Area bareback, saddle bronc riders fight injury, illness, persevere to qualify for WNFR | TSLN.com

Area bareback, saddle bronc riders fight injury, illness, persevere to qualify for WNFR

Chase Brooks, Belgrade, Mont., enters this year’s WNFR in sixth place in the saddle bronc riding. This is his second qualification to the “big show.”

When the yellow chutes crack open in Las Vegas at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on December 5, six cowboys from the Tri-State Livestock News area will be ready to ride out of them.

Bareback riders Ty Breuer, Mandan, N.D., Steven Dent, Mullen, Neb.; Caleb Bennett, Corvallis, Mont., and Orin Larsen, Gering Neb., along with saddle bronc riders J.J. Elshere, Hereford, S.D., and Chase Brooks, Deer Lodge, Mont., will represent the region.

Each cowboy has competed at the WNFR at least once; for some of them, like Dent and Bennett, they’ve been there multiple times: for Dent, it’s been ten qualifications, and Bennett, eight.

Mandan’s Breuer is no stranger to the bright lights of Vegas. This is the fifth qualification for the 29-year-old, but the year wasn’t typical. He competed at about twenty pro rodeos this year, while fighting what he eventually self-diagnosed as West Nile Virus. “I’d go to a few rodeos, then come home exhausted, not even able to work” around the ranch, he said. Medical professionals misdiagnosed him with mono, and Breuer had an MRI and CAT scan done, but got no answers. After comparing his symptoms to a neighbor’s who had had West Nile, Breuer guessed that was what he had.

He’s feeling better, and is ready to ride at the WNFR. Breuer is married to Kelli; they have a daughter, age two, and a son, five months. Breuer enters the WNFR in twelfth place with $88,699 won for the year.

Like his bareback riding counterpart, Steven Dent has had an up and down year, fighting major injuries that kept him from rodeoing full time.

Dent tore his MCL at the 2018 WNFR and missed competition in January.

Then in February, he broke his coracoid process, a bone in the shoulder, during a round of the American Rodeo. He didn’t realize it was broken and thought it was a torn labrum, riding again in another round before he went to have it checked.

After sitting out for three and a half months for it to heal, Dent went back to competition. But during the short round in Kennewick, Wash. in August, he tore his groin and abdomen muscles. “I set my foot on the horse’s neck, and the way he threw his head back, everything came tight all at once and it popped,” Dent said. The shoulder and the abdomen/groin muscles tear “were two of the most painful injuries I’ve had,” he said.

Because of injuries, Dent competed at about fifty rodeos, half of what the average bareback rider competes at. He had surgery to repair the torn muscles in late August and hasn’t been on a bareback horse since, but may get on some practice horses before he goes to the WNFR.

“My goal was to always go to the Finals in the top five,” he said. “I was on a roll in August, and I was sixth or seventh when I got hurt. It seemed like I was catching one guy a week, then my season came to an end.”

He’s finished as reserve world champion three out of the ten times he’s been to the WNFR, including last year, when he also tied for the average with Tim O’Connell.

Being 32 years old and having competed at the Finals multiple times is a benefit, Dent said. “My best two Finals have been my last two,” he said. “Early on, I didn’t have the success that I wanted. The last couple years, I think it’s more experience. It’s a lot easier to compete there when you’re thirty than when you’re twenty.

“It’s a hard place to stay focused for all ten days. If things start spiraling the wrong way, sometimes it’s hard to turn it around.”

Dent, who runs a commercial black Angus herd with his wife, Kay, will slow down next year and compete at about forty rodeos. “I need to be around home more,” he said. “I have a lot going on here, and I put a lot on my wife to take care of cows when I’m gone.”

Their children: a boy, age six, and girls, ages four and two, are also important. “My oldest is in kindergarten this year, and my second (child) will be in kindergarten next year,” he said. Their son played t-ball last summer, did some junior rodeos, and will wrestle this winter. “They’re getting into activities and things I want to be around for.” Dent has tried to be at his son’s activities as much as possible. “Shoot, last summer I flew home from St. Paul (Ore.) on a red-eye, got to Denver at 4:30 am, rented a car, and drove as fast as I could to Hyannis (Neb.) to go to a junior rodeo he was at.” The next day, he was back at Estes Park, Colo. for a rodeo.

“I want to give my kids every opportunity my parents gave me, and I can’t do that if I’m rodeoing full time. You need to put your kids first.”

Dent enters the WNFR in tenth place with $93,798 won.

