FAITH, S.D. – One trait cowboys learn early in life is to overcome any obstacle that comes their way.
Cole Elshere and his family, like so many in South Dakota, experienced true devastation in early October when a blizzard blanked their home. Tens of thousands of cattle perished statewide, including a good portion of the Elsheres’ herd.
“We definitely lost plenty of cows during the storm,” said Elshere, 23, of Faith. “It took us from being a successful year of ranching to one that’s in the red. We still have enough cows that we can continue ranching, but it sure hurt us.
“There are ranchers that have lost years and years of building up a herd. We did lose some, but we’re still able to do what we love. I’m not sure what some people are going to have to do financially. There are still side effects to the storm that are going on right now.”
It’s a lot to take in, but Elshere believes he is blessed. You see, in addition to a ranching operation, Cole Elshere rides bucking horses in ProRodeo, and he’s pretty good at it, too. The South Dakota cowboy is heading back to his second straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale that takes place Dec. 4-15 in Las Vegas.
He spends a great deal of time away from the ranch in western South Dakota while traveling the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit. While he’s chasing his gold buckle dreams, his parents, Andy and Donella, take care of things at home.
“Family grows more and more important every day,” said Elshere, who finished the regular season with $80,698 and heads into the NFR 10th on the saddle bronc riding money list – only the top 15 contestants in each event qualify for ProRodeo’s championship event. “I have a real good, supportive family, and they’re all very strong Christians. They’ve never put any pressure on me to do good or to be home instead of being on the road rodeoing.”
That’s the kind of support that has enabled Elshere the opportunity to be one of the elite cowboys in the sport. One year ago, he walked into the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas as a contestant for the first time, realizing he was a big part of the hoopla that is the NFR. Stepping over the famous golden bucking chutes can be quite intimidating, especially with a crowd of more than 17,000 expressing its excitement.
The young cowboy handled things quite well, winning a round and placing in three others, earning $58,600 in the process. With his 10-day run in the Nevada desert, Elshere almost doubled his regular-season earnings, finishing the year No. 7 in the world standings with $124,437
“After being there last year, I understand the pressure and the intensity of the arena,” he said. “It’s still going to be there this year, but I think I’ll be able to use it to benefit me.”
When dealing with the potential loss of livelihood, the NFR pressure is dwarfed in comparison. Plus, it’s a great way for Elshere to continue riding well; through the regular season, he won at least a share of bronc riding titles at 11 rodeos, from Mississippi to Alberta.
“I’ve been more consistent this year,” said Elshere, who credits much of his 2013 success to his sponsors: SweetPro, EquiPride, Stuber Ranch, Rodeo Mart, War Pony, Panhandle Slim and Bar C5 Rodeo Co. “I just tried to make every ride a little better than the last one.”
It’s worked pretty well, but this is nothing new to Elshere. He estimates he started competing in rodeo at the age of 3, when he was old enough to ride sheep. He started riding broncs a decade ago.
“When I was little, I went to every rodeo I could go to, and I just kept moving up the ladder,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a bronc rider ever since I was a little kid. My family has pictures of me on a bouncy horse with my hand up in the air.”
Maybe it’s something in the water. South Dakota is well known for being the land of bronc riders; from Casey Tibbs to Robert and Billy Etbauer to Chad Ferley, world championships are part of the lifestyle in the Mount Rushmore State.
“There sure are a lot of guys that were bronc riders or want to be bronc riders,” Elshere said. “Everybody wants to be wants to be part of it any way they can.
“What I like about it is the spurring and being able to spur something. I don’t like getting on a horse that bucks, but I want to spur one that bucks.”
During those December nights, the South Dakota cowboy will get his chance on 10 of the world’s best bucking horses. He trails the world standings leader, two-time world champion Cody Wright, by more than $48,000, so the world champion’s gold buckle is a longshot. Still, go-round winners can earn $18,630 each night.
“With as much money as is added there, anything is possible,” Elshere said. “I’m going there to try to make good rides all 10 nights and let it all play itself out.”