse. “Maybe my family saw it as a possibility, but I didn’t see it as a possibility I saw it as, ‘When is it going to happen?’ Not so much a question mark behind it.”
Now in his third year on the Professional Bull Rider (PBR) circuit, Keyshawn is preparing for the PBR World Finals this week in Arlington, TX. It will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.
While Keyshawn’s dad Norbert had ridden bulls occasionally as an amateur, breaking into the professional ranks took a lot of work for Keyshawn.
“Lot of it had to do with God’s will for me, being destined to do this sport,” Whitehorse said of overcoming obstacles to become a professional bull rider.
The Whitehorse family installed a barrel with ropes attached to the ends at their home in McCracken Springs to give Keyshawn another opportunity to practice.
“It was a lot of learning process with my dad and I,” Keyshawn said. “It started with some old VCR tapes here at the house, hauling rocks around the house for exercise, up and down the mesa. Running on dirt trails on the road.”
Eventually their path led Keyshawn’s parents, Norbert and Delphine, to move the family to Texas where he was able to train and learn with the best.
The years of hard work and creative problem solving has paid off bigtime for Keyshawn and his family. He won the PBR Rookie of the Year award in 2018 and has qualified for the PBR World Finals for three straight years.
Last week, the 23-year-old McCracken Springs resident scored 88.5 in the first round of the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour finals in Sioux Falls, SD. The ride helped Keyshawn place ninth over the weekend and solidified his rank as #26 in the world standings.
Part of Keyshawn’s success is owed to how he approaches bull riding. He says the traditional cowboy mentality is often going at or trying to out-muscle a bull.
“Every bull rider with a logical mind right now will tell you you’re not going to be able to out-power a bull, so what’s the point in having that mindset?” he asks. “Your mindset is to move with them and try to flow with them as much as you can.”
Keyshawn says he tries to ride like water, like a river taking shape wherever it goes, following the path of least resistance.
“That’s what you try to do with a bull,” he explains. “You’re able to work together. The bull takes care of you; you take care of the bull. Hopefully it lines up with a great score because without one or the other, there’s no such sport as bull riding.”
Working in tandem with a bull named “Ink Spot,” Keyshawn was able to score his second 90-point ride of his career late this summer.
The ride won Keyshawn the July 31 event in Deadwood, SD. Keyshawn explains the excitement a 90-point ride brings to a bull rider.
“It means they’ve done their job on a bull that was doing quite a bit to buck them off,” he adds. “Not only just quite a bit, but that bull is also a bit more athletic and stronger than the average bull you get on.
“So whenever you work together to be able to get a score like that, I think that’s what every little kid as a bull rider dreams of as well.”
Keyshawn says the moments before, during, and after those eight seconds are something he’ll always remember, in part because of all the work to get to that point.
Keyshawn holds a few other memories close. One of his favorite memories was when his dad pulled his rope for the ride that secured his Rookie of the Year honor.
Another memory was hearing fans call his name for the first time. Keyshawn assumed they were people he knew at first.
“I didn’t realize I had fans,” Keyshawn said. “People calling me like ‘Keyshawn, Keyshawn,’ and I was looking for a face that I could recognize – and there was no one there I recognized.”
Sometimes the light focused on a professional athlete is too much for Keyshawn’s low-key style.
“At times you can get looked at more than a person, or not as a person at all but more as an object,” he explains. “I like to tell people I’m a normal guy.
“Yeah, I ride bulls professionally, and I might be able to do things on the back of a bull that you can’t do, but I’m just a normal guy. I wake up, walk on my own two feet. I still have things I have to take care of.”
Keyshawn keeps himself centered at home in McCracken Springs. While home, he works out and rides the few bulls he keeps for practice. He calls home his place of peace.
“When I go out in the world it’s loud. Things are going, cars, planes, people moving around. You go out there every weekend and then come back and you can see the stars. It’s quiet and it’s dark,” he said. “You realize all that’s going out there, but that doesn’t always matter. So that’s why I like being back here.”
Keyshawn’s spirituality keeps him grounded too. His belief system incorporates Christianity with traditional Diné beliefs.
“My grandma, she kind of takes up more of the Christainity side of things, and my grandfather keeps up more of the original heritage and Native American church side,” he explains. “That’s just part of who I am, so I take a lot from it.”
Family plays a deep role in Keyshawn’s life. He says he’s always had support both personally and professionally from his parents, brothers, grandparents, aunties, and uncles.
“Having that support and love from my family when I do get bucked off, when I am down – they’re all there to push me, and then when I succeed, we all celebrate as a family.”
In addition to spending time with his family, Keyshawn also enjoys spending time in the outdoors.
He recently took up golfing at the Hideout in Monticello, and he likes to fish a lot of places in the area, including Dry Wash, Recapture, and Foy and Monticello lakes.
Keyshawn’s advice to young people is to fiercely believe their dreams are achievable.
“Believe in yourself so much that you can’t see yourself doing anything else,” he said. “Having a belief like that, no matter how hard it is, or the trials you go through, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to get past it; you can achieve great things.”
Watch Keyshawn live his dreams riding this week on the CBS Sports Network starting Thursday, November 12 at 7 p.m.