Reilly at the Casper rodeo earlier this spring. (Courtesy photo/Brian Gauck Photography)Reilly at the Casper rodeo earlier this spring. (Courtesy photo/Brian Gauck Photography)

Bareback rider Reilly makes fast climb up college rodeo ranks

SHERIDAN — The rush Devan Reilly experienced after his 77-point bareback ride at the CNFR was probably what the sack in the scene at the end of the movie Rudy felt like.

Except, Reilly is not a fictional movie character, so instead he would liken his bareback rides to the rush that comes with having an elk in the sights of your rifle — but with twice the adrenaline rush, he says. His first ride went about as well as he could have wished for at the national finals Sunday.

And it was no fluke. The next day, he rode a 65.5 on horse who “was a little bit longer but still bucked,” as he put it.

On Wednesday, his final horse launched out of the chute, hit the fence and bucked over on top of him, allowing Reilly the choice of a re-ride, which he took the next day.

“The horse was good, he kept bucking, and after they said 69 points…it was just fun, for my first CNFR,” he said, audibly pleased with the experience. “Sitting at sixth in the average is awesome.”

Now in seventh place, it’s safe to say this Sheridan-native, rodeo walk-on made some serious noise at this week’s CNFR — especially for someone with little-to-no pre-college rodeo experience.

Reilly played on the Broncs state championship football team as a senior at Sheridan High School in 2010. He was fourth at the 4A state wrestling tournament that year.

An athlete, for sure.

But he never rode bareback.

Before college, Reilly says he was nine or 10 the last time he rodeoed. While he always wanted to ride bareback, he focused on the school-sanctioned sports at SHS.

“When I got to college, I got to Casper, I knew I’d like to still remain active, he said. “I didn’t really like sitting around.”

Reilly’s uncle and stepdad are both bareback riders and he had friends at Casper College, Justin Moldaschel most influentially, who guided him into the sport.

A simple message he sent to Casper rodeo coach Kelly Timberman was all it took to get things rolling.

“I told him I’d like to ride bareback, but I have no experience so I’d like to at least help out — hold goats, run out barrels, whatever — just be around it and make some friends,” Reilly said.

Timberman agreed, and suddenly Reilly was surrounded by college teammates, himself a sponge for rodeo knowledge.

That fall, he got on his first bareback horse, after Moldaschel guided him through everything from setting up gear to watching film to teaching him how to keep his free arm positioned. Reilly redshirted his freshman season and made the team as a sophomore.

“I just kept getting on horses and trying to get on as many as I could, watching film, doing what I could to get caught up,” he explained.

As the story goes with some natural athletes, everything started to click. Reilly finished eighth in the Central Rocky Mountain Region standings that year.

It wasn’t all easy going though. There were plenty of face-first encounters with the dirt — literally and figuratively.

“Just still going at it and keeping a positive attitude,” Reilly said of the hardest part in starting out. “You’ve got all those guys that have been riding for five or six years, and you want to be as good as them. You get on a horse and you get bucked off, you get on another one and you ride him, but then the third time you get bucked off and the fourth time you get bucked off.”

Besides trying to keep up with the experienced cowboys in the arena, there were also troubles fitting in as an unproven athlete, perhaps appearing out of his element.

“When you go to practice, being around the kids that have rodeoed, they say ‘Is he just a wanna-be? Is he gonna quit after this year?’ They really don’t give you a chance until you show them you can do it.

“You have to kind of work through it,” he said. “I really wanted to do it, I was there because I wanted to be, so I just kept my nose to the grindstone. When people gave me advice, I really tried to listen to it and take it to heart.”

His experience in other sports lent more to bareback riding than he expected — specifically the physicality that came with being a defender on the football field and a scrappy wrestler.

“What I like about bareback riding, it’s aggressive,” he said. “It’s almost like boxing, wrestling and football all put into one. It’s brutal. If you’re not physical and aggressive, you’re not going to make a good ride.”

Bull riders rely on balance, and while they get credit as the bravest in the most dangerous of rodeo events, bareback riders fight a rigid, rocking battle to score a good ride.

“In bareback you have to spur, and drag your feet and beat him back to the front end when he’s bucking,” Reilly described. “You leave yourself exposed. All that pressure is on your arm and your hips. You use your whole body. That’s why I really like it. In football I loved hitting people… I try to take that into bareback riding.”

Once broken from the cocoon of his rookie status, he ended up moving colleges to pursue a different degree, not offered at Casper. He wanted to get his industrial electrician certificate, so he transferred to Gillette, where coach Will Laduke welcomed him to the rodeo team.

Gillette College’s rodeo team has shown well at this week’s CNFR in Casper, and that’s thanks in part to their third-place regular season CRMR bareback rider Reilly.

He won his first-ever rodeo at the Lamar College rodeo in Colorado this past fall before finishing second later in Cheyenne in October.

After qualifying for the CNFR, Reilly experienced that aforementioned success this week in Casper at the finals.

“I just came into it really wanting to have a lot of fun,” he said of this week. “And I feel like I’m having a blast.

“It’s just the luck of the draw in the horses,” he added. “I’m happy with it. The short-go, I’m just going to leave it all out there and try to go for first.”

Reilly will fight to push Gillette College up the team standings (currently seventh of the 100 colleges represented) with his ride in the short-go tonight.

Whatever happens, for a walk-on college athlete, it may seem like he’s reached the top, but he’s just getting started.

Carrying two more years of college rodeo eligibility, his newfound love for bareback has become his life.

This summer he’s thrown his hat in for a chance to ride in front of his hometown for the first time at the Saturday night performance of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo. While he waits to hear if he gets in, he’ll work at the NX Bar Ranch and rodeo in places like Thermopolis and Evergreen, Colo.

Just ask him to describe what he likes about bareback, and his rodeo knowledge is such that foreshadows a future pro.

“In saddle bronc you can see everything, but in bareback you probably see about a quarter of the horse,” he said. “It’s more feel, your feet come up and your head snaps back and once you get up, the horse is doing it again. It took a lot to figure out, but that aggressiveness and explosiveness is really what I like about it.”

He said he believes bareback to be the roughest on a cowboy’s body, and the guys who are in the best shape and watch a lot of film are the guys who do well at the National Finals Rodeo; guys who can ride 10 horses and feel good afterwards, Reilly says.

He credits much of his success to Moldaschel, who has become his best friend even as Moldaschel (currently fourth in the CNFR bareback average) transferred from Casper to the University of Wyoming and their rodeo team.

The two still hunt together and try to travel to rodeos. For a rodeo cowboy, that’s what it’s all about: finding companions. Because in the end, even as they compete for the same money, the other cowboys aren’t the real adversary.

“It’s all on you,” Reilly said. “It’s a team sport in college, but it really comes down to just you and the animal.

“In rodeo, it’s not you versus the other guy — guys help each other and talk even when competing, it’s really cool — but whoever has the best animal and the best ride wins.”

“You climb down into the chute and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Reilly is the son of John Reilly of Sheridan.

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Brad Estes

Sheridan Press sports editor

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