Rushmore State sends three to WNFR: Lockhart, Routier, O’Connell to compete
Three South Dakotans have qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).
Bareback rider Shane O’Connell, Rapid City, and barrel racers Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, and Jessica Routier, Buffalo, will be in the city of “neons and nylons,” Las Vegas, competing at the 60th annual WNFR December 6-15.
For Lockhart, the veteran of the trio, this will be the twelfth consecutive trip.
For O’Connell and Routier, it is the “maiden voyage.”
O’Connell, who is 23 years old, had a “world champion-type season” all year, up till mid-July.
He won second place at the 2017 RAM Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot, first at the All-American Finals in Waco, Texas, and placed at nearly every rodeo he went to.
After winning third at Cheyenne Frontier Days, he was ranked seventh in the world standings. A separated and strained sternoclavicular (SC) joint, connecting the sternum to the collarbone, didn’t keep O’Connell from rodeo but slowed him down. Sports medicine trainers helped, but he slipped in the standings. “I didn’t win but five, six thousand dollars from Cheyenne to the end of the year (Sept. 30),” he said. “That’s a pretty rough three months of rodeo when you’re hurt. But they were going to have to rip it away from me before I would go home. Making the Finals was what drove me.”
O’Connell has had time to rest, rehab and relax since the rodeo year ended, and he’s appreciated it. “Being home, not getting on for the last three or four weeks, has been tremendous for my body and great for my head. I’m able to relax. There’s a lot of pressure towards the end of the year.”
O’Connell’s dad, Jiggs, was a bareback rider and started his only son. “Dad pushed me into riding bareback riding pretty hard, but I loved it. I could take it,” O’Connell said. He rode junior junior barebacks in Little Britches Rodeo, winning the National Little Britches Rodeo five years in a row. He also won the S. D. State High School bareback riding title three times and the bull riding once, and at the National High School Finals in 2013, he won the bareback riding.
This won’t be O’Connell’s first time to compete in the Thomas and Mack Arena, the home of the WNFR. When he was thirteen years old, he was one of three top Little Britches Rodeo bull riders to ride a bull as part of the PBR World Finals.
His dad has been anticipating this for a long time. O’Connell has twice finished the rodeo season in nineteenth hole, four places out of the WNFR qualifications, and when his son had won $18,000 last October (for the 2018 rodeo season), Jiggs made room reservations in Las Vegas. “I knew this was coming,” Shane said.
He doesn’t have butterflies, either. “I’m more just ready to get it done. I’ve been waiting on this for a long time. I might get nervous when I get there, but right now, no way. I love riding bucking horses, and they’re going to run the best ten horses under me for a lot of money. Bring it on. I’m just waiting for it.”
In addition to his dad Jiggs, his mom Ann will be in Las Vegas to watch their son ride, and his sisters Rylee and Eryn will be there for part of the rodeo.
O’Connell enters the WNFR in thirteenth place, with $80,162.66 won.
Two busy mamas’ lives are going to be a bit hectic for ten days in December.
Lisa Lockhart, the mother of three, and Routier, the mother of five, will both be in Las Vegas to run barrels at the WNFR.
It is Routier’s first trip.
She’s aboard a seven-year-old palomino mare, Fiery Miss West, “Missy,” owned by Gary Westergren of Lincoln, Neb.
It was never Routier’s plan to make the WNFR. But when she won second at the 2017 Badlands Circuit Finals and second at the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida, she thought maybe she should try. (Monies earned from the ’17 circuit finals and the national circuit finals counted for the ’18 rodeo year). “The way things looked,” Routier said, ”I thought it would be silly not to go a little bit more. We kept going, and it kept going well. It wasn’t our goal at the beginning of the year to make the Finals by any means.”
It was at the rodeo in Guymon, Oklahoma, when Routier sat down with a map and the rodeo listing, and planned her schedule. She figured out how much it had taken in earnings to qualify for the barrels in past years, and “I had an idea in my head of how much I needed to win each week to be in the top fifteen.”
She was never more than ten to fourteen days from home, her husband Riley, and their kids: son Braden, twelve, and daughters Payton, ten, twins Rayna and Rose, three, and Charlie, two.
The older kids, Braden and Payton, understood what their mother was trying to do and urged her on. “Braden has asked me for years why I never tried to make the NFR,” she said. “I told him I’d have to be gone from home a lot. They were part of what pushed me to do it.”
Braden and Payton are excited for their mom, and through the year, Braden kept track of her earnings. “They checked the standings online, and after every run, Braden would want to know what (the rodeo) paid.”
