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SHERIDAN — The Sheridan WYO Rodeo got off to a bang last night. Literally. When the cannon fired at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night, thousands of fans jumped out of their seats to cheer as the rodeo was officially underway.
After 12 year-old Bailey Cunningham set the bar high for the rest of the week’s national anthem singers with her tremendous rendition, the crowd barely had time to sit and catch their breath before getting back on their feet for the fan-favorite World Champion Indian Relay Races, which didn’t disappoint.
Eighteen jockeys representing eight different nations wrestled, exchanged and raced horses around the Sheridan County Fairgrounds track while fans ooh’d, ahh’d, screamed and squirmed from their seats inside the stadium.
To carry over the adrenaline from the relay races, the rough stock competition got off to a fast start as Joel Schlegel came out and scored a 73 in the first go-round. It was his brother Jerad, though, who put up the top score of the night, posting an 82.
Jerad Schlegal was the only rider to score above 80, as Chase Erickson and Heath Ford rounded out the top three, scoring a 79 and a 78, respectively.
As the bareback riders walked, or sometimes limped, out of the arena, 10 NFL middle linebacker-sized cowboys lined up just outside the Gold Buckle Club ready to tackle some of the biggest steers Sheridan has to offer.
Only half of the wrestlers posted times, though, as the toughness of the animals seemed to be the theme of the evening. Nobody scored below five seconds, as Kamry Dymmek’s 5.1 was good enough for first at the end of the first go-round.
Although he was still two hours away from his actual duties, bullfighter Al Sandvold gave the crowd a little taste of his fancy footwork as he and rodeo clown Crash Cooper entertained the crowd in a dance off that featured a stilt-walking Crash doing a backflip in the middle of the arena.
While it’s still up for debate as to who won the dance battle, there wasn’t much time for argument as the field of steer ropers took to the arena as soon as Sandvold and Cooper left it.
The saddle bronc riders also struggled on the opening night of the rodeo. Only seven of the 12 riders posted scores, with Ty Thompson’s 83 being the only score in the 80’s. Dusty Hausauer and Brady Nicholes were the two closest, each posting 74s.
If there was one performer to watch last night, if was the team of Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler, who put on a show for the fans in the team roping performance. Their incredible time of 4.1 put them a full second ahead of the second-place finisher, and was 0.9 seconds better than last year’s winning time of 5.0.
Dustin Bird and Paul Eaves, who had the fastest time in the morning slack with a 4.6, carried their momentum into the evening performance where their 5.1 was good enough for second place in the first go-round.
Nobody broke nine seconds in the tie-down roping performance, as Clint Robinson’s 9.7 and Roger Nonella’s 9.8 were the top two times for the night.
The next event, though, didn’t give riders the opportunity to blame the animals, as the women came out and rode their own horses in barrel racing. The horses did their best to show the other livestock how they’re supposed to behave at a rodeo event.
Although no cowgirl touched last year’s winning time of 17.24 seconds, eight of the 12 riders finished under 18 seconds. Meghan Johnson finished first with a 17.49, barely edging out second-place finisher Mandy Tysdal’s 17.50.
The evening’s final performance put the ball back in the animals’ court. The first night of bull riding didn’t lack in entertainment, although the scores weren’t as high as most of the riders would have liked.
Cody Campbell, who was riding with a broken ankle, wasn’t upset with his score of 73, which put him fifth for the night, but definitely attributed the lower scores to the feistiness of the bulls.
“My bull wasn’t that great, but I did my job and I rode him,” Campbell said. “Some of these bulls are having a bad day today. Most of these bulls are good most days, but they’re just like people, and they have bad days too.”
Kody Lostroh must have caught his bull on a pretty good day, as his score of 85 was easily enough to be the top ride of the day.
Sheridan, Wyoming, has a special place in Lostroh’s heart. He just recently named his daughter, Sheridan, after the city, so it was a little extra special for him to put up a good score for the Sheridan crowd.
“Sheridan, Wyoming’s always been one of my favorite places,” he said. “Being able to come back here for the pro rodeo is a lot of fun. Sheridan’s one of my favorite towns, so it’s cool to be here.”
Although the scores were low and the animals were stubborn, you wouldn’t have known it if you were driving by the fairgrounds on the first night of the rodeo. From the shot of the cannon to the final bull rider, there was never a lack of enthusiasm from the crowd, and it’s only going to get wilder as we head into the weekend.
As announcer Will Rasmussen bellowed into the microphone time and time again last night, “Let’s get WYO’d!”