It came down to the wire for cowboys and cowgirls in Minot, North Dakota at last weekend’s RAM Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo.
After four performances of the Minot Y’s Men’s Rodeo, which hosts the circuit finals, year end (based on the amount of money won throughout the season) and average (based on combined points or times at the circuit finals rodeo) champions were determined in each of seven events.
Those two champions per event will go on to qualify for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) in Kissimmee, Florida, in March of next year, where $1 million is up for grabs.
Monies won at this year’s circuit finals and the RNCFR counts towards the world standings, for those contestants who choose to rodeo full time and try to qualify for the world championships, determined at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
The only race that was determined before the circuit finals started was in the bareback riding.
Ty Breuer of Mandan, N.D., had the year-end title sewn up before he got to town, because of his large lead.
And when the four performances were over, he also had won the average title, the most points on four rides (321). He won first place in two rounds and second and fourth place in the other two rounds.
It came down to the last run in the steer wrestling.
Cameron Morman, Glen Ullin, N.D., held off the other 11 steer wrestlers to finish as the 2018 Badlands year end and average champion.
He won money in three of the four rounds to have a total of 17.2 seconds on four head. In his final run on Sunday, he had the best steer in the herd. “I missed the barrier a little bit, and Billy (Boldon, the hazer) did a good job of putting him in my office. I almost screwed up (the run) but it worked out and it was fast enough to stay in the average.”
In the last dozen years, no one has won more Badlands Circuit saddle bronc riding titles than J.J. Elshere.
Elshere, of Hereford, kept the streak going by winning the year-end title again this year.
He chased a WNFR qualification nation-wide this year and came into the circuit finals in second place behind Ty Manke. He won the first, second and fourth rounds but got bucked off in the third round, allowing Jade Blackwell to win the average with 302.5 points on four head.
The 39-year old cowboy is one of the veterans in the circuit and thought the judges might have known that as well. “A couple of those rides, it felt like they gave me some old-man-points, maybe. ‘Thanks for coming, here’s a couple extra (points.)’” This year’s year-end title was his fifth; he’s won the average three times. “I’m pretty fortunate just to get to come here and get on good horses. I’m actually pretty blessed.”
For the first time in a dozen years, Lisa Lockhart was aboard a different horse at the Badlands Circuit Finals.
The Oelrichs cowgirl won both the year-end and average titles aboard her eight-year-old mare, Rosa.
Lockhart has ridden her buckskin Louie for years, and fans are familiar with the gelding. But Louie stayed home this weekend and Rosa made the trip to Minot.
Lockhart was unsure of how her mare would perform. “I hadn’t run her a whole lot inside, and I’d not run her in multiple runs. It was all to gain, nothing to lose by bringing her here. Sometimes you have to do those things to adapt," she said.
Lockhart won first place in the first and third rounds and second place in the second and fourth rounds to finish with a time of 55.09 seconds on four runs.
“We just climbed Mt. Everest, as far as I’m concerned,” Lockhart said, regarding her wins with Rosa. She chose to take a chance on Rosa at the circuit finals. “I really thought about bringing Louie, but it’s always the bigger picture. I need to advance Rosa.”
Lockhart rides Rosa differently than she rides Louie. Rosa “really likes to turn, and so does Louie, but the difference is everything she does is more theatrical. She’s wired pretty tight, and therefore she’s more difficult to ride.”
She is ranked fourth in the world standings and will compete at her 12th WNFR this December. In the last dozen years, she has won the Badlands Circuit year-end or average title 10 times.
Tie-down roper Clint Kindred is headed back for his second RNCFR.
The Oral cowboy won both the year-end and average titles in Minot.
He came into the circuit finals in third place, behind Dane Kissack and Joe Schmidt, and won money in every round but the fourth one, finishing with an average time of 38.6 seconds on four runs.
“I got off to a good start and drew good calves,” he said. “It all fell together for me, really.”
His fourth round run nearly ended in catastrophe. He stumbled after dismounting from his horse, but was able to make a 9.9 second run. It didn’t earn him money, but was fast enough to win the average.
It was adrenaline that got him through the stumble. “After I fell down, it was straight panic mode.”
Kindred won the 2016 RNCFR and plans on rodeoing full time next year.
The team roping year end winners were Tyrell Moody, Letcher (header) and Levi Lord of Sturgis (heeler). Average winners were Turner Harris of Killdeer, N.D. (header) and Ross Carson of Grassy Butte, N.D. (heeler.)
For the second consecutive year, both bull riding titles went to Jeff Bertus, Avon.
The Rookie of the Year was awarded to Chance Rosencrans of Jamestown, N.D., and the all-around went to Riley Wakefield, O’Neill, Neb.