Nebraska boys are ready to ride at the 2018 WNFR
December 7, 2018
Three Cornhusker cowboys will make the trek to see the big lights of Las Vegas for the 60th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Dec. 6-15.
Saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer, Elsmere, and bareback riders Steven Dent, Mullen, and Orin Larsen, Gering, have all qualified for pro rodeo's world championship.
Of the three, Dent is the veteran of the bunch.
For the 32 year-old cowboy taking his ninth trip to the WNFR, the rodeo year was a good one. He spent much of the year in the top five and top 10. "You always want to be in the top five, but as long as you're in the top 10, as good as the finals (pay), you have a good chance" at a world championship, he said.
Not only did Dent compete in the bareback riding but he did some saddle bronc riding, too. The all-around buckle beckons. "I've always had the goal of making the finals in two events and win the all-around," he said. He was the all-around champ at 10 rodeos this year.
Dent, a versatile athlete who participated in high school football, wrestling, track and rodeo, and helped Mullen High School win a state championship his junior year and was a state wrestling champion his senior year, has a workout routine. "I've tweaked it, the last few years, and it's helped me because I didn't even get sore at the finals last year." Competing every day for 10 days in a row can be tough. Last year, Dent won second place in the ninth round and first in the 10th round, "so I'm pretty well sticking with that routine. A lot of guys are ready to pack it up by the fifth or sixth round."
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The Dents have workout equipment in their basement, which his wife Kay uses to prepare for running half-marathons, and Steven uses as well. "I try to work all the muscles that get sore when you ride bucking horses, and I do a lot of stretching, trying to get those muscles so when you put a horse on the end of them, they don't tear. They're in shape and ready for it."
Kay likes to work out, but Steven, not so much. "I don't love to work out but I know it's a necessity. I'm not a workout fiend but I don't like to lose, either."
Dent traveled with bareback rider J.R. Vezain through part of the rodeo season, before Vezain broke his back in September. He is in rehab to regain the ability to walk again. "He's amazing," Dent said of his friend. "I wouldn't handle his situation nearly as well." Vezain told to him that he's realized there's one thing in life he can control: his attitude. Dent and the other bareback riders will pay tribute to their friend at the WNFR.
Dent realizes he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning. "I love riding bucking horses, and I love the camaraderie between the contestants. Rodeo's been good to me." He and Kay run a cattle operation in the Sandhills, near Mullen. "I've got things going on at home because of rodeo that I can make a living at without leaving."
He and Kay have three children: a son who is 5 years old, and two daughters, ages 3 and 1. Dent's dad, Steve, was a saddle bronc rider in the Nebraska State Rodeo Association but quit competing when his son was 3. "My dad quit rodeoing to be around for me and raise me on the ranch, and so I could start going to junior rodeos. It's time I do the same thing for my kids."
Dent enters the WNFR in eighth place with $109,419.90 won.
When fans at the WNFR look up Orin Larsen's name on the day sheet, it won't have Gering listed as his hometown.
That's because the 27-year-old bareback rider grew up in Inglis, Manitoba, moving to Gering three years ago with his then fiancée (now wife) Alexa.
For Larsen, it's his fourth time to qualify for the WNFR, and rodeo got hot for him from August through the end of September. It was due to two people: his wife Alexa and now-retired bareback rider Cody DeMers.
Alexa helps him with his focus. "She knows me better than I know myself," he said. "My wife has helped me tremendously with my mental game." She's never critical or judgmental but will gently point out to him when things aren't going well. "She'll say something like, 'what was your mindset like when you were really doing well?" which helps Larsen bring things back into focus.
DeMers, who Larsen met during his college days at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, advises him with his fundamentals. "He helps me get back to the basics of bareback riding," Larsen said. Last summer, during his slump, "I was trying to reinvent the mouse trap and the mouse trap was already perfectly fine."
