SALT LAKE CITY — Caleb Bennett has always had a special connection with Utah rodeos.

After all, he grew up around them.

And he grew up in them.

“My mom ran barrels growing up, my dad rode bucking horses, I’ve got brothers that rope,” said the Tremonton, Utah-born cowboy. “I’ve just been around it my whole life.”

So when Bennett, who now lives in Morgan, Utah, returned to Salt Lake City on Wednesday for the second night of the Days of ’47 Rodeo at EnergySolutions Arena, the self-described adrenaline junkie felt an added jolt of energy.

“This is an awesome rodeo. I love being in Salt Lake,” he said after posting a score of 84 in the bareback event.

“I get a different feeling when I’m in Utah, period,” Bennett said. “I’m more excited. I feel like I even ride better because it’s almost a hometown crowd about anywhere I go here. I love being here and look forward to it every year.”

That extra surge certainly benefited the 25-year-old.

Camouflaged under his white cowboy hat, Bennett emerged from the chute with Spring Blues, a horse new to bareback and one Bennett was pleased to see.

“I had a really good horse,” he said. “A Flying 5, kind of a world-renowned bronc horse of theirs, and they’ve been bucking him in the last couple of rodeos. I was as excited as can be to have him.”

The two worked well together, earning Bennett a score that landed him in second on the night and tied for second overall through two nights of competition.

“I came in here tonight expecting pretty good results,” he said. “It went pretty good, in my opinion. I got out of here so far with an 84. I was coming in hoping to be 88, set the bar pretty high, but 84 is winning money. We’ll go with it.”

Heading into the Pioneer Days celebration event, Bennett was ranked seventh overall in the bareback world standings with earnings of $49,775. The top 15 riders during the regular season, which is determined by money earned, book a trip to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December. It’s an event Bennett has qualified for twice but has never won. He finished fifth a year ago and would like to improve on that standing with a return trip.

Bennett won the National High School Finals Rodeo bareback riding championship as a student at Bear River High in 2007, taking his family history of rodeo to a new level.

“I was the only one that went with the rough stock end of deals,” he said Wednesday. “I rode bulls, barebacks, been on a couple broncs — I kind of like the adrenaline rush of the rough stock end, I guess.”

Comment on this story

Winn Ratliff of Leesville, Louisiana, took over the top spot in the bareback event moments after Bennett’s ride on Wednesday, posting a score of 86 on a horse named Iron Age. Ratliff is currently ranked ninth in the world standings with $47,936 in earnings.

Bennett is tied with Tim O’Connell, a Zwingle, Iowa-native who earned his 84 in the Tuesday night rodeo. O’Connell is currently ranked fifth with earnings of $52,444.

The Days of ’47 Rodeo will continue through the end of the week at EnergySolutions Arena. Action starts at 7 p.m. each night except the Saturday finale, which is an hour earlier at 6 p.m.

Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.