Success in 2nd place |

Success in 2nd place

On Jessica Routier’s inaugural trip to the WNFR, the Buffalo, S.D. cowgirl finished as reserve world champion. She was aboard a seven-year-old palomino mare named Missy. Photo courtesy Jackie Jensen.

Barrel racer Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D., bareback rider Steven Dent, Mullen, Neb., and steer wrestler Bridger Chambers, Stevensville, Montana, all finished the 2018 rodeo year in second place in the world standings. For Routier and Chambers, it was the rookie year at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR).

Jessica Routier entered the WNFR ranked eighth, but after placing in seven of ten rounds and winning $153,000 in Las Vegas, the first-timer ended up finishing as reserve world champion.

She was aboard a seven-year-old palomino mare, Fiery Miss West, “Missy,” owned by Gary Westergren of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Missy never missed a beat, tipping a barrel only once, in the eighth round, and finishing second in the average (142.60 seconds on ten runs) to Canadian barrel racer Carman Pozzobon, the only barrel racer who didn’t knock a barrel down.

“It was so much fun in so many ways. But at the same time when it came to running barrels, it didn’t feel like you were in as big an event as you were in. It felt like another rodeo. That was good. It took some pressure off of it. It was just another run around the barrels each night.” Jessica Routier, WNFR barrel racing reserve world champion

“She was super consistent,” Routier said of the mare. “On our very first run, we were figuring this thing out and didn’t clock as good as the rest” of the barrel racers. “Other than that, she was consistent all week.”

The first barrel is blind at the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas, meaning as the horse comes down the alley, it can’t see it until entering the arena. That can be a problem for some horses, but not for Missy. The palomino is self-assured. “You see quite a few young horses running these days,” Routier said, “but to have one that makes runs like she does, with no mistakes, is pretty rare.”

Routier loved her time in Las Vegas. Her husband Riley and five children, ranging in age from twelve to two, plus her parents and parents-in-law, joined them. “It was so much fun in so many ways,” she said. “But at the same time when it came to running barrels, it didn’t feel like you were in as big an event as you were in. It felt like another rodeo. That was good. It took some pressure off of it. It was just another run around the barrels each night.”

She didn’t realize she had won the reserve world title till Riley noticed it on the PRCA website. There are so many factors involved with the average and year-end earnings that winning the reserve title wasn’t on her radar. “At any other rodeo, I usually have a pretty good idea of what the standings look like, but here, there are so many different ways to win money and for how the average shakes out.”

She also won another honor: best dressed barrel racer. The Jerry Ann Taylor Best Dressed Award was given to her, along with a monetary award. Routier’s shirts were designed by Sydney Fuller, owner of Thunderbird Brand. Fuller custom designed each shirt, with several of them having sentimental value. In round seven, each barrel racer competes in honor of a fallen female soldier through the Honor Tags for Heroes program. Routier, who ran in honor of Army SPC Ashley Sietsema, wore a camouflaged shirt with Sietsema’s name embroidered on it.

Routier will play the 2019 rodeo season by ear. Because of her second place finish, she will be able to enter the big winter rodeos, so she’ll compete at those. And if she’s in a place to have a chance to return to the WNFR, she may go for it. But she knows nothing is certain. “It’s hard to say you’re going to push for it when you only have one horse, because you don’t know when they’ll get tired or need a break. It’s a goal again but it’s not a do or die goal.”

Another rookie had a very good finish to his rodeo season.

Steer wrestler Bridger Chambers finished second in the world standings, having entered the WNFR in eighth place.

He won $135,583 at the WNFR and finished second in the average (57.2 seconds on ten head). Chambers broke a barrier in the third round; the only steer wrestler to not break the barrier during the entire ten rounds was 2018 world champion Tyler Waguespack.

“That was the game plan,” he said, “to keep running at it, no matter what. The rest kind of shaped up itself. I tried to do my part, the whole week, and we couldn’t have asked for better results.”