Missy, by Firewater Frenchman and out of Frenchmans Bo Dashus by Royal Quick Dash, came to the Routier ranch as a two-year-old, and Routier ranched on her, breakaway roped and did poles on her. “She’s good at every task you put her to,” Routier said. She doesn’t like cattle that are facing her, however. “She’s terribly afraid of them if they’re facing her. I think that’s one of the things that made her tough. At a young age, we made her work through it.” Routier, aboard Missy, worked the alleyway during AI season, so “she had to work through that fear. She’s tough as nails.”
Missy also faced new arenas and situations all summer long and handled them with aplomb. The first barrel at the Thomas and Mack is “blind,” meaning horses don’t see it till they’re through the alleyway and in the arena. But Routier doesn’t think it will bother Missy at all. “She’s never had anything throw her for a loop.”
The mare also loves her job. “When we decided to (rodeo to make the WNFR), I decided, if she gets tired or sore, I’m not going to push her. She kept running strong all summer long and jumped in the trailer every time it was time to go. She handled it really well.”
Routier also isn’t worried about making so many runs consecutively. “It’s hard on a horse to make ten runs in ten days in a row, but we’ve almost done that this summer, and we had to drive between runs. Usually if you run her several times at the same place, she gets stronger and stronger every run.”
She has turned to veteran barrel racer Lockhart for advice about the WNFR. “I’ve asked a lot of questions from a lot of people who have been there before, mainly Lisa,” she said. “She’s been my go-to all summer.”
While Riley and Jessica are in Las Vegas, a trusted babysitter, Jada Maher, will stay with the kids at home. All of them will fly out for the last four days of the rodeo.
Routier enters the WNFR in eighth place, with $98,704.23 won in 57 rodeos.
Veteran barrel racer Lisa Lockhart will have two horses in her trailer, when she and husband Grady head for Las Vegas.
Fans know and love her main mount, Louie, and they are becoming familiar with her number two horse, an eight-year-old mare buckskin named Rosa who looks very similar to Louie. The way fans can tell the two horses part: Lockhart takes Louie to the right barrel first, whereas, Rosa goes to the left first.
Louie is Lockhart’s “Mr. Consistent,” she said. “There’s not an arena that Louie doesn’t love.” If it means staying in the average, Louie might be her mount. But if it means winning a round, Rosa might be her choice. But that doesn’t mean the two horses aren’t interchangeable. “There is no right or wrong answer,” Lockhart said, “and there is no right or wrong horse. It’s an instinct thing and we haven’t decided what we’re doing.”
Even though, after nearly a dozen trips to the “big show,” a person might think the WNFR would be old hat, but it’s not. “You can’t get too comfortable,” Lockhart said. “It’s great, having expectations of what our schedule will be, and things like that, that make a huge difference. But we’ll be just as nervous for the first round (this year) as we were for the first round the first year.”
And even though the routine is somewhat familiar, it’s still a big deal. “The stakes are higher,” Lockhart said. “You’re going to do your job, to the best of your ability, regardless of whether it’s a regular rodeo or the NFR, but in the back of your mind, you know what’s at stake. There’s a lot of money to be won out there these days. It’s a game changer for your year and your life.”
She and Grady have three children: Alyssa, a student at Black Hills State University (and also a WPRA barrel racer), Thane, a senior, and Cade, a freshman, both at Hot Springs High School. The boys won’t come to Las Vegas to watch their mom; there are basketball practices to attend. But Alyssa might come for the entire ten days. “She’d love to see how it all happens,” Lockhart said, “from start to finish. We’d love to have her there with us.”
But before they head to the WNFR, there are plenty of obligations at home: wrapping up high school football, Alyssa’s last college rodeo for the season, selling calves next week, and a few circuit rodeos.
And the day after the WNFR is over, the Lockharts will make a beeline for home. There’s a high school basketball game on Monday, Dec.17, and two of the Hot Springs Bison – Thane and Cade – will have their mom and dad in the stands. “We switch modes pretty quickly,” she said. “It’ll be back to the parent mode, the cheerleader mode, in short order.”
Lockhart enters the WNFR in third place, with $123,515.19 won in 43 rodeos.
The WNFR consists of ten rounds on ten consecutive days, December 6-15. After the final performance, two champions are crowned in each event (four for the team roping): the average winner, who won the WNFR by having the best cumulative time or score over the ten rounds, and the world champion, who won the most money throughout the year (including what was earned at the WNFR). The average winner and world champion might be the same person, or different people.