It happens every time.
Every year hundreds of rodeo contestants arrive at the Denver Coliseum to compete for a prestigious National Western Stock Show (NWSS) buckle and every year thousands of fans pack into the culminating championship round and blow the roof off the place.
After spotlights and flames introduced the contestants, and rodeo clown J.J. Harrison’s frenetic dance moves got the joint rocking, bareback cowboy Wes Stevenson started the drama by scoring a solid 86 points to force leader Ty Breuer into needing 78 or better for the buckle. Breuer’s draw was a revenge match with Calgary Stampede’s Simply Marvellous, who bested the North Dakota cowboy earlier in the year, and the duo lived up to the mare’s name, flashing 80 points for the crowd-pleasing title.
“I was on that horse this year in Ellensburg, Wash., and she kind of got the best of me there, so I wanted to get some revenge on her,” explained Breuer. “She was kind of a handful ... but it ended up working out. It just feels really good.”
Next were the steer wrestlers, with fans wondering if leader Casey Martin could maintain his 1.3-second lead over the rest of the field. Martin built the cushion with 3.7 and 4.1-second times the previous day, but necessity forced him on a different horse in the final round. All the Louisiana cowboy did was ignore the change and blister the sand in 3.8 seconds for a no-doubt win.
“It feels great,” said Martin immediately after. “I’ve always wanted to win Denver. It was always one of (the rodeos) on my check list.”
Asked about performing in front of the high-energy crowd, Martin smiled as he answered.
“It’s always better when you get up and everyone is screaming and standing in their seats,” he described. “It’s always a good feeling. They’ve got a good crowd here; always do.”
When the Team Ropers hit the pens, the assembled throng hoped leaders Nick Sartain and Rich Skelton could celebrate Sartain’s 34th birthday in style. Needing to best a time of 6.3 seconds to taste a check sweeter than cake, the duo roped their steer in impressive style, notching 4.8 to ensure a birthday Sartain should always remember.
“It was a great birthday present,” enthused Sartain to ProRodeo.com afterward. “Our styles set us up to do well because I like to rope aggressive, and Rich (Skelton) always likes his header to be aggressive.”
While fans aggressively cheered, the saddle bronc riders provided even more suspense, showering the arena with 80-plus scores and keeping the pressure high. Utah rider Cody Wright took it to a different level when he notched 85 points aboard Burch Rodeo’s Jim Dandy in a display of aerial skills. The closest ride to possibly overtaking Wright came one man earlier, when Dawson Jandreau got the fans screaming with his own spectacular outing aboard Redon Acres. Jandreau survived a number of massive kicks by the red roan, only to be bucked off thirteen-one-hundredths of a second before he could claim a big score and a shot at the coveted title.
Wright was likely still celebrating his saddle bronc victory when the Tie Down Ropers arrived in the arena. Similar to the steer wrestlers, the tension was big for event leader Shane Hanchey. The Louisiana cowboy had led the NWSS competition coming into the final round three out of the past four years, only to fall short when the dust settled. This time, Hanchey aimed for a different result and when his closest competitors spit the bit, the personable cowboy secured a time of 8.9 seconds and then tossed his hat in the air to celebrate.
“I kind of got the monkey off my back,” described a happy and relieved Hanchey. “I’ve had a chance to win this thing three out of the last four years. To finally win it and get this buckle ... it just goes to show you that God is good all the time, not just some of the time.”
It looked like God had good things in store for barrel racer Jane Melby, as well. Riding a consistent horse, Melby posted the fastest time of 15.37 seconds in the short round to claim her first NWSS title and paste a wide grin on her face that might never leave.
“The Good Lord has a plan for me, that’s how it feels,” exclaimed Melby with a laugh after being asked how it felt to win in Denver. “This horse is consistent and he’s honest. I told myself today, how good does this feel to actually be on a horse that you are at the top coming in?”
Queried about riding before such a vigorous crowd, the Oklahoma cowgirl shared enthusiasm for the venue.
“I love that,” she said about NWSS fans. “The energy, I crave that.”
Big crowds in Denver also crave bull riding action, and they got it in spades. Minnesota cowboy Brett Stall led the field by a substantial 12 points, helped by his arena record ride of 93 points about nine days before the championship round. Despite the big lead, 11 other bull riders vied for the buckle, knowing a third successful outcome is never a given.
Although half the challengers never reached eight seconds, the action proved hotter than ever. Oklahoma cowboy Trevor Kastner wowed the announcer and the spectators with a you-gotta-be-kidding-me ride for 82 points and second place overall. Midway through his ride on Burch Rodeo’s Go Cat Go, Kastner’s hand popped out from his bull rope, which is usually a sure sign of an upcoming dirt nap. In the blink of an eye, Kastner grabbed the free tail of the rope and hung on like he was blending saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding into one event.
“He turned to the left and ... by the time he turned back to the right I lost the rope,” recalled Kastner of the ride. “The tail of my rope pulled through my handle and I was just able to hang on to my tail the whole time. This was my first year to make the short round at Denver,” he added. “It was awesome.”
Oklahoma cowboy Corey Navarre also thought Denver was awesome after finally securing a NWSS title in 15 years of trying. Navarre scored 82 points and outlasted the field, including a re-ride buckoff by Brett Stall, to score 247 points on three head for the major tour buckle.
“It feels awesome,” said Navarre while holding the gleaming buckle in his hands. “I’ve made several good rides in this building, but never put three together. It feels good to put three together and get a buckle. The National Western has always been a great event,” he summed up for just about every rodeo competitor. “There’s no better place to win than in front of a full house. It’s an awesome crowd.”
It happens every time. ❖