Sendoff honors SD NFR athletes

Cole Elshere signs an autograph at a National Finals Rodeo sendoff held Saturday night in Belle Fourche. He is one of seven South Dakotans who have qualified for the season’s final event. Pioneer photo by Jason Gross

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BELLE FOURCHE — A sizable crowd turned out Saturday night at Branding Iron Steakhouse to wish South Dakota’s National Rodeo Finals participants the best. This year’s National Finals Rodeo is set for Dec. 3-12 in Arlington, Texas.

Faith’s Cole Elshere (saddle bronc riding), Rapid City’s Jamie Howlett (bareback riding), Eagle Butte’s Shorty Garrett (saddle bronc riding), Fort Pierre’s Jace Melvin (steer wrestling), Sturgis’ Levi Lord (team roping), Oelrichs’ Lisa Lockhart (barrel racing), and Buffalo’s Jessica Routier (barrel racing) will compete. Athletes finishing 15th or higher in total money winnings for the year advance to the finals.

Elshere has reached the national finals for the fourth time. He most looks forward to having his wife Kyndra and their 2-month-old baby with him in Texas.

“We’re just so grateful to be able to thank them,” Elshere said when asked about the people hosting Saturday’s sendoff event. “They come out and encourage us.”

Elshere competed in Las Vegas three times and said the atmosphere in Texas should be a bit more relaxing. He added Globe Life Park in Arlington boasts a lot more wide-open spaces than Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack arena.

A successful winter portion of the 2020 schedule enabled Elshere to turn his attention to the impending growth of his family.

“The baby came in September, and I didn’t go to any rodeos,” Elshere said. “But I was sitting good enough that I was able to stay home and still make the finals.”

Elshere will bring the number 6 spot into the finals.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant Elshere was not able to compete in as many rodeos as was the case in previous years.

Getting back into the swing of things was not difficult for Elshere, who lives on a ranch. He said rodeoing and ranching go hand in hand quite well.

Garrett will make his finals debut this year after coming close in 2019. That near miss motivated him for this year, where he enters the finals in the number 4 spot.

“It just built a heck of a fire in me,” Garrett said in describing last year’s experience. “I wasn’t about to let it go out.”

Garrett’s physical preparation did not change at all from 2019 to 2020. He said regularly riding saddle horses and staying active helped him stay in good shape.

 “It doesn’t matter who’s ahead or who’s beind me,” Garrett said of his finals debut. “I’m going in there with the mindset of riding every horse that I draw down there the best that I possibly can.”

How did Garrett’s competition schedule differ this year because of the pandemic?

“It was a dog-eat-dog fight out there,” he said. “Everybody entered everything, so it was really hard to get into stuff.”

Garrett said he enjoyed a really good winter portion of the season.

“It means a lot to see people get together and recognize us for our accomplishments,” he said in describing this senoff event. 

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