He’s 14 years old and ready to head to the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) in Las Vegas, NV, competing for the title in junior bull riding.
Native American student-athlete Garrett Mason has been on the back of a horse since he was a baby. The eighth-grader began riding sheep at age three in rodeos around his home reservation, the Colville Confederated Tribes. From there he moved to steers at age nine and is now in his first year of riding junior bulls in the Indian Rodeo Association.
This will be Mason’s first year at the INFR. A goal he made at the beginning of the season.
“Francis Marchand and Wyatt Covington are my biggest mentors and helpers behind the buckin’ shoot,” he said. Other influences include Dakota Lewis, Wyatt and Austin Covington, and their father Blain.
But junior bulls is not the only event this young man has a passion for. He rides two gray mares in the junior Indian relay races, an event that is gaining National recognition with team mugger and handlers, the Marchand brothers from Omak––Francis, Edward, and Loren and favors this event over bulls.
For several years now, Mason rode in Professional Bull rider Shane Proctor’s Nespelem, WA, clinics. “I started out riding steers and a drop barrel at age 8.” Students can work their way up to senior bulls, which are either 2- 3-year-old bulls or older bulls with little buck in them. And that’s just what Mason did.
But this year would prove what kind of grit Mason stows inside his soul.
With his goal of making the INFR in site, the Native youth started his journey on the road with the support of his parents, Hunter Mason and Daryl Palmer-Mason. To get ready, he worked out and rode horses.
With the help of friends, he’d jump on one of his horses bareback in his round pen, and a friend would try and spook the horse, helping Mason to corral his balance. “I had to get my legs in shape,” he said from sitting near a crackling fire in their woodstove. He also used a bucking barrel his dad had made him.
Apart of the King Mountain Indian Rodeo Association (KMIRA), Region 9, Mason covered junior bulls in Washington and Oregon Indian rodeos. He was in second place when tragedy hit. On July 5, 2018, his father passed away. His world shattered, Mason took a break from rodeo and shifted to Indian Relay.
“It was hard to keep going. I missed him…” Mason glanced down. “He helped me a lot.”
He and his father traveled the Cariboo Rodeo Association trail out of Omak since he was in the pee-wee division.
His mother, Daryl, described her son as, “Amazing.” She gazed at her son, emotion bubbling, and told him how proud she was of him and his accomplishment in the arena, on the track, and in school despite his grief. She used the word “resilient” many times during the interview, and it proves true to character.
July straggled on and Mason missed two rodeos, placing him last in the Western States region and fifth in KMIRA. He had to turn his attention on something else. Not quit, just refocus. That’s when Francis Marchand and his fiancé, Ashlee Abrahamson, took him in, and they began training for the rest of the month-long relay season.
According to Daryl, “Things seemed easier when Marchand helped care for my son.” It transferred the sting of loss to what he loved most, relay racing.
“My goal was to Triple Crown and win all three races,” Mason said. He ended up winning two of three. After the Okanogan fair, he decided to go back to rough stock and scored a 67 in Toppenish, WA.
With a top score and two junior bull riders drawing out, one from winning the Western States Region and one with a football injury, Mason when on to capture the number one spot in KMIRA and is headed for Vegas in three weeks.
“Hard work pays off,” Mason said. “We had long nights of traveling.”
And so he is about to take one last journey for the year and will check in on October 22, 2018, to take his first INFR ride, dedicated to his father, mother, family, and all those who support him.
His next goal? ”To win it!” he said with resolve in his voice and eyes.
Daryl stated it best, “I’m so proud of you, son, for being self-grounded enough you wanted to do it (INFR). . .with your mind and heart that you qualified for it.”
And Garrett Mason’s reaction to snagging the INFR seat? “Cool!”