ALVA, Okla. – Rodeo has always been a big part of Cody Burkholder’s life. It probably always will.
That’s why sharing the saddle bronc riding victory at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo this past weekend is so special to the Clarksville, Iowa, cowboy.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Burkholder, a senior in his final year of eligibility. “I honestly didn’t even know I was in contention … that close to winning it.”
Burkholder split the championship with Southwestern’s Tyrel Larsen, the Central Plains Region leader. Both cowboys earned 144 points on two rides to better the field of top circuit bronc riders.
“My dad’s a saddle bronc rider and rode for a lot of years,” Burkholder said. “It’s nice to be able to call home and get advice from him. We raise bucking horses, so I can go home and get on and fine-tune things. It’s been a lot easier for him to give you advice.”
Burkholder was one of two Northwestern cowboys to win championships in Weatherford. Will Howell of Stillwater, Okla., won tie-down roping for the second straight regional rodeo – he won in Fort Scott, Kan., a month ago. More importantly, Howell’s victory marked the fourth straight tie-down roping win for Northwestern – Trey Young won in Manhattan, Kan., in February, and Perry Dietz won in Garden City, Kan., the first weekend in March.
The men finished the rodeo third in the team standings; the women finished fifth. Dusta Kimzey lead the way for the women with her second-place finish in goat-tying; Megan White and Lauran Barnes also finished among the top 10. Alexis Allen finished fourth in barrel racing, and Shelby Carpenter, Kelsey Pontius and Karly Benzie placed in breakaway roping.
The Rangers are loaded with excellent timed-event cowboys. Howell is second and Dietz is fourth in the region standings, while steer wrestler Kyle Irwin is second. Header Ethan McDowell and heeler Dustin Searcy lead their respective divisions, while heeler Tanner Braden is tied for second.
Burkholder, though, is all by himself among the roughstock cowboys. He is fourth in the saddle bronc riding standings. He’d like to move up just a little over the course of the final two regional rodeos in order to qualify for the College National Finals Rodeo, set for June in Casper, Wyo.
“It’s going to be a bronc riding between everybody that’s sitting down right there in the standings,” said Burkholder, who will compete this weekend at the Fort Hays (Kan.) State University rodeo and the following weekend at the Oklahoma Panhandle State University rodeo in Guymon. “There are a lot of great bronc riders right there in the mix.”
Of course, he’s one of them. After graduating from high school in Waverly, Iowa, he attended Miles (Mont.) Community College, then transferred to Northwestern. He also competed in bareback riding until two seasons ago, then turned his focus just on saddle bronc riding.
“Riding broncs is fun,” he said. “It’s a big adrenaline rush, and it doesn’t hurt you as much as bareback riding does. I used to ride both, and it just got to the point where I’d rather feel better after my ride instead of hurting all the time.”
He decided on Northwestern for several reasons, from affordability to its strong rodeo program to a great learning environment.
“It’s not really a roughstock school like some of them, and I’m the only roughstock rider on the team,” Burkholder said. “It does present a challenge for me as far as trying to work, go to school, rodeo and then the fact that I tend to travel by myself.
“But it’s centrally located. It’s a smaller university, and the teachers know you well. It’s a more conducive learning environment, instead of going to a lecture hall with 300 students.”
Of course, a big part of his education is rodeo. The gold buckle dreams will continue, but how he handles those dreams will depend, primarily, on how well he handles his tasks inside the arena. Rodeo is just in his blood.
“It’s something I’ve always grown up as a kid,” said Burkholder, who is expecting a child in September. “When it comes to horses, rodeo … things like that, that’s where I can really come into play. I’ve grown up with it all my life.”
And it will be part of his life for many years to come.