Archive for June, 2016

postheadericon Struxness claims national title

CASPER, Wyo. – Northwestern Oklahoma State University has finally crowned its first national champion in rodeo.

Steer wrestler J.D. Struxness wrestled four steers in a cumulative time of 18.1 seconds to better the best field of bulldoggers in the country, claiming that elusive title during the weeklong College National Finals Rodeo in Casper.

J.D. Struxness

J.D. Struxness

“It was a great week,” said Struxness of Appleton, Minn., who edged the reserve champion, teammate Jacob Eldred of State Center, Iowa, by one second. “It was a great confidence booster when you can win something like that.

“Jacob and I went in and expected to win first and second. They gave us the steers to do it on, and we just did our jobs.”

They weren’t the only ones. The Rangers men finished the finale as the men’s reserve champions, just 200 points behind the titlists, Feather River (Calif.) College. Northwestern finished with 800 points, with Struxness and Edler contributing the most; they were helped by teammates Bryson Sechrist of Apache, Okla., who placed fourth in tie-down roping, while bareback rider Austin Graham of Jay, Okla., finished 13th.

Stockton Graves

Stockton Graves

“It was a fun week, and those guys and girls were doing well every day,” said coach Stockton Graves, a Northwestern alumnus and recognized as one of the top steer wrestlers in professional rodeo over the past 20 years. “By finishing second, it’s our best finish ever. I really think it’s huge for us. We were in contention to win a national title. That’s all you can ask for. They competed well, and we just missed it.

“I wanted to get our first national championship ever, and we had three great chances and an outside chance with Shayna,” he said, referring to senior goat-tier Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D., who finished 12th. “I am just proud as punch of all those kids.”

Eight Northwestern athletes earned the right to compete at the college finals. Of those, four did well enough to earn a spot in the championship go-round, which features only the top 12 contestants in each event. Two others, Graham in bareback riding and goat-tier Laremi Allred of Kanaraville, Utah, placed 13th, just missing out on the short round.

“At one time, we had a very good chance of having seven out of eight kids in the short-go,” Graves said. “We just missed it. They all competed well.”

Jacob Edler

Jacob Edler

A third goat-tier, Tearnee Nelson of Faith, finished in a tie for 16th, completing three solid runs. The women finished among the top 20 in the final standings.

But the week belonged to Struxness and Edler. Riding Edler’s team of horses, the tandem put on a showcase in Casper. They ran their first three steers on consecutive days – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – and sat atop the leaderboard through the remaining week.

Struxness finished runner-up in the second round and won the third round to own a solid lead heading into the short go-round, trailed only by Edler, who was just seven-10ths of a second behind.

The tandem added an exclamation point on Championship Saturday by finishing first and second; Struxness was 4.2, and Edler was 4.5. In fact, Edler’s runner-up final tally was 4.5 seconds ahead of the No. 3 bulldogger in the standings.

“The goal J.D. and I had was to win first and second in the nation, and we didn’t care who it was,” Edler said. “We knew we were rodeoing together, just like we will be all summer. Our goal is to win first and second at every rodeo we go to.”

That’s a true team concept that has worked well for the Rangers all season. The women won the Central Plains Region title and earned the right to take all four cowgirls to Casper. The men finished third – only the top two teams in each region can take a full team of six cowboys – but still had four cowboys perform solidly at the college finals.

“This just gives us momentum to springboard from,” Graves said. “Now we know we can do it. Now that we’ve done that, especially with just four guys, it’s a huge showing for us. I’m proud of Northwestern, and I’m proud of how well all these guys and girls competed.”

It also shows the kind of ability that the Rangers possess.

“That’s great for us as a team,” Struxness said. “We sent four very talented individuals; three of us made the short round, and the fourth didn’t quite get the horses he needed to show off his riding skills. We knew going out there with the four guys we had that we had a chance to do well. It showed how much talent we had as a team, even though we didn’t win the region.

“Stockton has changed the program around and has it headed in the right way.”

