Badlands Champs Punch Tickets for RNCFR

By Ruth Nicolaus/for the RAM Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo

MINOT, N.D. – A lucky few in Minot, N.D. this weekend have won themselves a trip to Kissimmee, Fla., next year.

The winning cowboys and cowgirls in each of seven events at the Ram Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo, hosted by the Minot Y’s Men’s Rodeo, will go on to represent North Dakota and South Dakota next spring at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) in Kissimmee, March 25-28.

For a few cowboys, their ticket was punched well before they came to Minot. For others, it came down to the final performance on Sunday, October 12. Year-end winners who won the most money throughout the season, and average winners, those who earned the most points or had the fastest times throughout the four performances in Minot, will compete at the RNCFR.

Bareback riding

Joe Gunderson won the year-end title for the Badlands Circuit in the bareback riding.

It hasn’t been the best of years for him, even though he came into the Finals in first place. He’s been plagued with injuries, first suffering a broken thumb on his riding hand while riding a bareback horse on New Year’s Eve. He had surgery on it, then broke it again months later. He tore his groin in mid-July, and came home to let it heal. Then, in the fall, he had emergency surgery to remove an infected abscess from the groin.

Then, after the Friday night rodeo, he tore open the groin incision. “I’ve just been waiting for this weekend to be over,” he said. “I’m just glad it ended up as it did.”

Gunderson won money in every round in Minot, but was challenged for the year-end title by Ty Breuer, who finished the rodeo as the average winner. “I placed in every round, and that’s what I knew I needed to do, to hold off for the year-end (award.) Ty made it tough. He started pushing me at the end here, but I kind of expected that.”

Gunderson, who grew up in Minnesota and now lives in Agar, S.D., qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010 and finished in 11th in the world standings.

Steer Wrestling

Forest Sainsbury finished the 2014 rodeo season as both the year-end and average steer wrestling champion for the Badlands Circuit.

The Camp Crook, S.D. cowboy, who has qualified for the Badlands Circuit Finals every year of his three year professional rodeo career, finished in Minot with a time of 16 seconds on four runs, more than three seconds better than Eli Lord of Sturgis, S.D.

Sainsbury, who is 27, spent the winter traveling with World Champion Steer Wrestler Hunter Cure, competing at pro rodeos in the south and the west. By summer time, he came back home and traveled with the “guys from Hardin County (South Dakota), that I always love to travel with.”

He brought his mare to the Finals, expecting to ride her, but she wasn’t acting right, so Sainsbury knew something was hurt. The veterinarian examined her and found she had injured her tendons. So, Sainsbury borrowed Scooter, the horse owned by Jason Reiss, the 2012 Badlands Circuit Finals average champion, and rode her all weekend.

Sharing horses, offering encouragement, and being friends is what rodeo is all about, and the steer wrestlers are a tight-knit group. “We cheer for each other and we push each other’s steers. You want to do good yourself, but you want to see good bulldogging, too. When somebody makes a good run in the bulldogging, everybody goes crazy.”

Eli Lord, who finished second place in the year-end standings, qualifies for the RNCFR.

Team roping

J.B. Lord won the year-end Badlands Circuit title for team roping headers, and Rory Brown won the heeling title.

For Lord, who team ropes with his son, Levi, it was his ninth Badlands championship.

For Brown, it was bittersweet, as his heeler, Tyrell Moody, didn’t win a title. “My partner didn’t make it, so I feel pretty bad about that.”

Brown, who has been a PRCA member since 1973, realized the talent Moody had as a roper, and hired him to work on his ranch near Edgemont, S.D. two years ago. He also offered to rope with him. “We rope whenever we can. He ropes really good, and he has a really good horse,” Brown said.

Brown’s wife, Wanda, also qualified for the Badlands Circuit as a barrel racer.

The average winners in the team roping were Clint Gorrell, Beach, N.D., and Levi O’Keefe, Mohall, N.D.

The team was the only one to make four qualified runs, and did it with a time of 28.1 seconds.

They’ve roped together for two years. Their qualification to the RNCFR is the first one for both of them, and they’re ready to go to Kissimmee. “We’re looking forward to it,” Gorrell said. “We’ll have our swimming trunks ready.”

Saddle bronc riding

The 2005 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Jeff Willert went home with the year-end gold buckle for the Badlands Circuit.

He got bucked off two of the four horses he rode in Minot, but hung on to win the title. “It seems like I rode a lot better through the year and had better luck than I had here (in Minot.) I drew good here, but didn’t have any luck.”

Willert didn’t rodeo last year, choosing to sit out for a break from competition. “I’d been rodeoing hard for 10 or 12 years, and I wasn’t having any fun at it anymore. I needed a break.”

He used the time off to work on his place in Belvidere, S.D., building a house, barn, and corrals. “It was a lot of work, but I got that done. Now I need to pay it off,” he joked.

Usually he doesn’t compete at circuit rodeos, choosing to hit the big shows to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (which he’s made six times). But because he didn’t rodeo for a year, he fell in the rankings to get into the big winter rodeos and chose to stay home and compete at the circuit level. Next year, he plans on being back on the road nationally, to make it to another Wrangler NFR.

Jeremy Meeks, Belle Fourche, S.D., won first place in two rounds and fourth place in two rounds to be the average champion for the year.

Tie-down roping

The tie-down roping championship came down to the last performance of the Circuit Finals.

Jon Peek and Justin Scofield came into the finals in first and second places, respectively, but neither of them did well this weekend. Peek missed his calf in two rounds, and Scofield had a barrier penalty that added ten seconds to his time, to take both of them out of the average race.

Both men each added $822 to their year’s standings, and Peek pulled out the win by $700 over Scofield to be the year-end champion.

Scofield, Volga, S.D., also competed in the team roping at the Finals. He won the all-around title for the weekend. Peek is from Willison, N.D.

Nebraska cowboy Riley Pruitt won the average title for the Finals with a total of 36.9 seconds on four runs.

Bull riding

For the third consecutive year, Jeff Bertus’ name can be found as a champ in Minot.

The Avon, S.D. cowboy was the only man to ride all four of his bulls, winning the average and the year-end title for the Badlands Circuit.

Bertus, who is 22, graduated from Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla. last May with a degree in animal science. His younger brother, Joe, also competed in Minot.

Bertus scored 318 points on four head. This will be his third trip to the Ram National Circuit Finals.

Prior to the rodeo, the 2015 Miss Rodeo North Dakota was crowned. Winning the title is Danielle Tayler, Mandan, N.D. She is the former Miss Rodeo Mandan.

The stock awards for the Badlands Circuit were also announced. Sutton Rodeo Company swept the year-end awards, with their bareback horse Crystalyx, their saddle bronc horse Chuckulator, and bull Johnny Ringo. For the Finals, the winning bareback horse award went to Cactus Jack, of Sutton Rodeo, the saddle bronc was Magic Wars of Mosbrucker Rodeo, and the bull was Tight Rope owned by Korkow Rodeo.

The Minot Y’s Men’s Rodeo is a not-for-profit venture by the YMCA Men of Minot, N.D. Proceeds from each year’s rodeo benefit the Triangle Y Camp at Lake Sakakawea, near Garrison, N.D. Next year’s Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo will be October 8-11, 2015. Visit Minot and 4- Bears Casino & Lodge are proud sponsors of the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo.

Courtesy of PRCA