Dakota high school riders rank high

The Dakotas are home to past and current bronc riding legends, and the National High School Finals Rodeo reflected the bright future of bronc riders from the area. Three cowboys from North and South Dakota with ties to professional rodeo spurred their way to sixth or better during the week of July 14th-20th. Kain Stroh of South Heart, North Dakota placed sixth in the world; Talon Elshere of Hereford, South Dakota finished fourth; and Cash Wilson of Wall, South Dakota is the reserve national champion bronc rider.

Cash Wilson, the 2018 NHSRA champion bronc rider, put the icing on the cake of his high school rodeo career. After four qualifications, three top-five finishes, and last year’s gold buckle, he finished his senior year as strong as possible. This year’s finals did not go as smoothly as he had hoped. “Second round, I really screwed up. I sat on both feet and barely made eight seconds and was only 59 points,” he said. Not to be discouraged, Wilson scored his highest ride of the week during Saturday’s short round with a 77 to win the round and finish second in the average. As the reigning champion, Wilson felt anxious before his first horse. “There was a little bit of pressure there. But after I got the first one out of the way, it’s just like, it is what it is,” he said. Memories mattered more than numbers for Wilson this year. “It didn’t matter what I did. It’s just all fun,” he smiled.

Sophomore talent Talon Elshere, made his first trip to Rock Springs, Wyoming worthwhile. His combined score of 187 points on three horses landed him in the fourth spot when the dust settled. “I tried not to let the crowd or the environment get to me and just ride like it was another horse. I was pretty happy to just get him rode,” he said of his first round ride. With horse number one under his belt, he spurred past a Burch colt in the second round to progress to the short round. He said, “The whole time, my dad was just telling me during the short go, ‘You already have two down, so this is where you can just go out and have fun.’” Elshere will be a junior at Sturgis Brown High School, which is home to a tight-knit and talented rodeo team. Their efforts from the year led to a regional team championship. Elshere himself qualified for the NHSFR in the fourth place slot, and he gives credit to all of the South Dakota high school bronc riders for their talent. “There’s a lot of good competition. Everybody that qualified for nationals ahead of me is very good and even some guys that didn’t qualify were super good.”

Talon Elshere gets coaching from an NFR-qualifying father. Not only is his dad, J.J, a very accomplished professional rodeo cowboy, his uncles and cousins are also champions. The name “Elshere” is practically synonymous with “bronc riding.” He said, “It helps that everybody is a bronc rider in our family. Everybody’s been bronc riding since they were 14-15 years old. If I have questions, I can really just ask anybody.” He looks up to cousins, Carter and Trey, as they compete on the college and professional levels. J.J. Elshere currently sits 13th in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings.

J.J. Elshere also helps Cash Wilson with his professional rodeo aspirations. Wilson travels with the elder Elshere and Louie Brunson, who are seasoned veterans in professional rodeo. “They’ve been helping me out a lot and entering me and getting me started in that next level,” he said. Though Wilson succeeded at the high school level, he strives to be able to ride with the best. “There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said. He looks forward to attending the University of Wyoming this fall, where he will be coached by yet another NFR bronc rider, Tyler Corrington. Wilson credits his uncle, Mike Heathershaw, for his beginnings in bronc riding, and his family and friends for their ongoing support.Like Elshere, Kain Stroh qualified to his first NHSFR as a sophomore. Staying focused on the job at hand was the best tactic for Stroh. “I couldn’t even tell you my scores. I was just riding. Dad told me, ‘You know who you’re riding for, so go out there and ride like you can. Don’t think about anything. Just go have some fun.’” A high-enough average on two horses punched his ticket to the short round, where the fun continued for the North Dakota cowboy. “I was placed tenth in the world. Dad told me again, ‘Don’t worry about what happens. Just ride like you can.’ That was a really good horse, I did enjoy that horse.”

Stroh’s bronc riding is inspired by his entire family. His father, Shaun Stroh, was a five-time qualifier to the National Finals Rodeo. “Dad used to pack us around; he’d carry us around on his gear bag and make us feel part of it,” he said. Stroh remembers seeing his dad ride for the last time at the NFR in 2010 before a necessary hip surgery ended his career. His two older brothers, Boyd and Qwint, are also a source of inspiration. “I really do look up to my brothers. They are my role models. My brother’s always behind the chutes helping me out. It’s a pleasure having everyone back there.” Stroh also credits his mother for her constant support.