The proof of that happened in Casper the middle of June, but the results at the college finals are a tip of the cap to the type of work ethic it takes to make a run at championships.

“Stockton is going to help a guy as much as a guy is willing to help himself,” Edler said. “He’s going to give you all the tools and resources he has to help you.”

All those tools help, but the success takes place with each individual performing to the best of his or her ability.

“I broke down the numbers this year, and we had 19 to 25 kids make the short round every weekend,” Graves said. “They were used to being in the short round and winning, and I think that gave them all the confidence to do well at the college finals.”

postheadericon Pecos rodeo building on success

PECOS, Texas – The West of the Pecos Rodeo has been around for 134 years, but the 2015 version may well have been one of the very best.

The volunteer committee that organizes the annual event was recognized as one of the very best a year ago, nominated for Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Now that same core group of individuals is working hard to improve for this year’s rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 22-Saturday, June 25, at Buck Jackson Arena.

RODEO_LOGO_REVISION2_PRESENTATION“It was such an honor to even be in the same class as the other nominees,” said Brenda McKinney, a longtime member of the committee. “This event is so important to our whole community. To be nominated in that class was very humbling.”

“It helps us as a committee to get through all the work and everything involved in such a production when you are nominated in such an elite group.”

The honor was well-deserved, and the local organizers are building toward an even better 2016 championship. That’s why they have hired some of the best personnel in ProRodeo, including Dallas-based Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, the premier stock contractor in the PRCA. The firm has four nominations for Stock Contractor of the Year and has had more animals perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo than any other livestock provider over the last three years.

The list of elite personnel includes Boyd Polhamus, a regular Announcer of the Year nominee who owns four awards; sound director Benje Bendele, who works many of the biggest events in the sport, including the NFR; Sandy Gwatney, a Secretary of the Year nominee; Bullfighter of the Year finalist Clay Heger; and Jeremy Willis, a finalist for the 2015 Pickup Man of the Year.

“When you look at who we have, we have the best of the best putting on our rodeo, announcing our rodeo, doing the sound at our rodeo, working behind the scenes of our rodeo,” McKinney said. “All that helps us get the best of the best among the contestants.”

This year’s West of the Pecos Rodeo also will feature Troy Lerwill, one of the most decorated entertainers in the game. He has been recognized as one of the greatest comedy acts in rodeo as well as one of the most respected barrelmen.

“We’re very excited to have him on board this year,” McKinney said. “We’ve wanted to have him to our event many times, and we are finally able to get him here. I think the crowd will really like what he does.”

From the family-friendly entertainment to the world-class competition, the local committee has entrusted the production and the livestock to the Carr firm, just as it has for more than a decade.

“Pete Carr is a class act,” she said. “He’s so professional and easy to work with. He just wants to please, and he’s always accommodating. He’s willing to work and do whatever we ask, even if it’s last-minute. His people are all very professional, so it’s nice to work with them every year.

“It’s such a big job putting on a rodeo. When you have somebody like Pete, he makes our jobs easy. Of course, he’s also got the best stock.”

It all adds up to a winning combination for rodeo fans in West Texas.

postheadericon Making their way to Reno

Nate Jestes makes a pass on a bull during a Bullfighters Only event. Jestes will be one of the featured bullfighters competing Sunday, June 19-Wednesday, June 22, in conjunction with the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BULLFIGHTERS ONLY)

Nate Jestes makes a pass on a bull during a Bullfighters Only event. Jestes will be one of the featured bullfighters competing Sunday, June 19-Wednesday, June 22, in conjunction with the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Bullfighters Only to feature elite contestants during prestigious Reno Rodeo

RENO, Nev. – Not many would stare a beast in the eyes. Fewer yet would tangle with it.

But nine men will get that opportunity Sunday-Thursday when the Bullfighters Only Tour hits western Nevada for a four-night affair in conjunction with the annual Reno Rodeo.

