The way of the "new cowboy"

Trevor Knowles wrestles a steer to the ground at Wyoming's Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2003. He is ranked 10th in the world. Nevada and California are his next stops on the rodeo circuit. Photo of Dan Hubbell

JOHN DAY - The old rodeo era studded with basic no-good, undereducated, financially deprived cowboys is about as used up as an ol' pair of Wranglers. In the world of rodeo, those tired stereotypes are being replaced with millionaires, entrepreneurial family men and women who ride out like the professionals they are into the rodeo arena to perform in front of rodeo fanatics. And local cowboy Trevor Knowles is easily setting the bar for this new "cowboy."

Trevor is not only a college graduate, but is turning his passion for rodeo into a full-time, respectable day job.

Trevor is a 1998 graduate from Grant Union High School and a 2002 graduate of Lewis Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, with a bachelor of arts in marketing. He recently signed with SENCO, a power tool company that sponsors his rodeoing.

"My marketing degree helps me help my sponsor in getting their name out into the public and selling the product," Trevor explains.

When he's not on the rodeo road he is preparing for the next big rodeo adventure, working with his dad carpentering and riding colts. And his home he still calls John Day.

Trevor was raised in John Day by his parents, Jeff and Sally Knowles and rodeo has been in his blood since he was a child. His father and uncle, Butch Knowles, who announces at the National Finals Rodeo, were also raised in the rodeo way. Jeff was a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) rodeo cowboy and in 1977 captured the all-around championship at the Pendleton Round-Up and Butch is the 1987 National Finals Rodeo (NFR) saddle bronc riding champion, four-time NFR qualifier and rodeo TV analyst for ESPN and ESPN2.

Trevor started sculpting his expertise in rodeo at a young age by roping in the Central Oregon Pee Wee Rodeo Association. Beginning his freshman year in high school, he competed in the Oregon High School Rodeo and Northwest Rodeo Associations. While attending college he participated in the Collegiate Rodeo Association. By 1999 he earned the titles of National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Northwest Region steer wrestling and all-around champion. He moved on to the PRCA becoming a member in 2000, though 2003 was Trevor's first year of competing and traveling to many of the rodeos. Trevor has qualified three times for the Columbia River Circuit Finals and had two big wins in 2003 at the Ellensburg and Yakima rodeos, both in Washington, along with a win in 2004 in San Antonio, Texas.

Trevor gives credit to his dad and Monte "Zuma" Legg for teaching him everything he knows about rodeo. "They taught me everything, though there have been a lot of people that have helped me along the way," Trevor acknowledges.

Trevor has shown great athletic ability in any sport he has taken on. In high school, he was a two-time state wrestling champion and played baseball for Art Thunell at Grant Union - making all-state as a center fielder in 1997-98 as well as earning league and district champion titles all three years he played.

"You don't become a two-time state champion wrestler by not being able to keep your stuff together. He's carried that attitude into ProRodeo," Jeff says of his son's rodeo success.

Along with the support and help that Trevor has received on his rodeo path he gives thanks to his right hand man, a 12-year-old loaner horse called "Scotty." Scotty resides in Echo, Ore., with owner Sid Britt. Britt is known for his impressive team of horses that he takes around the circuits for cowboys to jump on and use at the rodeos.

"I was talking with Sid one day and told him that Scotty was too good of a horse to just be hauled around for a bunch of guys to use in the circuit," Trevor explains how he and Scotty paired up. "I told him I thought we could do well together and he gave me the go ahead to take him."

For the use of Scotty, Trevor pays Sid 1/8 of his all his winnings along with 1/8 to his hazer, who keeps the steer lined straight down the arena. "He (Scotty) scores really good and tries hard. He started bull doggin' about three years ago. He had been laid up for awhile because of an injury that he received from overreaching when we were going hard to the rodeos. Once he was healed up we had to get his confidence back in him and since then its been fine."

Trevor and Scotty both get their confidence before a run differently than other wrestlers.

