EARN YOUR SPURS: Tri-State Livestock News area athletes compete with the best at WNFR
Pro rodeo crowned its 2022 champions on Dec. 10 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, with area cowboys and cowgirls finishing in the top fifteen in the world standings.
Jr Dees, Aurora, S.D. and Levi Lord, Sturgis, S.D. finished fifth in the world standings. They had a strong start, winning round one, which helped.
“It took a little of the pressure off for the rest of the week,” Lord said., “as far as winning on that first steer. From there, we were trying to catch as many as we could, and it worked out pretty good.”
The duo placed in five of ten rounds, finishing fifth in the average (50.2 seconds on eight head).
They were one of three teams that caught eight head; only one team (Tanner Tomlinson and Patrick Smith) caught all ten head.
It was the second qualification for both men; Dees competed in 2017 and Lord in 2020, when the Finals were held in Arlington, Texas, due to the Covid pandemic.
Lord appreciated being in Las Vegas.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “We liked to be there, get to hang out and play cards. There’s always something to do. It’s definitely tiring, and by the end of the week, we were ready to leave.”
This was the first year the duo roped together professionally, but they’ve known each other since they were kids. “We grew up together,” Lord said. His dad J.B. and Dees’ mentor Matt Zancanella roped together. Next year, they’ll rope with different people: Lord with Dustin Egusquiza and Dees with Ross Ashford.
“We never set them on fire,” Lord said, “but we won steady when we needed to win and stayed in the top ten all year, right where we needed to be to go to the Finals.”
Lord’s dad J.B., his mom Kelly Lytle, and other friends and family were able to enjoy the Finals with him. J.B. cared for Levi’s horse. “It was good to have him and my mom there, all ten rounds,” Lord said.
Now it’s back to Texas, where Lord and his significant other, Bayleigh Baker, have bought a house in Mineral Wells. They closed the day before they left for the Finals.
There’s plenty of work to be done at the new place, including building pens and unpacking. “We threw all our stuff in the (new) house and took off,” he said. “It’s waiting for us. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do.”
Dees is back to his home near Beaumont, Texas. He reflected on his second Wrangler NFR qualification.
“I had a life changing year,” he said, “but (qualifying for the Finals) isn’t easy to do. It’s a marathon. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, is to make the Finals, in my opinion. It’s a blessing and I’d like to do it again, and do it a lot more.”
For Sage Newman, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo didn’t go the way he wanted.
The Melstone, Mont. saddle bronc rider led the charge heading into his second Wrangler NFR, in first place, but after ten nights of rodeo, he finished in fifth.
“It’s not exactly what I wanted to accomplish,” he said. “I’m definitely grateful and blessed to be in the top five, but I had different plans.”
He won the first round with a score of 89 points, but couldn’t hang on to his number one lead.
“I was doing good the first couple rounds, then came into the E (eliminator) pen, and the rank horse flipped the reins out of my hands and sored my neck up for the next couple rounds.”
He’s not making excuses, he knows that’s how the sport goes. “You can have all the excuses in the world, but that’s the way it goes.”
He was glad for world champion Zeke Thurston. “I’m happy for Zeke, and I’m happy to be in that locker room with fourteen other guys. It was probably the best bronc riding I’ve seen in a long time.”
There are no guarantees in rodeo, he knows.
“You can be on top one day and a nobody the next. That’s why we love it, because it’s a humbling sport.”
The 24-year-old finished eleventh in the average (666 points).
Lisa Lockhart’s expectations were exceeded at her sixteenth Wrangler NFR.
She jumped ten places, from fourteenth place to fourth, after ten nights of rodeo.
“It was quite a whirlwind, for sure,” she said. It’s the lowest she’s ever qualified for a Finals.
“We didn’t know what to expect, and I think that was probably the most fun. We had zero expectations, because we’ve never been in that situation, together, with that horse.”
She rode Promise Me Fame Guys “Levee” for all ten rounds.
The six-year-old gray gelding did well, Lockhart said. “He handled it like a true champion and a big boy.” But ten nights on rodeo’s biggest stage is tiring for everyone, contestants and equine.
“It’s very taxing on both humans and horses and I feel it was especially taxing on him. He’s so young, and there’s so much pressure. He was definitely very mature about it, but you can sense in their demeanor how taxing it is.”
Lockhart and Levee tied for the win in round five with Hailey Kinsel (13.52 seconds each). In the average, she placed third (141.66 seconds on ten runs).
As she looked back at this year’s Finals, Lockhart was sentimental.
“It’s always bittersweet to leave,” she said, “because you never know if you’ll get to come back. You’re ready to go home, but it goes by so fast. It’s a whirlwind of emotions, for sure.”
The year was gratifying. The Finals “were a highlight, certainly. It’s very rewarding when we had to work so hard in the season, and have it come to fruition, and have it transpire like it did.”
Other area contestants finished as such: in the bareback riding, Cole Reiner, Buffalo, Wyo. seventh place; Caleb Bennett, Corvallis, Mont., twelfth place; Garrett Shadbolt, Merriman, Neb. thirteenth place, and Ty Breuer, Mandan, N.D. fifteenth place.
In the steer wrestling, Ty Erickson, eighth place and Timmy Sparing, fifteenth place. Both men are from Helena, Mont.
In the team roping, Clay Tryan, Billings, Mont., third place.
In the saddle bronc riding, Sage Newman, Melstone, Mont., fifth place; Brody Cress, Hillsdale, Wyo., sixth place; Chase Brooks, Deer Lodge, Mont., ninth place, and Tanner Butner, Daniel, Wyo., fourteenth place.
In the tie-down roping, Haven Meged, Miles City, Mont., eighth place.
In the barrels, Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D., fifteenth place.
Jesse Pope, Waverly, Kan., is the 2022 world champion bareback rider.
Steer wrestler Tyler Waguespack, Gonzales, La., claimed his fourth world title, as did Caleb Smidt, Bellville, Texas, in the tie-down roping.
Saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston won his third world crown. Thurston has Nebraska ties; his granddad, Bill Thurston, lives in Hyannis, Neb., where Zeke’s dad, Skeeter, also a National Finals Rodeo qualifier, grew up.
In the team roping, Kaleb Driggers, Hoboken, Ga., and Junior Nogueira, Presidente Prude, Brazil, won the championship.
Barrel racer Hailey Kinsel, Cotulla, Texas, claimed her fourth world title.
Stetson Wright dominated the Finals; he won the All-Around and the bull riding and finished fourth in the saddle bronc riding. The Milford, Utah cowboy has seven gold buckles: four in the all-around (2019-2022), two in the bull riding (2020, 2022) and one in the saddle bronc riding (2021.)