“It’s very humbling to be able to work a rodeo that’s as prestigious, but as the cliché goes, hard work pays off,” said bullfighter Weston Rutkowski of Haskell, Texas. “For some reason, freestyle bullfighting wasn’t cool for a long time, but there was a handful of us who stayed with it. Now the fruits of our labor are paying off.”

Bullfighters Only is still in its infancy. In fact, the organization just celebrated its first year in existence, and, oh, how that toddler has grown in such a short amount of time.

“Bullfighters Only almost started by accident,” said Nate Jestes of Douglas, Wyo. “Aaron Ferguson started his website, and we were to showing off our abilities as a way to market the website. It was set up as a place for bullfighters to get things they might need. It was going to be a one-stop shop for bullfighters.

“It went on from there to putting on an event in Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo. I think ‘Ferg’ always had a vision for freestyle bullfighting as a sport, and he wanted to try his hand at putting on an event. It became a huge success, and a lot of people – a lot of people in the industry – showed interest in it.”

The tour was established, and the Reno Rodeo will be the 13th of more than 30 stops through the regular season. Freestyle bullfighting is not new to rodeo, and the Bullfighters Only has created public demand for the sport. The events feature man vs. beast in a head-to-head battle inside an arena. The bullfighters utilize their tremendous athleticism to try to outwit and outmaneuver equally athletic bulls, which were bred for this kind of fight.

With scores based on a 100-point scale, men can earn up to 50 points per fight based on their ability to exhibit control and style while maneuvering around or over an animal; a bull can earn up to 50 points based on its quickness, aggression and willingness to stay with the bullfighter.

Jestes and Rutkowski will be joined in Reno by Schell Apple of Fay, Okla.; Beau Schueth of O’Neill, Neb.; Evan Allard of Vinita, Okla.; Cody Greer of Chelsea, Okla.; Chuck Swisher of Dover, Okla; Zach Flatt of Fittstown, Okla.; and Ross Hill of Muscle Schoals, Ala.

“In my opinion, Bullfighters Only is the most elite set of guys that have ever been involved in freestyle bullfighting,” Jestes said. “There hasn’t been a set of 15 guys that are as strong and as talented that are going down the road at this time. It’s not only the elite guys, but the elite bulls, too.

“These are the kinds of bulls that allow us to showcase our abilities and our talents. We’re fighting bulls that are good, fun to fight and are fun to watch. I think that’s what sets Bullfighters Only apart from other freestyle events. It’s the best guys, it’s the best bulls, and it’s the best freestyle competition around.”

The growth of the BFO has been phenomenal. It features the top 15 in the sport and has reached more than 50 million people through its Facebook page with more than 12 million video views. It’s Instagram page has more than 51,000 engaged followers. Bullfighters Only paid out more than $125,000 to the contestants that play the game.

From national television coverage through its relationship with bull riding and The American to regular coverage on Rural Radio-Sirius 147, the buzz has continued to build.

The bulls are bred to be aggressive, and nothing is done to make them that way. In Reno, retired bullfighter Darrel Diefenbach will provide the animals through his 12X Fighting Bulls.

“This is an exciting time to see freestyle bullfighting,” Rutkowski said. “We, as Bullfighters Only, have brought back the extreme aspect of what us bullfighters do day in and day out.

“Now I’m getting the opportunity to go to some rodeos I’ve always dreamed about like Reno and Pendleton (Ore.) and Cody (Wyo.). I’ve heard about these rodeos since I was a little kid from my uncles, who all rode broncs there.”

In fact, many of the most prestigious events in ProRodeo are on the BFO tour schedule. Events with that much history stand as proof to the incredible showcase that is out there for the Bullfighters Only athletes.

“It’s definitely been a great whirlwind,” Jestes said. “It’s taken off way quicker than any of us expected. It’s so exciting that it’s almost overwhelming. We’ve wanted to be at places like this and have the sport where it’s at. To be involved in it and have some ownership in it is just amazing.

“In less than one year, we have gotten our sport and our type of bullfighting known worldwide. That’s just incredible.”

