SHERIDAN — Nearly 75 hours after starting, the 89th Sheridan WYO Rodeo wrapped up around 10 p.m. Saturday. The four days included nearly identical schedules, but they each presented different offerings and conditions for competitors and thousands of fans in attendance.
Jana Davis helped open the rodeo with her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” Wednesday evening. Davis, who sings in the band TRICK and has opened for rock artists in massive venues over the years, arrived about 30 minutes before her performance and said she could sense the excitement of the opening night crowd.
Davis felt a bit nervous before singing the national anthem, something that hadn’t happened in a long time.
To reassure herself, Davis thought about her 10-year-old self riding a horse on the family ranch in Sheridan dreaming of one day singing at the rodeo.
“For that moment, little Jana was right there, saying, ‘It’s happening in your hometown,’” Davis said.
After performing the rendition, Davis found a seat to view the Indian Relay races, her favorite event of the rodeo.
Tim BirdInGround was one of the dozens of participants Thursday in the relay races. He’s a member of the River Road relay team, keeping horses ready for the relay exchange and then safely taking them out of the way.
River Road is based out of Crow Agency, Montana. The team did not finish Wednesday after an accident with another team, but River Road won its heats Thursday and Friday before failing to finish Saturday in the third heat of the World Championship Indian Relay Races.
BirdInGround has worked with Indian relay teams for five years, the past three with River Road. Amid the chaos of the event, he said it is important to stay calm so the horses remain steady.
“They feel it off you,” BirdInGround said. “You touch them, (and) they feel it like a heartbeat.”
The best way to accomplish his task is consistently caring for the horses during the year. That way, he can understand their moods and best prepare them when race time arrives.
“You know when they’re mad, when they’re happy, when they’re really nervous,” BirdInGround said. “…They don’t talk, but you can see their body language.”
BirdInGround arrives about two hours before the event to prepare the horses to race. That includes food, water, shade, hygiene, reins, leg wraps and exercise. Once the horse’s needs are taken care of, BirdInGround pumps himself up for competition with loud country music. After the races, it takes another couple hours to make sure the horses are prepared for the following day’s relay.
This year marked his fifth time competing in Sheridan, and BirdInGround appreciated the enthusiasm of the crowd throughout the races. As was the case Thursday, seeing the team’s work culminate in a victory while the excited crowd roared its approval was the most rewarding part for BirdInGround.
Sheridan’s own Devan Reilly brought the raucous crowd to its feet Friday evening. The hometown product competed in bareback and tallied a score of 79.5, waving and blowing kisses to the audience after the ride. To put himself in an energetic mindset Friday afternoon, Reilly listened to Mötley Crüe. He arrived at the arena an hour before competing. Reilly stretched, checked his gear and conversed with fellow riders before taping his right arm, which takes about 15 minutes. Shortly after, Reilly put on his chaps and vest and was nearly ready to go.
Around 10 minutes before competing, Reilly silently recited Isaiah 40:31, the same chapter and verse he tells himself before every rodeo ride.
After those moments of quiet reflection, Reilly amped himself up in the few minutes before competition.
“It’s eight seconds of a fight,” Reilly said. “The horse is not going to take it easy, so I’m not going to take it easy on the horse.”
Reilly practices and watches film to get his bareback technique down, and then he does his best not to think during a ride.
“I just try to let my feet go and let my subconscious take over,” Reilly said. “…Sometimes [eight seconds] feels like a blur, other times it feels like an eternity. [Friday] it was kind of right in the middle.”
Reilly didn’t cool off from the adrenaline that accompanied the rodeo until the day after his ride, saying the event gets better each year.
“I’ve already rode, (and I’m) still getting chills,” Reilly said. “…This is what a rodeo should be.”
Jim Woods and Trevor Thompson agreed, saying they had a pleasant experience at their first Sheridan WYO Rodeo. The former Navy Seals and current members of Valor Skydiving started the event three out of four nights by parachuting in with the American flag. Woods and Thompson have jumped more than 1,500 times together in the past five years, so they have all the aspects down pat and treat it like any other job.
On Saturday, Woods and Thompson adjusted due to inclement weather, jumping earlier and from a lower altitude than they would have with clear skies. Thompson landed on the track behind the main arena with the American flag that was swiftly carried in for the national anthem.
After not skydiving Friday due to stormy weather, they considered not jumping Saturday but decided it was OK to go.
“We pushed it right to the edge,” Thompson said.
Before jumping, the men prepared their gear an hour in advance and headed to the Sheridan County Airport to be taken upward. In the airplane, they conversed a bit but mostly focused on staying relaxed. Woods and Thompson discussed alternate options and possibilities before ultimately deciding to go a few minutes early.
“The last thing you want to do is jump out and not have a plan for something when it doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to,” Woods said.
In the plane, they gave each other a high-five and then jumped, floating in the air for a few minutes before landing in the arena. After helping hold the flag during the anthem, Woods and Thompson walked off and put their gear away before enjoying what the rodeo offered.
Every day presented slightly different challenges and opportunities, but everyone seemed to appreciate the chance to be a small part of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo.