Gunnison champs eager to return

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Shali Lord, a Colorado cowgirl who has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo twice in her career, won the barrel racing title at Cattlemen’s Days last year. She always looks forward to her annual venture to Gunnison for the rodeo in a historic arena.

GUNNISON, Colo. – It really doesn’t matter how many times Shali Lord has made barrel racing runs in this beautiful Rocky Mountain town, she loves returning.

“It’s an old-fashioned setting, but everything they have there is modernized,” said Lord, a two-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Lamar, Colorado. “They have a great announcer, great stock, and they work really hard on their ground to make it good.

“It’s a fun rodeo.”

It’s also a rodeo she’s won before, most recently a year ago when she and her stud mount, Can Man, beat a full and talented field. They sprinted around the cloverleaf pattern in 17.48 seconds to claim the top prize, and it was quite a feat.

She’d like to repeat at this year’s Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo, set for Thursday, July 15-Saturday, July 17, at Fred Field Western Center in Gunnison.

“I bet I’ve been to that rodeo 10 times or more,” she said, pointing out that she earned the title about 15 years earlier on Slider, the first horse that carried her to the NFR in 2005. “It seems like every year they seem to make it better, add more money and give us a better opportunity.

“It’s always a good one for us to go to, and I try not to miss it.”

She didn’t a year ago, bettering a field that featured nearly a dozen NFR qualifiers and a couple of world champions. With the global pandemic raising its ugly head, most ProRodeos were canceled, but the Gunnison community came out in full force to make sure the 120th consecutive edition of the Cattlemen’s Days rodeo went on as expected.

“I think last year was so tough for everyone,” Lord said. “That weekend was particularly awesome. Can Man did really good, and things turned around for us that weekend. He started firing, feeling good and working really good. It was awesome to get the win there.”

There was a constant theme amongst the 2020 rodeo winners: They were just thankful for the opportunity to compete. While life is much more back to normal, there are some lasting effects. The fact that Gunnison’s rodeo took place despite extreme limitations on crowd size still rings in the ears of the competitors that make their livings in the sport.

“We’re going to support as many rodeos as we can that supported us last year,” said Cole Reiner, the co-champion in bareback riding from Kaycee, Wyoming. “Even if they’re a little out of the way, we’re still going to try to work them into our schedule. The committee in Gunnison went out of their way last year to have a rodeo, so we want to tell them just how much it meant to us by making sure we try to go back.”

Reiner, who advanced to his first NFR and earned the 2020 Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year title, scored 88 points to share the Gunnison title with Orin Larsen. Still, it was a little different dismounting his horse after a big score and hearing a spattering of applause from few dozen people allowed in the grandstands because of pandemic limitations.

“It was definitely a little weird getting off that horse after an 88-point ride and hearing the silence,” he said with a laugh. “That’s definitely one I’ll remember for that, but I’m still very thankful they went ahead and had the rodeo even though nobody could really be there.”

The contestants also are excited about the rodeo’s return to its normal mid-July dates; the event was delayed until Labor Day weekend a year ago because of COVID-19, but it left a mark on many.

“Like a lot of rodeos that have worked to go on, it means a lot to us that they went ahead and had the rodeo,” said Larsen, a six-time NFR qualifier from Inglis, Manitoba. “It’s a great rodeo. I know the committee did a really good job of trying to get it going. They worked hard to make it happen.”

The 2020 Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo featured many of the biggest names in rodeo, with dozens of NFR qualifiers and 25 world champions representing 46 gold buckles. With thankfulness in their hearts and their minds on the money available, many of those are already making plans to return.

That’s what happens when a community comes together.


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