SHERIDAN — A 68-point ride didn’t earn Hunter Carlson any prize money at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. In fact, he was still 14.5 points out of the top eight in the bareback riding standings.
But Carlson received the loudest ovation of the night after a clean dismount in the Sheridan County Fairgrounds arena.
Carlson, a Douglas native, is fresh off a Central Rocky Mountain Region title with the Sheridan College rodeo team. He helped the Generals earn the first regional team title in school history and went on to take fifth at the College National Finals Rodeo.
Saturday, he got the chance to show off his skills in front of the hometown fans.
“I wasn’t real nervous, but I had butterflies, I guess,” Carlson said about the performance. “I like being around big crowds, but being in Sheridan, being around people that, I don’t know them real well, but I think they know my name a little bit. So it feels pretty good to ride here — pretty exciting.”
The ride might not have lived up to Carlson’s standards — he averaged a 72 on four rides at the CNFR, including an 80.5 to win the short go — but it was an experience he hopes can propel him into the future. As he gains experience in some professional rodeos over the summer, the bareback rider admitted that it’s all on the path to reaching goal number one: a college title.
“I’ll go to college four years until I win the college finals at least once,” he said confidently.
A catalyst in Carlson’s goal is his head coach, Marc Gilkerson, who was giddy to see his regional champ perform Saturday night. Gilkerson has constructed a team of like-minded cowboys around Carlson, the best the school has seen.
Now, the coach said, it’s time for the Generals to push even harder than they did a season ago.
“To have him be able to be here at the WYO is really cool, so the whole crowd can see what we’ve been doing at the college,” Gilkerson said.
“They’re never satisfied,” he said about his athletes. “Neither am I. I want them to get better every time they get on. The more rodeos, the more horses you ride, the better you are at handling different situations.”
Carlson said he tries to brush off the small things — bad rides, bad draws — and just focus on becoming a better bareback rider. While the excitement was intensified Saturday, it was still just another ride for the Sheridan College cowboy.
Still, Gilkerson said it meant a lot to have one of his cowboys compete at the WYO, especially on a sold out Saturday night. He noted that many of the same people who sat in the grandstands and cheered on Carlson also did a lot for the young rider throughout the college season, even though they didn’t get to watch him compete as much.
“I want them to feel pride,” Gilkerson said of the Sheridan fans. “They helped the rodeo program get him here to Sheridan. We couldn’t have won the region without the community here supporting our program.”
Carlson will move on and continue his summer riding schedule as he chases that college title, and if the cheers for his 68-point ride Saturday night signified anything at all, he has plenty of backing from the Sheridan community.
The SC cowboy earned the loudest cheer on the final night of the 87th WYO Rodeo, but Wyatt Bloom was the man of the evening with an 84-point ride, good for fourth in the final standings.
Along with Bloom, the performance-four crowd got to watch plenty of outstanding performances, especially in steer roping. Four of the top six finishers in the event blessed the arena with their talents Saturday, including Chet Herren, who won the top prize in the average.
Other top performances included the team-roping duo of Clay Smith and Paul Eaves, who finished second in the average with 10.8 seconds on two. To cap off the evening, Bart Miller scored an 80 in bull riding, the top of the night and third best of the weekend.
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo paid out a total of $258,822 on the week as part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour.