LAS VEGAS – When Elko steer wrestler Dakota Eldridge severely injured his knee in July, it was clear he wouldn’t compete in his sixth-consecutive Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Despite his absence from competition at the WNFR, he and his world-renowned horse “Rusty” still made the trip.
There was nothing rusty about the performance of the 19-year-old sorrel gelding, despite his layoff from competition throughout the summer and the fall.
Eldridge loaned out Rusty to fellow bull doggers Blake Knowles, of Heppner, Oregon, and Bridger Chambers, of Stevensville, Montana.
After 10 rounds of competition of the WNFR, both men reaped the rewards of riding one of the best and most-trusty mounts the sport has ever seen.
The horse’s track record is something that will remain in the history of rodeo lore.
Eldridge rode Rusty to two WNFR average titles (2015, 2017) in a three-year span and a runner-up finish to the world title in 2015.
In 2014, Rusty was the horse of choice of five-time world champion Luke Branquinho when he won his last gold buckle.
Rusty just carried Chambers to second place in the 2018 world standings of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
For the season, Chambers won $216,761.68.
He also finished second in the WNFR average with a total time of 57.2 seconds on 10 runs, earning a check worth $54,576.92.
He placed in five of 10 rounds at the WNFR.
In Round 1, he finished with a time of 4-flat, splitting third and fourth for $13,326.92.
Chambers made his fastest run of the week in Round 5, stopping the clock in 3.7 seconds for third place and $15,653.85.
He split fifth and sixth in Round 7 with a time of 3.8 seconds for $5,500.
In Round 8, he stopped the clock in 3.8 seconds once again and won second outright for his biggest day-money check worth $20,730.77.
Chambers wrapped up his WNFR with a time of 4.6 seconds in Round 10; splitting second, third and fourth for another $15,794.87.
Of his $216,761.68 in earnings for the year, $125,583.33 came in the 10-day span aboard Rusty’s back.
Knowles did his best work early in the week.
He placed in two rounds of the WNFR, ranking second in Round 1 with a time of 3.8 seconds for $20,730.77 and splitting third and fourth in Round 4 with another 3.8 for $13,326.92.
While he never killed the competition in round money, Knowles didn’t kill his hopes for a large check either – staying the course with consistent runs and avoiding major meltdowns.
With a total time of 68.2 seconds on 10 runs, he placed third in the average and earned $43,153.85.
In total, he made $162,669.26 for the year and ranked ninth in the world standings – winning $77,211.54 on Rusty at the WNFR.
For nine rounds of the WNFR, Nick Guy, of Sparta, Wisconsin, competed on a horse of Tom Lewis’.
As the rodeo progressed, the mount became more and more agitated in the box – reaching the point he reared out into the arena several times with both Guy and Riley Duvall, of Checotah, Oklahoma.
Unsure if he could get a clean go at his final steer in Round 10, Guy climbed on Rusty – immediate payoff.
He won the final round with a time of 3.7 seconds – knocking down $26,230.77.
Guy placed fifth in the average with a time of 85.5 seconds on 10 runs, earning another $22,846.15, Rusty partly accountable for his $49,076.92 won on the final day of the rodeo.
In 10 days, being ridden by three cowboys – two for the duration of the WNFR – Rusty took them to the pay window, accounting for more than a quarter of a million dollars in 10 days.
To be exact, the aging but always-reliable, superstar horse racked up $251,871.79 in earnings during the WNFR.
In his 11th trip to the WNFR, tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa, of Chubbock, Idaho, remained consistent.
Despite a horse change, he finished fifth in the world standings with $193,576.46 for the season.
Shiozawa placed third in the WNFR average with a total time of 94.4 seconds on 10 calves for a check of $43,153.85.
He placed in five of 10 rounds, opening with a sixth-place split in Round 1 on an 8.5-second run for $2,115.38.
Following Round 2, he jumped on Jake Hannum’s horse, Greta, earning his first check on the mare in Round 4 with a time of 7.3 seconds – his fastest time of the week – earning $15,653.85 for third place.