Men put their lives on the line through bouts with fast, agile, hoof-pounding machines. It’s the measure of a man that will face any adversity and find a way through every step, and it’s heading to Reno starting Sunday.

“This is our job every day,” Rutkowski said. “This is what we love to do. If you love something, you have no choice but to make it succeed. With all of us coming together as a team, we are Bullfighters Only. We are bound and determined to see this thing through.”

Each step the BFO has taken has been uphill and done at a rapid pace, but that’s the nature of freestyle bullfighting. Fighting bulls move quickly and swiftly, and the men who are in battle must do that, too, in order to not only be one of the best, but also to survive.

“What’s cool about Bullfighters Only is that the top 15 guys are part of what we call the Pioneer Project,” Jestes said. “It’s 15 of the sport’s best. We’re in it for each other and for the sport of freestyle bullfighting. No matter who wins, we’re happy for each other. It’s pretty amazing.”

postheadericon Taking the next step

Bullfighter, rodeo clown Burelle acquires Groundmaster stall flooring business

A chance meeting nearly two decades ago turned into great friendship for Bill and Jan Pearson and Andy Burelle. It’s now become much more than that.

Burelle and wife, Robyn, has recently acquired Groundmaster Products LLC from the Pearsons, taking their relationship to a new level.

Groundmaster-Logo“Bill and Jan have been amazing friends and mentors to me, and this is a great opportunity for Robyn and I as we move on to the next phase of our lives,” Burelle said.

In 1997 as a young bullfighter, Andy Burelle suffered an ankle injury in his first job protecting cowboys at a PRCA rodeo for J Bar J Rodeo Co. at the fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

That same day, after watching their horse run at the fairgrounds track, Bill and Jan Pearson stayed around to watch the rodeo that evening. Bill had attended college on a rodeo and football scholarship, so rodeo was in his blood; horseracing was in Jan’s.

The two noticed that Burelle was fighting through a lot of pain; after the rodeo, the Pearsons approached the bullfighter and asked him if he would allow them to alleviate his pain. At the time, the couple was in the Nikken magnet business and had helped many young bull riders with their devices.

“They gave me the magnets they had with them, and Bill promised he’d bring more products to me the next morning,” Burelle said. “The next day we basically forged a lifelong friendship.”

Burelle had an exceptional bullfighting career, earning world championships in both cowboy protection and freestyle bullfighting. It’s a rough business, as the athletes place themselves in harm’s way during bull riding to keep all others in the arena safe. Burelle has had more than his share of stitches, plates and screws over his career. In January 2015, he suffered a career-ending knee injury.

Again Bill and Jan Pearson had a solution to Burelle’s injury: a new career as a businessman. Groundmaster is now based in Ardmore, Okla., the Burelles’ hometown.

“This is a very exciting time,” Burelle said. “The plant is in full operation in Ardmore, and we have a vision of providing our customers with the world’s only one-piece, polyethylene stall flooring for the next 25 years and beyond.”

ABOUT GROUNDMASTER: It is the best stall-flooring product on the market today, with the ability to drain and breathe, thereby giving the horse a healthier stall environment. It is easily disinfected right from the top without having to remove it. Like no other stall flooring, Groundmaster is made of a high-density polyethylene in one-piece to fit stall requirements. It provides a level floor for fewer leg and back problems, and the edges will not curl up. With all the economic benefits Groundmaster provides, it will pay for itself over and over, plus the owner can spend more time with the horse rather than cleaning its stall.

postheadericon Carr helps rodeo uphold its legacy

BIG SPRING, Texas – For the past 83 years, this west Texas community has had a considerable legacy.

“We have a strong history, and we have a good amount of second-, third- and fourth-generation families that are still involved our rodeo,” said Dane Driver, a longtime member of the volunteer committee that organizes the annual Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 16-Saturday, June 18, at the Big Spring Rodeo Bowl.

“The history and the legacy of what we’re about to do is what makes me the proudest.”