"I like to get to a rodeo early. I get everything saddled up and walk my horse around. That way we are both warm and focused, we can back up into the box and have our heads on straight. A lot of guys like to get pumped up, they're glazed over and never see anything coming. When I back into the box and nod my head, the gates bang, my adrenaline hits an all time high and I just go like hell," Trevor describes about his warm up routine before a rodeo.

In recent months Trevor and Scotty have been traveling the highways all over the United States. "I've been home a total of 14 days since January 10," Trevor says regarding his travel time. He's been on the road constantly, from John Day to Fort Worth to San Antonio to Jackson to Tucson to a couple others, home for a week - rest, on to Houston and Austin, back to John Day for a week riding colts and helping his dad and then off again to Laughlin, Nev., where he is now.

"I'm up in Logandale, Nev., Wednesday and Thursday, Oakdale, Calif., Friday and Saturday and Red Bluff and Clovis, Calif., after that. Then I'm back home at the end of April, waiting for the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute Out Tour Finals May 13 in Las Vegas and riding colts," Trevor outlines.

On his long journeys across the country he has picked up the steer wrestling champion title at San Antonio, cashing in a paycheck of $13,303 - his biggest win in his career. Not bad for working only 13.2 seconds, wrestling three 550-pound steers to the ground.

"When you get done and are standing in the middle of the arena and you look up at 25,000 fans all cheering for you, it makes it all worth 'wild' - the long hours driving and being away from home all the time," Trevor reflects.

That paycheck, combined with a few others along the way, is helping him secure his No. 10 spot in the Jack Daniel's World Standings in steer wrestling with a total winnings of $14,194.

"I've drawn a few runners [steers], like in Houston. If they're two strides too far out of the gate you are out of the money," Trevor explains.

Trevor's career earnings since 2000 is $62,497.

"I don't mind working, but this [rodeoing] is a lot more fun," Trevor jokes. "I just want to keep winning as much money as I can to make a living, basically. And of course everyone wants to win the gold buckles and make it to the National Finals."

The life of a cowboy may look luxurious from the outside - making a living from your true passion in life, seeing the country, having friends all over the U.S. and having no real worries but making it to the next rodeo. Unfortunately, no one sees the sweat and tears, the behind-the-curtains-look of what it takes to get to be the best and to truly make it as a "cowboy." In the arena, fans see 3.7 seconds of glory in the steer wrestling, eight seconds of heart pounding adrenaline in the bull riding, and 15.6 seconds of mind blowing speed in the barrel racing. But what is not shown is the practice time these men and women put in each day, the physical and mental training, the care for the animal, the finances to continue to the next rodeo and the drive time it takes to get from one event to the next. Luckily, along the way Trevor has picked up some traveling partners to split expenses and drive time.

Knowles has been traveling with Brad Gleason who is an old pro to the business. Gleason is the 1997 World Champion Steer Wrestler, has qualified eight times for the Wrangler NFR and has a career earnings of $988,770. Blake Knowles, Trevor's cousin from Heppner and who also competes in steer wrestling, travels with Trevor and Brad, when not in college.

Last year, Trevor missed the NFR by $10,000. To the average person that may sound like a far cry from making it. But when rodeos are paying out a $36,000 check, $10,000 is chump change.

With that slipping through his fingers, this year Trevor is more determined than ever to sink his heels in the dirt at The Thomas Mack Center in Las Vegas. It is there, in December, that this year's NFR is to be held. Thousands, upon thousands of rodeo fans flock to watch the best of the best compete in ten grueling rounds of competition.

Trevor intends to join two other hopefuls formerly from the John Day area in Las Vegas Dec. 3-12 - Cody Jessee, who is sitting No. 3 in the Jack Daniel's World bareback riding standings with $27, 390 and Dustin Elliott who is No. 2 in the Jack Daniel's World bull riding standings with $49,496. When the dust settles, Trevor, Cody and Dustin must end up in the top 15 to make it on to the "Daddy of them all" - the NFR in Vegas.

Happy trails and good luck to all of our Grant County's own "cowboys." May you draw well, and ride better!

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