SHERIDAN — Whether you wear ruby-red slippers or a pair of cowboy boots, there really is “no place like home.” That’s exactly the case for six local riders as they compete in the Sheridan WYO Rodeo this week.
While rodeo clown “Crash” Cooper applies his makeup and announcer Will Rasmussen warms his vocal chords, as 19,000 fans file into their seats, 670 cowboys and cowgirls will be finishing any last minute preparations as they ready themselves for competition in Sheridan’s premier event, kicking off Wednesday at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds.
Six of those riders will be competing right in their own backyard. Ronda Holwell, E.J. Panetta, Devan Reilly and Zeke Thurston are all from Sheridan, while Miles Kobold represents Big Horn. Thurston, who is also a student at Sheridan College, will be joined by teammate Taygen Schuelke to round out the six riders representing Sheridan County in the rodeo.
The six riders will represent Sheridan County in five of the eight rodeo events throughout the week.
Holwell, the only female of the group, is competing in barrel racing, while Kobold and Panetta will be showcasing their roping skills, competing in team roping and tie-down roping, respectively.
“I love my hometown rodeo,” Kobold said. “I’ve done rodeo all my life, and this is definitely one of my favorite events.
Kobold, who now calls Billings home, says it’s nice to come back to Sheridan to compete in front of his family.
“I spend a lot of my time up in Montana, but this is a rodeo I just don’t want to miss,” he said. “I’ve got family here, and I’ve got a little girl now, and it’s nice to spend time with all of them.”
Reilly, Schuelke and Thurston are the young guns of the group, coming fresh off their solid performances in the College National Finals Rodeo a month ago.
Schuelke, in particular, will carry a lot of momentum into the week as he competes in saddle bronc riding. He finished as the top all-around male at the CNFR, including a third-place finish in saddle bronc.
Thurston, who teamed up with Schuelke to give Sheridan College a fourth overall finish in the team standings at the CNFR, will be competing against his teammate in the saddle bronc event, while Devan Reilly will look to carry his sixth-place CNFR performance in bareback riding into the week’s events.
But whether it be a Sheridan College athlete or a professional, a barrel racer or a bareback rider, all six of these athletes will have a little added pressure as they compete in front of the home crowd.
“There really is a lot of pressure being from here,” Holwell said. “I look at it as, in barrel racing, you’ve got 18 seconds to make an impression, good or bad. It’s more pressure because everybody knows you, and you want to look good in front your home town.”
As attendance at the rodeo has increased over 10,000 people in the last 20 years, the added pressure also brings with it plenty of support from the community for the riders.
“This is a community event that is embraced by everyone, and that’s what makes it so special,” Sheridan WYO Rodeo President Zane Garstad said to the Press.
Regardless of being a Sheridan resident or not, Holwell says that the Sheridan WYO Rodeo is one of the best rodeos she has ever attended.
“I’ve been to a lot of rodeos,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t from here, I’d say it’s one of the most fun rodeos I’ve been to, as a competitor or a spectator. There aren’t very many other rodeos where the stands are full every night.”
Despite the added pressure that it might add on her as a competitor, Holwell credited the community’s commitment to the rodeo for its success.
“The whole community gets involved,” she said. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger and better and better. The community really rallies, and as a whole they do an exceptional job.”
While the stands at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds will be packed with people cheering on the cowboys, cowgirls, bull fighters and everything in between, they are sure to be cheering a little bit louder for their hometown riders.