Ready to rodeo

More than 500 cowboys, cowgirls headed for North Platte for the Buffalo Bill Rodeo

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — When the gates swing open on the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, more than 500 cowboys and cowgirls will descend on North Platte.

With world champions and homegrown contestants, the deck will be stacked for the rodeo, which takes place June 15-18 at the Wild West Arena on the northwest corner of town.

One of the local stars who will compete in North Platte is bareback rider Garrett Shadbolt.

The Merriman, Neb., cowboy finished fifth in the world last year and is ranked ninth now, hopefully on his way to his second qualification for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, pro rodeo’s top stage.

He’s had an exceptional winter, winning fourth place at the San Antonio Stock Show and first place at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, S.D., but the spring has been slow. “I was drawing good, really nice horses, then the spring came around and I haven’t drawn good in a month,” he said. “It’s been a little rough, to be honest, but that’s how rodeo goes. It has its ups and downs.”

Fuel prices are weighing on his mind, as they are on every rodeo contestant. Shadbolt has run the numbers on travel expenses, “and it’s no big surprise to have $1,000 invested when I nod my head,” he said. After a very successful national finals, he bought a rodeo rig – a 2019 Ram dually with a Capri. But with the price of diesel, it’s parked at home and he’s driving a Dodge Caravan and staying at hotels. “I’ve been getting hotel rooms instead of driving the nice rig,” he said. “I’ve never had that nice of a rodeo rig, but I’ve penciled the numbers and I can get nice hotel rooms cheaper than I can drive that rig.”

He’s won over $49,000 so far, with the goal of making it to his second national finals. “I’d like to finish higher this year than I did last year.”

Shadbolt is married to Katie; they have a 2 1/2-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter. He will compete in North Platte on June 16.


Riley Wakefield is just getting his pro career started.

The O’Neill, Neb., cowboy, a 2020 graduate of Northwestern Oklahoma State in Alva, is in his first year of full-time pro rodeo.

It’s a dream he’s had since he was a boy. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, as long as I can remember,” he said. “I remember thinking, will I ever get to rodeo and see if I’m good enough to make the (national) finals?”

Riley Wakefield, O’Neill, ropes as it starts to rain at last year’s Buffalo Bill Rodeo. He is in his first full year of competition. Photo by Don Christner

It’s not easy, being a full-time rodeo cowboy. There are no contracts or guarantees, and if there’s a dry spell with no winnings, there’s no cash flow, either. But he’s sticking it out. “I’m 25 (years old),” he said. “It’s time I go. I have five or six good years in me, so I’m going to put all I have in it right now.”

The tie-down roper’s degree is in elementary education; last year he taught a physical education class in Stephenville, Texas. When his rodeo career ends, he knows he can fall back on his education.

During his high school rodeo career, Wakefield won a steer wrestling title, two team roping titles, and an all-around title.

He will make his first run in North Platte during slack on June 15 and his second run during the evening performance on June 16.


Barrel racer Deb Thompson was competing at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo before Wakefield was even born.

The Gordon, Neb., cowgirl got her Women’s Pro Rodeo Association membership at age 18 and was running barrels in North Platte in the early 1980s.

A 19-time Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo qualifier, she cracked back out this year, after nearly a two-decade hiatus due to work and family obligations, with the goal of making the Badlands Circuit Finals a 20th time.

She’ll be aboard a 15-year-old gelding named Spanky, a sorrel whose pedigree is more cow horse than barrel horse. She and her husband Link manage the horse sales at the Gordon Livestock Auction.

She is a two-time Badlands Circuit champion (2003-04) and estimates she’s competed at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo more than a dozen times. She will make her run during slack at 8 a.m. on June 15.


Katie Dent, Mullen, Neb., has placed both times she’s competed at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo.

The breakaway roper was reserve champion of the inaugural event in North Platte, when it first was included in 2020, and last year tied for fourth place.

Katie Dent, Mullen, will breakaway rope at this year’s Buffalo Bill Rodeo. Photo by Don Christner

She finished the 2021 rodeo year inside the top 35 in the world, which allowed her to compete at the big winter rodeos. Family, including an 8-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son, keeps her from going full time.

The kids travel with her frequently, which they love. “They enjoy going,” she said. “They have a lot of friends on the trail.”

Like Shadbolt, fuel prices are a factor for Dent, who is the sister of the 10-time National Finals Rodeo bareback rider Steven Dent, who also lives near Mullen. “We filled the semi the other day, and it was $800,” she said. “Last year, to fill it up was under $400. Going down the road has literally doubled in cost.

“I’ll ease around (at rodeos) till the first part of July, then I’ll rodeo hard over the Fourth of July. Luckily, those rodeos (Cody, Wyo., Mandan, N.D., and South Dakota rodeos) are close.”

Returning to defend their 2021 Buffalo Bill Rodeo titles are Shadbolt (bareback riding); Chance Howard, Sallisaw, Okla., (steer wrestling); JD McCuistion, Collinsville, Texas, (tie-down roping); Garrett Tonozzi, Larkspur, Colo., (team roping, header); TJ Watts, Eads, Colo., (team roping, heeler); and Fulton Rutland, Westville, Okla., (bull riding.)

Slack, the extra competition that doesn’t fit into the evening performances, takes place at 8 a.m. on June 15-16 and is free to the public.

The evening performances run June 15-18 and begin at 8 p.m. each night.

Tickets can be purchased online at and at the gate.

For more information and a complete schedule of NebraskalandDays events, visit the website or call the office at (308) 532-7939.


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