Cheyenne championship round shows off world champs, surprises and a hometown cowboy | TheFencePost.com

Cheyenne championship round shows off world champs, surprises and a hometown cowboy

Photo story by Lincoln Rogers

One hundred and twenty-one years of history and western tradition showed up at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2017, bringing with it one of the biggest spectacles in the sport of rodeo. Competitors who qualified for the championship round understood the impact a Cheyenne buckle makes on a year — or even a career — and the excitement for them started hours before the July 30 performance began.

"This is such a prestigious rodeo," said three-time PRCA world champion bareback rider Will Lowe after he picked up his contestant vest that morning. "The competition is the best part about it. These guys ride so good, I am just happy to be in the mix. It is going to be an awesome rodeo."

The bareback cowboys backed up Lowe's statement, with current PRCA world champion Tim O'Connell jumping from third in the standings to win the coveted CFD title with an 87-point ride aboard Brookman Rodeo's Continental Drift, a horse he hadn't seen before arriving in Cheyenne.

"I had no idea what that horse was," said O'Connell with a grin. The world champ took care of that by making phone calls and watching video of the bronc in action.

"I watched (video of) him, and he just parked it in one spot," O'Connell said of his preparation. "I thought… if I do my part, I know that horse can do his part. Man, he really did. You know when you have a superstar underneath you, and that was one. You could feel him getting two or three feet off the ground and kicking hard. From the second jump, I knew I had a good one underneath me and I had a chance to really showcase my talents and his talents together to try to win the round, so I went after it. He gave it everything he had today and I had to, as well, or he would have put me down."

Another part of what makes the CFD championship round special are the surprising contestant storylines. Former CFD champion Kim Schulze was a perfect example in 2017. Suffering a grade 4 liver laceration in February, which can be fatal, Schulze not only returned to barrel racing in May, but qualified for the Cheyenne short round. To say she felt blessed is an understatement.

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"I am like a miracle hog, this year," said Schulze the morning of the rodeo. "They told me it was a fatal injury… (but) I had peace through the whole thing. I give God the glory for getting me back. I am probably not 100 percent, but I feel pretty good and He gives me the strength to carry on and He has blessed me immensely."

Despite sitting 10th, Schulze made a push by clocking the second fastest time in the short round. The herculean effort propelled the Colorado barrel racer to fourth overall, but the winner, Stevi Hillman, claimed the buckle with a surprising story of her own.

Although Hillman arrived at the championship round with a slim lead, doing so aboard a five-year-old horse (Sharpie) was an eye-opening feat. Not only did the inexperienced mount help Hillman claim the CFD buckle, but they ran the fastest time of the entire rodeo in the pressure cooker of a rain-filled final round in front of a huge crowd.

"Oh my gosh, for (Sharpie) to come in and run the fastest time of the rodeo when it was wet like that today, it just says something about him," said a pleased Hillman after her win. "I didn't know how he was going to handle that, because he has never run in that wet of ground. The crowd was super loud today, and him being five, he is just amazing."

The wet conditions caused the rest of the barrel racing field to turn wide on at least one of their barrels, but Hillman and Sharpie were tight on all three.

"He is always quick around his barrels, but he was super honest and just real smooth today," she added. "He just handled it like a champ. This is a rodeo I have always wanted to do good at. To be on a five-year-old and win it, I am in awe. It hasn't sunk in yet."

It would take a while for a CFD title to sink in for Brody Cress, as well. The saddle bronc rider from Cheyenne thought competing in the CFD finals was so nice, he wanted to do it twice.

After a successful 79.5-point ride kept him out of the lead, the judges awarded a re-ride option, and the Cheyenne resident grabbed the opportunity. While others assisted in getting his gear on another bronc, Cress raced to get ready and tried to relax at the same time. What followed was a dramatic 88.5-point ride aboard Sankey Pro Rodeo & Robinson Bulls' Black Box that secured the hometown cowboy a coveted buckle and sent the huge crowd into a frenzy.

"I was so incredibly happy when I saw the score," said Cress after the rodeo. "I didn't know what (the judges) were going to do, but I knew I did my part and that horse was awesome."

Despite its long and storied history, the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo creates new stories and lasting impressions with each annual appearance. In 2017, the world-famous venue served up more to anyone lucky enough to occupy a seat in the stands. ❖

2017 Cheyenne Frontier Days Average Winners

» Bareback: Tim O’Connell (254 pts on three head)

» Steer Wrestling: Baylor Roche (26.1 seconds on three runs)

» Tie Down Roping: Lane Livingston (38.0 seconds on three runs)

» Saddle Bronc: Brody Cress (256 pts on three head)

» Team Roping: (tie) Rogers/Petska & Webb/VonAhn (28.4 seconds on three runs)

» Steer Roping: Brady Garten (51.6 seconds on three runs)

» Barrel Racing: Stevi Hillman (52.44 seconds on three runs)

» Bull Riding: Clayton Fultyn (255.5 pts on three head)

» Sr. Steer Roping: Will Gasperson

» All Around: Trevor Brazile

» Wild Horse Racing: Bill Agin Team