Cole Elshere holds off loaded field for win

Faith’s Cole Elshere rides Lunatic Fringe in the saddle bronc riding event at the Days of ’76 rodeo in Deadwood on Saturday. Photo by Aaron Rosenblatt/Journal staff

by Joe Kavanaugh/Journal correspondent (reprinted with permission from the Rapid City Journal)

One of a new generation of South Dakota saddle bronc riders made the biggest splash Saturday night as the 88th annual Days of '76 rodeo closed the chutes for the final time before a near-capacity crowd.

Despite a field featuring three former South Dakota world champion saddle bronc riders -Jeff Willert, Chad Ferley and five-time world champion and legendary cowboy Billy Etbauer - Cole Elshere, one of South Dakota's new breed of bronc busters, stood atop the pack when the dust finally settled. His 87-point ride late in the round nipped Chad Ferley by a single point.

"I've seen the horse for probably five years," said Elshere, a first cousin to NFR saddle-bronc qualifier J.J. Elshere and the 2009 Badlands Circuit saddle bronc champion.

"I've liked him ever since I started bronc riding," Cole said. "He's kind of a horse you dream about I guess, and when I drew him I was really excited. I rode in Burwell, Neb., last night and didn't do any good, but this really makes up for it."

South Dakota cowboys swept the bronc-riding events as Dustin Reeves of Owanka, a veteran Badland Circuit bareback rider, posted an 83-point romp-bustin' bareback ride Saturday afternoon to claim the bareback title. Reeves nipped the 82-point effort of Rapid City's Scott Montague, a close friend and occasional traveling partner.

Reeves' score was originally posted as an 82-point ride and did not know he had been elevated into the lead until he returned for the evening performance.

"I walked back later after the afternoon performance just to see what they had tonight and found out that I was leading the event," Reeves said. "To win at Deadwood is pretty cool. I really didn't think the score would hold up, but they kept the scores pretty moderate here this year.

"I knew that I had a pretty decent horse and to be in Deadwood and compete against a lot of guys, you really have to flash it up and have a good bucking horse to help you."

One former world champion who did step to the fore on Saturday was two-time world champion Brittany Pozzi out of Victoria, Texas. Pozzi, currently ranked No. 2 in the world made her way to the top of the leaderboard with a lightning-quick 16.53-second run. Pozzi's toughest trip of the day may have been the one that got her to Deadwood.

"We had a hard night last night," Pozzi said as she tended to her horse, Duke, following the winning run. "We drove all night and just got here a couple of hours before the rodeo started, so I was a little worried that my horse wasn't going to fire just because he might be a little tired, but he sure didn't show it today."

In rodeo's classic closing event, bull riding, a top pen of bulls for the most part proved a little too tough for the intrepid group of bull riders.

Moundville, Mo., cowboy Dusty Elkinton did chalk up an 85-point ride, good enough for second in the rodeo average behind event-winner Chad Everett Denton's 88-point Thursday ride.