Saturday's third and final night of the 50th annual Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo proved to be the most exciting day of the three-day weekend event, with some major shakeups in the leaderboard.
The biggest shakeup at the Finney County Fairgrounds came in the saddle bronc riding event, in which JJ Elshere of Hereford, S.D., scored a 84.5 atop Vanilla Twist, giving the 38-year-old the win.
The 10th-ranked saddle bronc rider in the PRCA upended the previous leader Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa, who had previously held the top spot with a ride of 81.5.
“I thought it was all right,“ Elshere said of his ride on Saturday. “That old horse, she’s been around for quite a while. I’ve gotten to get on her a couple of times, and its one you always want to have.”
Being able to have a good ride depends on the horse as much as the cowboy.
“Getting on that horse makes my job a lot easier, Elshere said. "There were some (horses) tonight that really bucked and got some guys down that if I would of rode I would have been in trouble.”
The saddle bronc event also saw the return of Holcomb's Dalton Davis, who won this event two years ago. But Saturday was not Davis' night. Dribble Little Secret got the best of Davis and bucked him off before the eight seconds were over.
“I bought a new saddle the other day, and I’ve been trying to get used to it and it’s not where it needs to be right now, but it will be here soon and get going,” Davis said.
It wasn’t just a tough day for Davis, as only four of the ten saddle bronc riders had a qualifying ride on Saturday night.
Although not the performance he was looking for, Davis is still very excited to be home to perform in front of a home crowd.
“It’s great," he said. "Friends and family get to come out and watch, and hopefully you do good, but sometimes you’re gonna have times like today.
“I love this rode. It’s a good circuit, people put up a lot of money for it, so it’s a good rodeo.”
For the third consecutive night, the breakaway roping event was a local affair as fans had multiple women from southwestern Kansas in the event.
The best ride of the night belonged to Sublette’s Kassidy Martin. The 20-year-old posted a 3.5-second mark, just a tenth of a second off the top mark for the rodeo, giving Martin second place. Garden City’s Kashly Schweer held on from Friday’s run and won with a time of 3.4.
“It was a good run. I could have done a lot better, but I feel everyone thinks that about their run," Martin said. "You never make a perfect run, but that’s how it goes — that’s rodeo.”
Even after a good ride, Martin admitted that there is a bit added pressure when riding at home in front of loved ones.
“Advantage and kind of a disadvantage, because I feel like with your fiends and family, you don’t want to disappoint," Martin said. "So that’s a little more pressure to do better.”
One of the younger participants in the rodeo this year was a Garden City product, 14-year-old Darian Nicholson. Being relatively knew to the event, Nicholson was not completely disappointed when her rope missed the calf on Saturday, resulting in a no-time.
“It was good, I’ve been practicing for the past three weeks or so and I always tell myself that not every run is going to as you want," Nicholson said. "Tonight could have gone better, but I liked how it turned out.”
Although not the performance she wanted, Nicholson's participation in this year’s rodeo went much further than just trying to win the event.
“I love being from here. I roped in this rodeo tonight because in March 2016 my dad passed and he was a team roper, and he wanted me to get in breakaway a ever since I can remember," she said. "When I found out they were taking entries, we got a horse and went out there and rode.”
In the barrel racing event, the two-time returning champion Emily Miller, from Ingalls, fell short of the three-peat as she was riding a horse fresh off an injury.
The 2017 RAM National Final winner of this event last year and the current No. 1 rider on the Prairie Circuit, solo in this event, posted a a 17.76, which was well behind those in the leaderboard.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” said Miller of her performance on Saturday. “My horse loves this, so it was a good arena to bring him back. He’s been out with an injury since August of last year, so there was a little pressure to put on a horse first run back. He had a sold run, so I can’t be upset with it. We just have to knock down some of the rust, and move on to the next, and come back next year and be a little better prepared.”
With all the traveling Miller does around the country, it’s always good to come home and perform in front off the home crowd.
“It’s amazing. I always make sure to come back to Garden City. This is an awesome rodeo," Miller said. "It’s a blast running in front of my all friends and family.”