He followed with an 8.1-second run in Round 5, placing fourth for $11,000.
Shiozawa closed his WNFR with back-to-back checks.
He stopped the clock in 7.7 seconds for second place in Round 9, matching the time in Round 10 for fifth place and another $6,769.23.
In total, he won nearly $100,000 during the week – taking home $99,423.08 – not a bad Christmas.
Going from an 11-time qualifier to a WNFR rookie, barrel racer Jessie Telford, of Caldwell, Idaho, staved off the butterflies in her stomach and performed like a veteran in her first December trip to Thomas & Mack Center.
Entering the rodeo in the 15th and final position to the WNFR, Telford climbed 10 spots and closed the year in fifth place with $201,572.72.
For the most part, Telford did what other cowgirls could not for a majority of the rodeo – keep all the barrels standing.
Her lone blemish came in Round 5, the day after her best run – hitting the second barrel for a five-second penalty and a time of 18.99 seconds.
Only one cowgirl managed to make 10-clean runs, Carman Pozzobon winning the WNFR average with a total time of 139.46 seconds.
Telford placed third in the average with a total time of 143.13 seconds, earning $43,153.85.
Her most-thrilling run came in Round 4, winning the barrel racing with a time of 13.49 seconds on her horse, Cool Whip.
The victory gave Telford $26,230.77.
She competed on two horses throughout the week, beginning on her mare, Shu Fire, before switching to Cool Whip – Shu Fire getting the call once more later in the week.
Telford split fourth and fifth in Round 2 with a time of 13.74 seconds for $8,884.61.
In Round 7, she struck again – posting a 13.64 for second place and $20,730.77.
Her final check came in Round 9 with a 13.71 for sixth place and another $4,230.77.
Telford placed in four of 10 rounds and took home $103,230.77 from the WNFR, combining her go-round checks with her third-place finish in the average.
Bull rider Roscoe Jarboe, of New Plymouth, Idaho, completed his third straight appearance at the WNFR, wrapping up the season in sixth place in the world standings with $213,801.47.
He covered half of his bulls and placed fourth in the average with a total of 404.5 points on five rides, earning $31,730.77
Of his five rides, Jarboe placed in four rounds.
He kicked off the WNFR with an 86-point ride on “Chosin One” of Rafter G Rodeo – his best score of the week – placing fourth for $11,000.
Jarboe took fourth place again in Round 7 – a night in which only five men made the eight-second whistle – the original-six moneys separated among the five-qualified rides.
His 84.5-point score on C5 Rodeo’s “Double Vision” was worth $11,846.15.
In Round 8, he took third place on Mo Betta Rodeo’s “Oh-No” with score of 71.5 points and earned $16,500 on a night when only five men covered their bulls.
Only three cowboys covered in Round 9, Jarboe scoring 85.5 points on “Jack Shot” of Powder River Rodeo, giving him his largest go-round check of the WNFR for $22,987.18.
In total, he wrapped up his third trip to the WNFR with $94,064.10 in earnings.
Minden bareback rider Wyatt Denny made his third-consecutive trip to the WNFR, starting the week off with a bang but fading quickly.
He won Round 1 with a score of 87 points on “Night Crawler” of Pickett Pro Rodeo, earning $26,230.77.
However, Denny covered just four of his next-nine horses – finishing with a total score of 395.5 points on five rides.
He placed in two rounds, gaining his final check in Round 9 with a score of 85.5 on Cervi Championship Rodeo’s “Vitalix William Wallace.”
Denny placed sixth on the ride and won $4,230.77.
In Round 10, Denny was the definition of “fouled at the chute.”
As his horse left the gate, it drug Denny’s face under the corner of the crossbar – opening a nasty gash that could be seen throughout the ride.
He covered Pete Carr Rodeo’s “Good Time Charlie” and scored 73 points but was not awarded a re-ride.
Denny finished the WNFR where he started it, in 14th place of the world standings.
For the year, he won $117,958.40 and knocked down $30,461.54 at the WNFR.
Congratulations to all contestants and animals of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and best of luck as the 2019 season – which is already underway – ramps up in January.