By: Kendra Santos
They’re all here to run at the $562,500 up for grabs at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo. Rodeo’s big dogs have their eyes on the riches that await the winners at rodeo’s end. And the melting pot of household names; moms and dads with jobs and families who don’t want to travel but still crave a big stage; and up-and-comers anxious to earn their rodeo stripes and prove they belong who are advancing to tonight’s Gold Medal Round here in Salt Lake City is what the World Champions Rodeo Alliance is all about.
Nebraska bareback rider Garrett Shadbolt is having a breakout year in professional rodeo in 2021. Not long ago, nobody knew him. But they’re all taking notice now.
“I was winning big money here at WCRA events before I was ever winning big money in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association),” said Shadbolt, who’s currently ranked seventh in the world. “I really like rodeoing in the WCRA. They’ve always treated me good, even when I first showed up and they didn’t even know who I was.
“I’ve been riding in the WCRA since the beginning when it was new and kind of wild west. I’ve been on a lot of really good bucking horses at these events. That horse I rode tonight (Friday night; Sankey’s bay bucker Silver Screen for 85.5 points, which was half a point behind perf winner Orin Larsen, but good enough to get in through the wild card that advances the top three scores or times that did not win their performance) is one of the strongest bucking horses I’ve ever been on in my life.”
Tie-down roper Trenton Smith of Bigfoot, Texas, was not the odds-on favorite riding into Thursday night’s semifinals performance here in Salt Lake, with world champs Shane Hanchey and Shad Mayfield in the mix. But the tie-down roping is a timed event, the fastest time wins and Smith’s 9.01-second run sent him and his horse Grey Goose around the Utah State Fairgrounds Arena for the victory lap.
“I’ve been to most of the WCRA rodeos,” Smith said. “I won the bronze medal here in 2019, and they invited all of the medalists back. I’m here because the money’s so good. In 2019, I was traveling with Ty Harris. He won the gold and I won the bronze (Caleb Smidt won the silver). So it was a good day, and our truck left town with $62,000. This rodeo fits in handy with the other rodeos we’re going to this week (Smith is now traveling with Reid Zapalac).”
Smith’s set roped in the mud after the Utah skies opened up over the stadium.
“The weather plays a big factor, but you’ve got to block it out and go on,” he said. “It’s just part of it. And as far as who else is roping and who I needed to beat to advance to the finals, I try not to think about what everybody else has won. I just try to do my own job.”
Like Smith, Friday night’s tie-down roping titlist—Marshall Leonard of Shongaloo, Louisiana—was paid $2,100, including $1,600 for the perf win and the $500 appearance fee (and there are no entry fees). He hitched a ride on fellow Friday night tie-down roper Jody Green’s red dun horse Mojo, who’s a full brother to famous tie-down horses Pearl (who was Hall of Famer Cody Ohl’s signature mount for many years) and Topaz (a mare made famous by Tuf Cooper). Green also advanced.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to rope for this much money,” said Leonard, who hasn’t been traveling as hard in recent times because his young family includes two small kids and another on the way. “I’ve been home working and being a dad. I want to go rodeo again, but I want to wait until I can take my family with me.
“I think these WCRA events are great, and they’ve always been really good to me. I won good in Kansas City and Corpus Christi, and now I have a chance at a really good check here (tonight’s champs checks are worth $25,000). To get to rope for great money is awesome, and look at this crowd—it’s amazing.”