Two of the world’s premier bareback riders call Sheridan County home. Sheridan’s Devan Reilly and Ranchester’s Seth Hardwick have competed in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for multiple years and have established quite a name for themselves.
Hundreds of rodeos take place all across the United States, Canada and Mexico each year, and with such a grueling schedule, cowboys find it hard sometimes to make time to improve their abilities while on the road.
“Everyone kind of does it a little bit differently,” Reilly said.
Many cowboys get the itch to compete from growing up and performing chores on a ranch. Reilly didn’t. The Sheridan High School football player and wrestler didn’t begin rodeoing until his college years.
Reilly started at Casper College before transferring to Gillette College and finishing up at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
Since Reilly didn’t grow up playing the sport, he figured out how to practice and train on his own. Similar to his football and wrestling days, Reilly spends many mornings watching film. However, instead of only watching himself, Reilly pulls up videos of cowboys he idolizes and wants to emulate.
After watching numerous videos, Reilly implements the knowledge on his spur board, where he can practice the spurring motion. The end goal is to duplicate the form he just watched as many times as necessary until it’s second nature.
Every so often, when Reilly wants to practice a little more realistically, he’ll utilize Link Weaver’s bucking machine in Sheridan.
“He makes one hell of a bucking machine,” Reilly said.
The bucking machine, “is pretty close” to the real thing, in Reilly’s opinion. The machine is built with a five-speed transmission that can buck anywhere from significantly slow to realistically fast.
Reilly firmly believes this is a great way for people just getting started with rodeoing to become familiar with the motion of a bucking animal.
“I don’t think you’d ever mimic the exact things a horse does because they can do stuff that a bucking machine can’t,” Reilly said. “… A bucking machine is on wheels, so it slides around, and it can duck left, duck right and it feels pretty close to a horse. It’s actually some pretty good practice, especially for beginners. Just get on that thing and feel the motion and it quickens the learning curve.”
When Reilly is not tangoing with the bucking machine or spurring at home, he is working out at Sheridan’s YMCA to keep his body built for the violent nature of bareback riding. He also reads many self-help, inspirational and workout books to learn and stay motivated in an effort to keep improving. In addition, he utilizes visualization methods and mediation.
“I keep seeing improvements, and each year I find little things more that I need to critique and get better at,” Reilly said. “Almost like a knife, you always got to keep sharpening that knife. The day you stop sharpening is the day it gets dull. That’s the day you either get hurt or something happens that if you were in shape or if you were prepared or would have practiced more often or had your mind mentally ready, you would have been a lot better off.”
Hardwick didn’t have Reilly’s ambition for improvement, at least initially.
The Ranchester transplant began his career as a cowboy in high school in small-town Idaho, where it was difficult to learn because the only opportunity to get on a horse occurred in competition at the weekly rodeos.
“It’s tough in high school because I was new to it, so you’re still kind of trying to figure out contacts to get on practice horses or you could go to riding schools and stuff like that. I tried to go to one or two of those throughout my four years of high school. … I was still pretty new at it, so it was pretty tough in high school.”
Hardwick pieced together a means to get better and soon garnered a scholarship offer from Oklahoma Panhandle State. The university had its own stock contract to bring in horses and bulls once a week for the student-athletes to ride. Aside from that practice day and the actual rodeos, Hardwick had other priorities as an underclassmen.
“I was a college kid, so you’re enjoying college, too. So, I still wasn’t working out or anything as much as I should have,” Hardwick said.
It wasn’t until Hardwick’s junior year when he thought he could make a living out of rodeoing and started to dedicate himself more to the sport, sharpening that knife.
During his professional endeavors, Hardwick doesn’t have much time for practice but finds that simply competing in about 100 rodeos a year keeps him sharp.
“Whenever we are home, we all try and workout,” Hardwick said. “I have a little gym on one half of my garage that I work out in every day. I also got a spur board to practice the basic form and the little things, so that when we get on the road we are in shape. Stay in shape to stay healthy.”
Both Hardwick and Reilly have remained in good shape, and the results — both finishing in the top 30 of bareback last year — are proof of that.
There’s more than one way to ride a bareback horse, and there’s more than one way to prepare oneself to do so; Reilly and Hardwick are evidence of that.
For more rodeo insider stories, pick up a complimentary copy of the official Sheridan WYO Rodeo magazine by The Sheridan Press, available at 144 E. Grinnell Plaza.