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Cole Elshere competes in the saddle bronc event during the Crazy Horse Stampede Rodeo last summer.

Sometimes things happen because, if they didn’t, it just wouldn’t seem right.

And if you were raised on a ranch near Faith, started riding sheep when just barely old enough to walk, grew up hearing about the great saddle bronc riders that are a South Dakota tradition, and your last name is Elshere, then a trip to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas seems as natural as a western South Dakota sunset.

For Cole Elshere that time is now, as the 22-year-old Faith cowboy earned a spot in the elite 15-man field with a 13th-place finish and over $65,000 in earnings this season. Elshere will be competing for over $765,000 when the chutes open for the first performance in the saddle bronc competition at the 2012 NFR on Thursday night.

“Everybody in western South Dakota grows up watching bronc riding,” Elshere remarked on Monday, shortly after arriving in Las Vegas. “And if you grew up on a ranch rodeo, climbing on the back of a horse was just a natural thing to do. And if you had any success at it, the pull was pretty strong to follow in the footsteps of Chad Ferley and Jeff Willert and Jesse Bail and my cousins, J.J. and Ryan Elshere.”

That Elshere earned a trip to Las Vegas in only his third year on the PRCA circuit might come as a surprise to some given the depth of the current saddle bronc field, but Elshere utilized a quick start to the 2012 season with a first-month win and a busy summer pounding the pavement from rodeo to rodeo along with traveling partners Troy Crowser and Chuck Schmidt to keep himself in the hunt for a coveted top-15 finish and a ticket to the NFR. Not even a mid-season slump caused by a shoulder injury could dampen Elshere’s spirits.

“That’s kind of the way it goes out here, you have a hot streak and then you go cold for awhile,” the son of Faith area ranchers Andy and Donella Elshere said. ”However, I just had the feeling that I’d make it this year, and if I just kept on going hard it would all work out in the end.”

It did, as Elshere won nine events including the Range Days rodeo in Rapid City and, while his position in the standings fell a bit until he was healthy again, a winning ride at the New Mexico State Fair Rodeo in September, the last month of the 2012 rodeo season pretty much assured a trip to the biggest rodeo of them all.

“I remained pretty confident, but to see it all come together at the end took quite a bit of pressure off anyway,” said Elshere, a member of the 15-person Faith High School graduating class of 2008.

While nothing in rodeo is guaranteed, the chances of earning some Christmas spending cash are good as each of the 10 performances have a nightly payout of over $58,000 -- with over $18,000 going to the go-round winner.

“This is the greatest rodeo there is with the greatest broncs there, too, so I’m excited to get at it,” Elshere added. “I’m just hoping for a nice hopper the first time out and take it from there.”

In the meantime, Elshere has had the good fortune to learn the ropes of the NFR and Las Vegas from South Dakota’s other NFR saddle bronc qualifier, six-time NFR qualifier Ferley from Oelrichs.

“Chad Ferley and I drove out together which is really great for me,” Elshere said. “Chad knows where everything is and he got me checked out and everything, so I’m just hanging out with him and trying to learn as much as I can. Most of these guys have been here multiple times, so I’m trying to learn the ropes a little bit. This is one of my dreams coming true so I’m pretty excited and anxious to do my best and see how it all comes out.”

The NFR runs every night from Thursday through Dec. 15 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

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