BigSpring-logoHe should be. The Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo is a major community event. Even more importantly is that locals are the ones behind the scenes, albeit a small group consisting of less than 30 people.

“I cannot brag enough on the volunteers that help put on our rodeo,” Driver said. “If it wasn’t for the strength of the individuals on the committee, it wouldn’t happen. Their heart is putting that rodeo on.

“The small-business owners who are on the committee always reroute their time and energy, and they have people in their offices who focus on the rodeo. They have to make major adjustments to their businesses to handle what they handle.”

Driver understands that better than most. He’s the third generation of his family to be involved in aspects of the celebration. By the time the competition begins later this week, the committee will hand over the bulk of the production to the staff from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, a Dallas-based stock contracting company that has been part of the Big Spring rodeo for more than a decade.

“We are Pete’s first rodeo, and we’re proud of that,” Driver said. “I remember when he met with my dad and said what he’s about. It’s been that and more. It’s been a hell of a building process to watch his company grow. The good thing for us is that he’s grown our production. The production he’s done for us has done nothing but get better.

“What he does for our production is noticed. A lot of people can put on a rodeo, but very few can put a production on at the level Pete does. He constantly strives to have the best people in the industry with him.”

The Carr team produces dozens of rodeos a year and has been recognized as one of the very best stock contracting firms in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Pete Carr has been nominated as PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year four times, and no other contractor in ProRodeo has had more animals selected to perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo over the past three years.

“What I really like about Pete is that he has treated us like we’re one of the big winter rodeos,” Driver said. “He doesn’t treat us small even though we’re a small rodeo. He gets a lot of respect for that. It makes the local guys feel like they’re doing all this for a reason.

“When our committee hands him the reins, they’re confident they’re going to get the best bang for the buck.”

That’s a winning combination in Big Spring.

postheadericon Circuit leaderboard taking shape

Roper Kiesner rides Pete Carr's Manhatten Moon for 83 points to finish third in Guymon, Okla., in early May. Keisner is the No. 1 saddle bronc rider in the Prairie Circuit as of June 1.

Roper Kiesner rides Pete Carr’s Manhatten Moon for 83 points to finish third in Guymon, Okla., in early May. Keisner is the No. 1 saddle bronc rider in the Prairie Circuit as of June 1.

DUNCAN, Okla. – Success in the Prairie Circuit in early May can be a major contributor to end-of-the-year prizes for cowboys and cowgirls who live within the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region.

Thousands of dollars have been paid out so far, and it’s still early in the circuit season. Since dollars equal championship points, each one is vital along the way to qualifying for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20-Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.

Rocky Patterson

Rocky Patterson

Steer roper Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan., has had the greatest success so far inside the circuit, earning more than $7,700. Most of that came from two Oklahoma events – the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo and the Will Rogers Stampede in Claremore. Patterson finished in a tie for fourth in the average in Guymon, then won the first round and the overall title in Claremore.

A three-time world champion, Patterson understands how important it is to do well at all events he can. As a circuit titlist, he knows those opportunities to cash in close to home are vital.

Cody Doescher

Cody Doescher

All-around cowboy Cody Doescher of Oklahoma City learned that quickly the first weekend in May. He earned more than $5,000 in both steer wrestling and team roping and finished high in Guymon’s all-around race. It also pushed him to the lead in the circuit’s all-around standings.

Doescher leads the No. 2 man, Ryan Jarrett of Comanche, Okla., by less than $160. That ground can be made up in a hurry, especially for Jarrett, who sits No. 1 in the world standings as of the first week of June. Jarrett isn’t the only southern Oklahoma cowboy to be near the top of the standings. Steer wrestler Shane Frey of Duncan owns a lead of less than $100 over Riley Duvall, a third-generation bulldogger from Checotah, Okla.

Meanwhile, Caddo Lewallen of Morrison, Okla., owns a lead of about $300 over Bryson Sechrist of Apache, Okla. Lewallen pocketed nearly $1,200 in Claremore, Okla., over Memorial Day weekend to shoot past Sechrist into the lead.

