Mtn. States Circuit Finals Cowboys and Cowgirls battle it out in local finals |

Mtn. States Circuit Finals Cowboys and Cowgirls battle it out in local finals

by Lincoln Rogers Parker, Colo.

After a year of traveling and trying, the top 12 contestants in each rodeo event from the Mountain States Circuit finally got the chance to show what they’re really made of. The third weekend of November brought them all to the National Western Complex for a little head-to-head competition, $65,000 in prize money, gold buckles, saddles, and the chance to win a spot in the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho (March 2008). Considering the best stock and competitors from throughout the circuit were all in one rodeo, it was quite a show.

“It was fantastic,” enthused Scott Wahlert, President of the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo since 2002. “This was the best year we’ve had here yet. As a producer I look at everything involved. The stock – the way they performed – to the way the cowboys came in and really stepped up and wanted to go. There’s a big prize up for grabs here,” he continued. “To be able to go to Pocatello, Idaho for the Dodge National Circuit Finals in March is a big thing for (the competitors). They really look forward to that, and they really stepped up the plate. The crowd and participation was fantastic, too.”

About 8,500 spectators came out over the three days of rodeo, but the biggest crowd by far was Saturday night’s final performance. While those in attendance enjoyed the show, everyone missed a lot of big action on both Thursday and Friday.

“I think it’s one of the best non-attended rodeos that you can go to,” said Hal Burns, a Wyoming stock contractor who brought a number of his NFR caliber bulls and horses to the three-day event. Burns is hopeful the public will catch on to the fact every performance at these local circuit finals is wall-to-wall action with the best the region has to offer. “The rodeo action here is super,” he described of Thursday and Friday night’s lightly attended shows. “The kids ride good, the stock is good. The rodeo itself is tremendously good.”

The cowboys have a similar opinion.

“It was a really good finals,” said Heath Ford, a bareback rider who qualified for his second straight NFR this year. “It seemed like the guys really came to ride and the horses really bucked.”

Ford believes one of the reasons the circuit finals in Denver is such a good rodeo is the high caliber of cowboys and cowgirls who compete in the Mountain States Circuit.

“Texas might argue, but I don’t think there’s a tougher circuit than the one we have here in the Mountain States,” explained Ford with conviction. “I imagine there’s a few circuits that would argue with us, but I think they’re going to have to prove it. We have a lot of people every year that go to the Finals in the bareback riding from our region.”

Asked for thoughts about his own performance at the circuit finals ” coming in second to his good friend, Tim Shirley ” Ford thought he did better than expected.

“I was pretty proud of myself for getting through it the way I did,” he began. “I had just come from the Canadian Finals (where) I took a pretty good crash getting off a horse. I was awful sore and stiff throughout the circuit finals. In fact, (after) the first round I told my brother I didn’t know if I was going to get on any more of them because it hurt so bad to ride. But you know, I prayed about it and knew God would give me the strength to get through it. I jumped back the next round and I ended up getting second or third and placed in the last round and ended up second in the average. I was proud of myself for being able to block out the soreness that I had and be able to perform at a level good enough to compete with (the other) guys.”

Although Ford missed out on the buckle for the circuit finals to Shirley, he managed to grab the prize saddle given out to the top bareback rider in the circuit for the entire year. Given the duo’s good-natured competition, it’s a safe bet Shirley will hear about it in the future.

“It’s a good little rivalry me and Tim have,” said Ford with a laugh. “Tim kept telling me during the year he was going to beat me out for the saddle for the year-end title. I just told him, you better keep up with me if you want to have a chance at it,” he recalled with more laughter, before revealing his great character by how he praised the rest of his competition. “I’m just tickled for Tim that he won the circuit finals buckle. You know we had some guys in their first year in the bareback riding ” Cole McCall is a first year guy and he won a go-round and he ended up third in the average. I was as tickled for him as I was for myself, if not more. It will help his confidence and push him into the next year. That stuff, to me, is as important as me winning. I like to see the guys who are on the road making something of themselves succeed as opposed to falling into doubting what they can do. It’s pretty neat to see that kind of stuff.”

It was also pretty neat to see a big-time rodeo with all kinds of NFR-bound contestants so late in the year. According to rodeo organizers, they plan on keeping it that way.

“It will be in the same place and roughly the same time,” said Wahlert about 2008’s date and location, the National Western Complex during the third weekend in November. “If anything, we’ll make it better ” make more money and bring in more sponsors and make it even that much better ” for the cowboys.”

With so much going for it ” top cowboys, top stock, and top venue ” the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo should be a must-see event on every fan’s calendar. If you need any confirmation of that fact, ask Hal Burns.

“Just tell the people that don’t come, they’re missing a heckuva good show,” Burns said with a smile.

Consider it told.