Photo by Dotts Shotts
An unidentified steer wrestler at the 2016 Buffalo Bill Rodeo.
There’s some pretty fine talent that will ride, wrestle, rope and race in the Buffalo Bill Rodeo this week.Some of that talent is in the form of champion cowboys and cowgirls, and some of it is from the weekend warriors, the rodeo athletes who have career and family obligations and can’t rodeo full time.
Either way, fans at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo at the Wild West Arena on the north side of North Platte will see some of the best cowboys and cowgirls going down the road.
One of the champions fans will see is a home-state cowboy.
National champ, tie-down
Riley Pruitt, a tie-down roper from Gering, won the average (the fastest combined time on 10 runs) at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Pruitt, 25, won the 2015 Buffalo Bill Rodeo with a time of 17.0 seconds on two head.
His ride is a 17-year-old dun named Chip, who carried him to his win at the WNFR last year and his win in North Platte two years ago.
Chip makes Pruitt’s job easy, he says.
“I know exactly what he’s going to do every time, which makes my job so much easier. He’s going to score, run, stop, give me three steps back, and if I draw a good one, I know I can win on him.”
Chip has had some time off to rest before the busiest part of the rodeo season starts, and Pruitt has a good idea what he might do when he’s rested.
“He’s a funny horse. When he’s fresh he’ll try to buck me off,” he said.
As soon as the North Platte rodeo is finished, Pruitt and his tie-down roper partner Chase Williams of Stephenville, Texas will hit the road, competing at Reno, Nev., Prescott, Ariz., Livingston and Red Lodge, Mont., Cody, Wyo., St. Paul, Ore., and Greeley, Colo.
That’s the schedule through July 4. Even though he makes his living in rodeo, he’s a homebody, and when things aren’t going smoothly, he loves to be home.
“When things are struggling, when I go 2-3 weeks and draw bad or rope bad, I come home.” His wife, Jenna, “keeps me a little bit sane,” he said.
Valentine barrel racer
Another Husker contestant at the rodeo is Valentine’s Trula Churchill. Raised in Stonewall, Okla., the barrel racer moved to Nebraska in 2000 when she married former steer wrestler Linn Churchill.
A three-time WNFR qualifier, she will ride her horse Worm, whose registered name is A Streak of Rita.
Worm, who was raised by Churchill, is 12-years-old and has carried the cowgirl to her three trips to the WNFR, three trips to the Canadian National Finals Rodeo and countless wins.
A teacher for 20 years, Churchill, who taught at a two-room school south of Valentine, quit her teaching job in 2011 when she realized Worm was an exceptional barrel racing horse and she could rodeo full-time on him.
Worm has a unique personality, Churchill said.
“He loves his job, and he tries to win every time. He’s special to me because he has let me not have a real job.”
She and Worm compete every spring in California, come home in the summer and return to California for their circuit finals in the fall.
Worm is picky about where he competes, and Churchill knows his favorite arenas and his not-so-favorites. If he doesn’t like an arena, he won’t run well. If he does, he runs his heart out.
“There are some places that he really likes, and there are some he doesn’t like at all,” she said. “I’ve figured out which places he doesn’t do well at, and we don’t go to those.” Churchill hasn’t competed in North Platte since 2000, before Worm was around, so she doesn’t know how he’ll react to the arena, but she thinks he’ll like the rodeo.
“I have a gut feeling,” she said.
Mullen’s Steven Dent will kick off the biggest part of his rodeo season at North Platte.
The bareback rider figures he’s competed at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo nine of the last 12 years, tying for the saddle bronc riding title in 2011 (with Luke Rush, Clay Center, Kan.). He’s been to the WNFR seven times and hopes to qualify again this year. He hasn’t rodeoed much so far, but will ride in Lexington, Ky, on June 16 then ride in North Platte the next night.
After North Platte, he’s on the rodeo road for a month and a half, competing in Reno, Nev., Springdale, Ark., Prescott, Ariz., Oakley, Utah, Greeley, Colo., St. Paul, Ore., Livingston, Mont., Cody, Wyo., and Killdeer, N.D., all by July 4.
The North Platte rodeo is the closest pro rodeo for Dent, and it’s like his hometown show. “It’s pretty much where everybody in Mullen goes, if they go to town, and there’s always a bunch of people there that I know. Almost the whole community of Mullen goes to the rodeo. It’s nice when the crowd gets excited when you ride.”
Dent and his wife Kay have three children: son Cylas, 4, and daughters Emri, 2, and Dailie, 3 months. They ranch near Mullen. Dent is ranked 24th in the pro rodeo world standings.
This week, 464 contestants will compete in North Platte. The tie-down roping, team roping and steer wrestling is two head, meaning each contestant gets two runs. The other events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, and barrel racing, are one head.
The rodeo begins at 8 p.m. each night. Rodeo clown and barrelman Cody Sosebee will entertain, and trick roper Loop Rawlins, a semi-finalist on the 2014 season of America’s Got Talent, will perform.
Bullfighters Quirt Hunt, Gordon, and Wacey Munsell of Ulysses, Kan., will work the bull riding, and Randy Corley, who will be inducted into the 2017 Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, will announce.
Beutler and Son Rodeo Co. of Elk City, Okla., will provide the bucking horses and bulls.
Slack -- the extra competition that doesn’t fit into the evening performances -- will be at 8 a.m. June 14-15 and is free to the public.
Tickets for the rodeo can be purchased at the NebraskalandDays office, online at www.NebraskalandDays.com, and at the gate. For more information, visit the website or call the office at 308.532.7939.