Trevor Kastner

Trevor Kastner

Saddle bronc rider Roper Kiesner of Ripley, Okla., is having the best start to his career. He sits atop the standings in his discipline with nearly $5,600 and owns a lead of more than $2,000 over the runner-up, Dalton Davis of Holcomb, Kan.

Other standings leaders are bareback Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas; header Jesse Stipes of Salina, Okla.; heeler Buddy Hawkins II of Columbus, Kan.; bull rider Trevor Kastner of Ardmore, Okla.; and barrel racer Mary Burger of Pauls Valley, Okla. Burger also is the No. 1 cowgirl in the barrel racing world standings.

There are a number of opportunities still available for cowboys and cowgirls to secure their spots at the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo. Only the top 12 contestants on the money list at the conclusion of the regular season earn the right to compete in Duncan. That means every rodeo in the region will be major stops for them all.

postheadericon Xtreme Bulls heading to Weatherford

Cody Teel, the 2012 world champion bull rider, rides during a recent rodeo. The top bull riders in rodeo will be part of the Xtreme Bulls Tour event in conjunction with the Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo, which takes place next week.

Cody Teel, the 2012 world champion bull rider, rides during a recent rodeo. The top bull riders in rodeo will be part of the Xtreme Bulls Tour event in conjunction with the Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo, which takes place next week.

WEATHERFORD, Texas – When rodeo fans in Parker County had a stand-alone bull riding come to the area, they grew accustomed to the late-summer event.

When it ended in 2012, it was like a void had hit Weatherford. That void will be filled during this year’s Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo with the inaugural Xtreme Bulls Tour event, set for 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 7.

“We decided this year that we would step out of the box a little and add a fifth night to our rodeo with the Xtreme Bulls,” said Joe Harris, chairman of the Parker County Sheriff’s Posse, which organizes the annual rodeo. “This year will be a trial run and have it primarily be part of our traditional package.

“It’ll kick off our rodeo week, then we’ll start with your first performance of our rodeo on Wednesday night like we’ve always done.”

The rodeo is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 8-Saturday, June 11, and all the activities will take place at the Parker County Sheriff’s Posse Arena.

“We’ve had a great response so far when people hear we’re having it,” Harris said.

There’s good reason. Bull riding has long been the most popular event in rodeo, and the Xtreme Bulls Tour has been a big hit since its inception more than a decade ago. In Weatherford, it’s all wrapped up in a world-class package that has history on its side.

“The posse has been in Parker County since 1947,” Harris said. “We have maintained our same set of desires to promote and preserve the Western way of life, and our rodeo is a huge part of the county’s events.

“Overall our rodeo has continued to be a huge part of Parker County. It’s a tradition that people look forward to, and we continue to improve, update and move forward with things we can do with our rodeo.”

It has shown. It has been recognized as one of the top events in the country and is an attractive home to the top ProRodeo cowboys and cowgirls in the country every June – one key factor lies in Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo, the stock contractor in Weatherford every year.

“Pete Carr is nothing but above board, generous and professional,” Harris said. “He’s got professional people that he brings in. We’ve maintained that professionalism, staying with a top-notch professional stock contractor and having the best people.

“We were excited to be in the top five rodeos in our division this past year. We do our best to maintain the top quality rodeo that the cowboys will want to come to and participate in. It’s important to us to try to see to their needs and give them a great place to come.”

Part of that involves the overall family-friendly entertainment that is the Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo. That includes rodeo entertainer Keith Isley, who has been one of the most recognized and awarded rodeo clowns in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

“Keith has been here in the past, but it’s been a few years,” Harris said. “He is one of the greatest guys and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever encountered. That’s why we wanted him here.”

It’s the perfect way to wrap up a solid week of world-class rodeo action in Weatherford.

postheadericon Rangers ready for college finals

ALVA, Okla. – A year ago, steer wrestler Jacob Edler let the national title slip out of his grasp on the final run of 2015 College National Finals Rodeo.