He did not ride his horse Rooster, but rode Dakota Eldridge’s horse Rusty, because of the unique set-up at the Thomas and Mack arena. “I didn’t know if my horse would work in that set-up just because it takes a pretty special horse, and the start is so important. You can’t be late, and I didn’t think (my horse) was the best decision. So I tried to get on something that I thought would give me a good chance.” Clayton Hass hazed for him; he was thankful for his help as well.

The big-heartedness of his fellow steer wrestlers is something Chambers appreciates. “I’m very grateful that Dakota was open to let me ride him.” He’s also thankful for the other bulldoggers’ help during his first trip to the WNFR. “There were four rookies (Chambers, Tanner Brunner, Will Lummus and Blake Mindemann) at the Finals this year, and all the other guys who had been there, they want everybody to do good.” Ty Erickson was especially helpful to Chambers. He is “somebody I look up to. He helped me out, not just through (the WNFR) but all summer long.”

He also knew not to get caught up in the contestant obligations, the people, and the bright lights of Las Vegas. “The only sense of normalcy you get (at the WNFR) is inside that arena. Everything outside it is controlled chaos. Once you get in (the arena), you know what your job is and you know what you have to do.”

Chambers will compete at the Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo in January, and he hopes it’s a launching pad for his 2019 rodeo season, like it was this year. “I’m going to try to do this again,” he said. “It was so awesome. I couldn’t think of a better way to make a living. As long as I can do it, stay healthy, and make it work, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Nebraska’s Steven Dent loves a battle, and at this year’s WNFR, he fought his way nearly to the top.

His ninth trip to the Finals this year ended up his best ever, with earnings of $145,314 in the year end, a reserve world title, and a tie for the average championship.

“It was a good week,” Dent said. “I got on a lot of good horses. My first horse (on Dec. 6 during the first round) was my worst score, and then from there on, things got to rolling. I seemed to get hot at the right time and it all worked out in the end.”

He sprained his left knee’s meniscus during round seven, but the injury won’t require surgery, just rest. It affected his riding in round eight, mostly because he wasn’t sure how the knee would do. “I didn’t know whether to trust it or not,” he said. “But it didn’t affect me in the last two rounds.”

Dent scored 849.5 points on ten head, tying with the new world champion Tim O’Connell for the average title. He thrives on competition. “I don’t have any regrets. I feel like I did all I could do. I don’t feel like I left a lot of points out there.” He had a lead of 8.5 points going into round nine, but O’Connell made a ninety point ride, and tied Dent for the average. “Hats off to Tim,” he said.

Competing at the Finals fired Dent up for next year. “That rodeo is the best rodeo in the world. And it’s the best rodeo in the world because it’s the best guys in the world, the best horses, and it’s an all-even playing field. I feel honored to win that rodeo. It’s also motivating going into next year.” After the WNFR, Dent usually takes a few weeks off, but not this year. “I told my wife, I can’t wait to get home and work out and see what next year brings.

“You always think you can compete with those guys but once you do and are able to come out on top, it makes you look forward to doing it again.”

Bareback rider Orin Larsen, a native of Inglis, Manitoba, now living in Gering, Neb., finished eighth in the world; Shane O’Connell, Rapid City, S.D., finished tenth and Ty Breuer, Mandan, N.D., finished twelfth.

Steer wrestler Ty Erickson, Helena, Mont., ended up in seventh place in the year-end standings. Team ropers Chase Tryan finished sixth and Clay Tryan ended in twelfth place.

In the saddle bronc riding, Cort Scheer, Elsmere, Neb., ended the year in sixth place; Chase Brooks, Butte, Mont. finished in ninth, and Brody Cress, Hillsdale, Wyo., was twelfth.

Bull rider Parker Breding, Edgar, Mont., ended his season in fourth place in the world standings, and fan favorite barrel racer Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, S.D., finished in eleventh place.

Complete world standings and results can be found at