Bareback rider Orin Larsen grew up in Inglis, Manitoba but now lives in Gering, Neb., with his wife Alexa. He just won the bareback riding at the Canadian Finals Rodeo, and has competed at the WNFR five times. He enters this year’s WNFR in third place with $173,442 won.

Bareback rider Caleb Bennett is no stranger to the WNFR, having competed there eight times. But he’s new to the northern plains, having designated Corvallis, Mont., as his hometown this year. The thirty-one-year-old was born in Ogden, Utah and is married to his wife Savannah. He goes into this year’s WNFR in seventh place with $110,972 won.

Two saddle bronc riders from the area have punched their tickets to Vegas.

Chase Brooks, Deer Lodge, Mont., had an easier rodeo season this year, compared to last year. “It definitely was a lot less hauling to hit rodeos,” he said. “I rodeoed smarter.”

Finishing the 2018 season in the top fifteen in the world qualified him to compete at the big winter rodeos. He spent the winter in Texas, competing in San Antonio, Houston, and others. “I drew good everywhere,” he said. “I didn’t make the finals at all of them but I had good luck everywhere I went.”

He had a partial tear in his meniscus in Houston, but it wasn’t bad enough for surgery. Medical professionals told him if he strengthened it, it would get better, so he’s done therapy to make it stronger.

Last year’s WNFR was everything he dreamed about. “It was so cool,” Brooks said. “I always dreamt of making it, after watching it on TV all those years. It was a huge feeling.” It was also a bit nerve wracking. “The first few rounds I had the jitters hard,” he said. “I was doing my best to control them, but they were taking charge a little bit.” He had help from a WNFR veteran, fellow bronc rider CoBurn Bradshaw. “He could tell I was stressing about it, and he said, there’s always another round, bud.’ That woke me up. (The WNFR) is just riding bucking horses and that’s one thing I actually know how to do.”

Brooks has been training with a friend who has a master’s degree in strength training, and is in the gym every day, sometimes twice a day. This year, when he competed at a few less rodeos, he was able to work out more. “I got to be home and hit the gym more than I did last year, and that helped quite a bit.”

Brooks looks forward to riding at his second WNFR. “Last year I felt like a lost puppy dog during the first half of it. I didn’t know where anything was and I was asking everybody where to go. It’ll be nice to have some knowledge about it.”

He’s excited to be at the WNFR. “It’s the Finals. They can’t draw you a bad horse. All I have to do is show up and do my part.”

Brooks, the son of Matt and Shannon Brooks, enters the WNFR in sixth place with $116,283 won.

J.J. Elshere slips into his fifth WNFR in fifteenth place, with injury striking three days before the pro rodeo season ended.

On Sept. 27 at the Corn Palace Stampede in Mitchell, S.D., the saddle bronc rider broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg right after the whistle blew.

He’d kicked off his season well, winning money at Rodeo Rapid City and the Extreme Broncs in Rapid City in February, as well as the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Florida in April.

After the fourth of July, he realized he was within striking distance of another WNFR. “I didn’t rodeo super hard, I was just pedaling along, till after the Fourth,” he said. He won the rodeos in Colorado Springs and Belle Fourche, S.D., then took off a few weeks to help his two older sons, Talon, age 17, and Thayne, 15, compete at the National High School Finals and the National Junior High School Finals, respectively. Talon finished fourth in the nation in the saddle bronc riding. Thayne finished in the top twenty in both the steer bareback riding and bull riding.

Elshere, who competed at the WNFR in 2006 and again in 2008-2010, says his leg is healing well. He’s been doing physical therapy, riding a stationary bike, and walking on it. He’s more relaxed for this Finals, compared to previous ones. “I guess I feel more laid back right now,” he said, “compared to what I remember it being.”

He and his wife Lindsay’s five sons: Talon and Thayne, plus Trik, age ten, Tel, age nine, and Trailon, who is seven, have been busy working on schoolwork so they can be in Las Vegas for the entire time for the WNFR.

Elshere enters the WNFR in fifteenth place in the world standings with $90,811 won.

Each round of the WNFR pays six places, with first place winning $26,230.77. The average, the fastest total combined times or highest combined scores, pays eight places, with first place winning $67,269.23.

The WNFR is Dec. 5-14, 2019, at the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas.

CBS Sports Network will air each night of the WNFR live, with a pre-show beginning a half-hour before the rodeo. The rodeo starts at 9 pm CT each night, Dec. 5-14.


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