Leading the Pack

Seven cowboys and a cowgirl will come to the Minot Y’s Men’s Rodeo in first place, hoping they can hold on to their ranking.

When the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo kicks off next week, nearly 100 cowboys from across North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming will be on hand to compete in four performances at the Minot Y’s Men’s Rodeo, with only one of them in each event winning the title of Badlands Circuit champ.

And with more than $200,000 up for grabs, the competition will be tough.

Leaders in each event include bareback rider Shane O’Connell, Wall, S.D.; steer wrestler Chason Floyd, Buffalo, S.D.; team roper (header) J.B. Lord, Sturgis, S.D.; team roper (heeler) Matt Kasner, Cody, Neb.; saddle bronc rider J.J. Elshere, Hereford, S.D.; barrel racer Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D.; tie-down roper Trey Young, Dupree, S.D.; and bull rider Taylor Miller, Faith, S.D.

O’Connell is the youngest of the leaders at this year’s circuit finals, at 21 years of age, and is ranked eighteenth in the PRCA world standings. This is his third year to compete at the Badlands Circuit Finals, but his first year to have the required fifteen Badlands rodeos, so this year, if he wins the year-end award, he’ll head to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR). Money won at the RNCFR, held in Kissimmee, Fla. in April of 2018, counts towards the world standings, and with the payout in Kissimmee about $750,000, a berth at the RNCFR can mean the difference between qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or staying home.

The veteran of the bunch is Sturgis’ J.B. Lord, leader in the team roping as a header. Lord, who is 57, has qualified for at least two dozen circuit finals and won fourteen year-end titles, in the team roping, steer wrestling, and the all-around. Lord will rope in Minot with son Levi; his other son, Eli, has qualified for the finals in the team roping and the steer wrestling.

J.J. Elshere enters the finals with the biggest lead, a comfortable $7,000 over the number two man, Shorty Garrett. But with payouts of over $4,000 per round and the average paying double that, Elshere won’t be able to take his foot off the pedal during the circuit finals. The 37 year old cowboy, a rancher near Hereford, S.D. is from a family of saddle bronc riders: his cousin Ryan used to ride, and another cousin, Cole, is also a saddle bronc rider and bull rider. J.J. and his wife Lindsay have five sons: the older two are beginning their rodeo careers in junior high and high school rodeo.

Elshere made much of his circuit earnings over the July Fourth holiday, winning nearly half of his $20,461 at Belle Fourche and Mobridge, S.D., where he won first place at both rodeos, and third place at Mandan, N.D.

In the big man’s sport of steer wrestling, Chason Floyd leads the pack. The Buffalo, S.D. man won last year’s circuit finals and is ranked seventeenth in the world standings, only two holes out of qualifying for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). Floyd rides the 2016 Badlands Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year, Tiger, a fourteen-year-old brown horse who he owns. Floyd will need any earnings he’ll make at the circuit finals; he and wife Jesika are expecting their first child early next year.

In the barrel racing, Jessica Routier never expected to make it to the circuit finals. Leading her event with $20,896 won, she is on a six-year-old mare that had been to not many pro rodeos. She didn’t get to ride the palomino whose registered name is Fiery Miss West very much the past few years, due to pregnancies, and last year, she took “Missy” to futurities. When Missy kept doing well, Routier kept going. “We placed at almost every rodeo we went to,” she said, winning first place at Onida, and Aberdeen, S.D., Granite Falls, Minn., and Plentywood, Mont, and second place at Deadwood, S.D. and Rapid City’s August rodeo. “You don’t expect a horse that’s never been to rodeos to come out and win right away,” she said. Missy is owned by Gary Westergren of Lincoln, Neb.

She’s not the only one in the Routier household to be delighted to come to Minot. Her eldest daughter, Payton, who is nine, is learning to trick ride and will carry the American flag on horseback during the singing of the national anthem for each rodeo performance. Routier and her husband have one son and four daughters; they ranch near Buffalo. Routier has competed at the Great Lakes Circuit Finals five times and the Badlands Circuit Finals seven times.

This is the eleventh year the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo has been held in Minot and hosted by the Y’s Men’s Rodeo. This year’s rodeo is October 5-8, with performances at 6:30 pm on Oct. 5-6-7 and 1:30 pm on Oct. 8. Tickets range in price from $13 to $33 and are available online at www.MinotYsMensRodeo.com or at the gate. For more information, visit the website or find the event on Facebook.


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