“I had a 9-second lead going into the short round last year,” said Edler, a senior at Northwestern Oklahoma State University from Statesville, Iowa. “After missing that steer, I was in disbelief.”

Jacob Edler

Jacob Edler

He didn’t allow that episode to define him, though. In fact, it’s been a motivating factor in his championship reign through the 2015-16 regular season. Edler won the Central Plains Region title in dominating fashion. He’ll carry that momentum into the college finals, set for June 12-18 in Casper, Wyo.

“My goal for the college finals this year is to pick up off the table what I let down last year,” he said. “My goal is to win a national championship. This is my last year of college rodeo, so I’m going to let it all hang out.”

It’s a formula that has worked well for the young cowboy.

“Last year I fell five points short of winning the region,” Edler said. “That was my biggest goal. This year I got my good horse back, and I tried to do good at every single rodeo I went to.”

Bryson Seachrist

Bryson Sechrist

Edler is one of four Northwestern men who have qualified for the college finals. He will be joined by fellow bulldogger J.D. Struxness of Appleton, Minn., who finished second in the region; bareback rider Austin Graham of Jay, Okla., who finished third; and Bryson Sechrist of Apache, Okla., who won the regional title in tie-down roping.

“We’ve got quite a few tough ropers that go to school in our region, so it means quite a bit to win the region two years in a row,” said Sechrist, whose 925 points was 215 more than the regional runner-up. “I went out and focused on making practice runs, roping smart. I practiced every day, as much as I possibly could.”

While tremendous talent is one key factor in being successful, having that work ethic is what paid off. In addition to the four Northwestern men heading to Casper, the region-winning women will field a full team of four cowgirls: region goat-tying champion Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D.; barrel racer Sara Bynum of Beggs, Okla., who finished third in the circuit; and two more goat-tiers in Tearnee Nelson of Faith and Laremi Allred of Kanarraville, Utah.

Shayna Miller

Shayna Miller

“I’ve never made the short round out there, and I’d like to at least make the short round this year,” said Miller, now making her third trip to Casper. “The ultimate goal is to win the whole thing. I know what it takes to win it. If I put in the work, I think I can get it done.”

That stands also for the women in their effort to bring the team title back to Alva.

“I think we can do it,” Miller said. “The other girls on the team haven’t been to the college finals before, but they’re tough competitors. I’ve competed with them all year, so I know they can do it.”

Rodeo is such a different mindset than many team sports, much like wrestling. Each individual success can help the program. While the Northwestern women will field a full team, the four Rangers men are just two cowboys shy of a full roster. All have college finale experience.

They also have lessons they have learned while competing for Northwestern all season under the tutelage of rodeo coach Stockton Graves.

“He is the main reason for my mind game,” Sechrist said of Graves, a seven-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier in steer wrestling. “I used to get so down on myself if I didn’t do well. I’d go talk to him, and he’d get my mind right.”

That type of encouragement goes a long ways.

“Stockton has been a huge influence on my bulldogging,” Edler said. “I’ve gotten sharper just by hanging out with Stockton. You also have other guys that are hanging around there and consistently coming to practice. J.D. Struxness and I are rodeoing together this year, so we push ourselves to the limit every day.

“That’s what’s set me over the edge. Every single day J.D. and I were in the practice pen making sure we were getting better.”

They teams have shown that consistently through the regular season. They hope it carries over into the final week.

“We’ve got some great guys going to Casper,” Sechrist said. “We all have a little more experience, so I think that can help us a lot.”

It should.

“For us to have a chance to win the men’s title, we’re all going to have to go in there and fill our goals,” Edler said. “J.D. and I are going to have to win first and second in bulldogging. Austin rides bareback horses really consistently. Bryson is the most talented 24-year-old calf roper that’s walking the face of the Earth right now. I know he can win first.

“I think if we can all go out there, make the short round and take care of business, our chances are extremely good for winning the team deal.”

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