Larsen is battling an injury from the Canadian Finals Rodeo in early November. During the last round of the Canadian Finals, he tore his meniscus. He had surgery, and the surgeon doubted he would ride in Vegas.
But he is determined to do all he can to compete. "I pretty well changed my whole diet, my whole outlook on things, did a lot of praying, and it's healing faster than I thought it would."
Larsen's older brother Tyrel is a saddle bronc rider living in Oklahoma; his younger brother Kane is a bull rider living in Manitoba. All three brothers competed at the Canadian Finals this year.
After high school, Larsen got a rodeo scholarship to the College of Southern Idaho, where he competed collegiately and got a degree in welding. From there, he spent a year rodeoing for Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla., where he met his wife. Alexa is a registered nurse, and when it came time to find a home, they chose Gering, where Alexa has a job and family on her dad's side.
Larsen comes into the WNFR in fourth place with $130,655.10 in regular season earnings.
Saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer is the pride of Elsmere, Neb., population 112.
The 32-year-old cowboy will compete at his sixth WNFR, after finishing in the "crying hole" — sixteenth place — after the 2017 rodeo season, $3,000 out of qualifying.
He's delighted to be heading back to Vegas, but he realizes there's a bigger plan. "It feels good to be excited about it again. I love rodeoing but it doesn't control my life. The way I feel about it, the Lord has a plan for everything and He didn't want me to go" to the WNFR last year.
Scheer had a good spring and summer, but after the Calgary Stampede in July, his bronc saddle broke. He went through a time trying to ride a different one borrowed from fellow bronc rider Isaac Diaz, but it was too small and didn't work well.
Scheer sent his off to former saddle bronc rider Kerry Veitch, in Iowa, to be fixed. "He's a mastermind with bronc saddles," Scheer said. "He knows where the riggings need to go, where the swells need to fit. I think he's the best out there." His saddle was fixed by the end of September. Scheer won the Mitchell, S.D., rodeo in it, and "got a piece of Stephenville (Texas rodeo) in it," he said. "It was feeling good."
The Nebraska man owns property in Stephenville, Texas, where he bought land, and with rodeo earnings, put up a house, a barn, and is now working on an arena. He calls his Texas home his "winter birdhouse." He spends the winter there, rodeoing out of that as home base, then is on the rodeo road and at home in Nebraska the rest of the year.
Prepping for the WNFR for Scheer involves daily work. "I've always believed, if you're working, you're working out." He's welding arena fence now, hauling pipe, doing fix-up work, and "I'm usually pretty tired at night. I figure working all day is better than a two-hour workout."
On the side, Scheer owns cattle that his dad, Kevin, and his brother, Clete, help with while he's in Texas. He jokes, "they're back (in Nebraska), working their butts off, and I'm in paradise, enjoying this beautiful weather."
His parents, Kevin and Pam Scheer, travel to some of the destination rodeos where he competes. They've been to Pendleton, Houston, Calgary, and will come to San Antonio next spring. During the finals, his brother, Clete, will stay home to do chores, but if it looks like Cort has a chance to win a gold buckle, Clete will be there for the last two performances, along with his and wife Chancey's daughter Talon, who is in first grade.
Cort's sister Kema will also be in Vegas. She's a "dad gum angel," he said, helping him with whatever he needs. "She's my big supporter."
Scheer is in ninth place going into the WNFR, with $101,842.66 won during the regular season.
The WNFR runs Dec. 6-15 and consists of 10 nights of rodeo, after which champions are crowned in each of seven events. The top 15 contestants in each event, based on money won throughout the regular season, qualify to compete at the "super bowl" of rodeo, as the WNFR is sometimes called.
Total payoff for the rodeo is $10 million. First place for each round pays $26,230.77; first place in the average pays $67,269.23
The rodeo begins at 7 p.m. PT each night and is aired live on CBS Sports. It is aired with a delay on http://www.prorodeo.tv, with a subscription fee.