Going for Gold: Montana, Nebraska cowboys are first-time qualifiers to the Wrangler NFR
When the latches crack open on the yellow chutes at this year’s National Finals Rodeo, two newbies from the Tri-State Livestock News area will be there to vie for a gold buckle.
Sage Newman, Melstone, Montana, is entering the Wrangler NFR in eleventh place in the saddle bronc riding, and bareback rider Garrett Shadbolt, Merriman, Neb., is tenth in the world standings.
For Newman, age 23, it’s his first good year of pro rodeo competition.
After high school graduation in 2016 and a National High School Finals first place finish, he got his PRCA card the next year.
In 2018, he broke his leg at Cheyenne Frontier Days, which took him out of competition through the fall of 2019. Then Covid struck in 2020, and he didn’t rodeo hard.
This year was different.
“I hit the road,” he said. “I went down south and didn’t come home till about July.”
This year, Newman has won rodeos in San Angelo, Texas; Elizabeth, Colo.; two rounds of the Calgary Stampede; the Ft. Madison (Iowa) Cinch Shoot-Out, and Omaha, Neb.
He grew up in a rodeo family, with grandparents Rodney and Marsha Newman owning the Newman Rodeo Company. His dad, TJ Newman, and his uncles rode bucking horses and his mom, Liane rodeoed. “It’s in the blood, pretty much,” he said. “It’s all I ever did.”
He has been to the Wrangler NFR as a spectator, when his brother-in-law, JR Vezain, who is married to his sister Shelby, competed there five times.
He turns to Vezain for advice.
“If I have a problem, I always call JR. His mental game is unreal.”
This year, Newman traveled with Chase Brooks, Kolby Wanchuck, and Tanner Butner. He’s pretty excited that Brooks and Wanchucke also qualified for the Wrangler NFR.
“It’s pretty cool to get all three of us down there in the same rig,” Newman said. “It’s pretty neat. It was a fun year.” He has won over $87,000 this year.
Melstone, population 120, threw a big send-off party for Newman on November 13 at the Melstone Bar and Café. The place was packed, he said. “It was a pretty fun time.”
The Bar and Café has also added a TV and will show the National Finals each night, so people will be able to watch their hometown cowboy compete.
“I have a pretty supportive little town,” Newman said. “That makes it nice.”
Southeast of Melstone, Montana sits another little town, Merriman, Nebraska, whose population mirrors Melstone’s: approximately 120.
And from the area comes another first time National Finals qualifier, Garrett Shadbolt.
The 25-year-old didn’t begin riding barebacks till his senior year of high school.
Then a broken cheekbone and eye socket ended his high school career nearly as soon as it started.
He attended Doane College in Crete, Neb., wrestling for four years while earning a chemistry degree, graduating in 2019.
Shadbolt is the fifth generation on the ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska, south of Merriman. His parents, Quentin and Angela, and his sister, Jordan Sanders, hold down the fort when he’s not there.
His dad is a former bareback rider who never had the chance to compete professionally or travel much.
“Between my dad having a kid at a young age and ranching, my granddad was not supportive of him rodeoing. He wanted him home working, and he didn’t get to rodeo that much.”
Quentin is making sure his son has the opportunity to rodeo.
“He’ll push me out the door, him and mom both,” Garrett said. His mom works as his “rodeo secretary”, entering him in rodeos, planning his schedule, and arranging flights and rental cars. “She’s definitely a critical part of the operation around here,” he said. “It’s a huge job and having help in that corner has really made a big difference in my success.”
Shadbolt has had a steady rodeo year and goes into the Finals in tenth place with over $96,000 won. “I honestly drew a lot of really good horses early in the year, in the winter and the spring. I was winning rodeos left and right. I got such a nice start that later in the year I had some drier spells, but managed to scrape out checks.” He was consistent through most of the season, staying ranked sixth to eighth in the world standings, before dropping a few holes to tenth.
He’s not only headed to his first Wrangler NFR, but he and wife Katie will welcome their second child, a girl, into the world on Nov. 20. Their first child, George, is 22 months old.
Shadbolt looks forward to the high caliber of horses at the Finals.
“I’m so excited to get to the Finals because I’m going to get on the best of the best. Those are the type of horses, if you can make a ride on them, it’s really something to hang your hat on.”
“For me, the pinnacle of bareback riding is getting on (a horse) that really tests a guy, puts him to the edge of his ability and you come out on top. I’m guaranteed to get on some horses that will test me.”
Other Wrangler NFR qualifiers from the area include bareback riders Caleb Bennett (fourth place, Corvallis, Mont.); and Richmond Champion (seventh, Stevensville, Mont.)
Saddle bronc riders include Brody Cress (third, Hillsdale, Wyo.) and Chase Brooks (seventh, Deer Lodge, Mont.)
Bull rider Parker Breding, Edgar, Mont., has qualified in eighth place.
Team ropers Clay Tryan and Chase Tryan, both of Montana, head to the Finals in fifth and eighth place, respectively, and tie-down roper Haven Meged, Miles City, Mont., goes in eleventh place.
Barrel racers from the area headed to the Wrangler NFR include Jessica Routier (fifth, Buffalo, S.D.); Amanda Welsh (seventh, Gillette, Wyo.); Lisa Lockhart (fourteenth, Oelrichs, S.D.) and Molly Otto (fifteenth, Grand Forks, N.D.)
Breakaway ropers who will compete at the National Finals Breakaway Roping include Sawyer Gilbert (second, Buffalo, S.D.) and Joey Williams (fourth, Volborg, Mont.)
This year’s Wrangler NFR takes place Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas. It will be televised nightly at 6:45 pm MT on The Cowboy Channel and RFD-TV and online at cowboychannelplus.com.
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Below, are the winners at the 2021 PRCA Awards Banquet, Dec. 2 at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas.