MERRIMAN, Neb. – Life in the Nebraska Sandhills can be a bit rugged.
There’s always work to be done, cattle to move, calves that are just coming into this world and need a little help. The rolling prairie is the perfect home for ranchers and the operations they run.
Garrett Shadbolt is the fifth generation of his family to live and work on the northern Nebraska patch of ground. It’s this terrain and this family that has formed the foundation by which he lives his life and how he hopes to raise his family.
At just 25 years old and about to be the father of two, Shadbolt is living his dreams in the world of rodeo as one of the elite bareback riders in the game. He finished the 2021 regular season with $96,013 and will head to his first National Finals Rodeo 10th in the world standings. Along the way, he will take pieces of his Nebraska home with him to the Nevada desert.
“I’ve dreamed of this for a long time, and I’ve prepared for it mentally,” said Shadbolt, the 2019 PRCA Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year. “I know it’s a big challenge, but I’m excited about it. I’m also a little nervous. I’ve worked hard for this moment.”
The whirling stomach is only natural given that this is his first NFR qualification, but there’s so much more. Every cowboy dreams of competing inside those yellow panels that form the arena inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, and Shadbolt will get his chance.
He’s earned it, too.
“I’m not nervous about the bright lights or the big show or getting over-pumped for a big rodeo,” said Shadbolt, who credits much of his success to his family and his sponsors, Moore Maker Inc., Raise American and Fuel Grill in Gordon, Nebraska. “Those horses that we’ll get to ride have been the highlights of my career every single time I ride one. I’m excited to make those big rides at the big show.”
He earned his way to the NFR by having an incredible regular season, which included wins at eight PRCA events. He excelled closer to home, winning Nebraska rodeos in North Platte and Gordon. Winning is nothing new to him, though; he’s done it plenty in his three years as a professional bronc buster.
“I think the key to my year is that my riding’s improved,” he said. “I changed my approach on my riding, and that led to a lot more success. It may be a boring detain, but I worked to improve my technique
“I try to constantly sharpen myself. If I have any issue, I focus on correcting that issue until I accomplish it.”
That goes back to his raising. While he was horseback every day working on the family ranch, rodeo wasn’t necessarily in his foresight. In fact, it wasn’t until his mid-teens that he figured out riding bucking horses might be something he liked.
“Our ranch is in the dead center of the Sandhills,” Shadbolt said, noting that he went to a country school through fifth grade before moving on to further his education in Merriman. “We’d get home from school every day, and the corrals were by the road, and my dad would have horses saddled for us to go do the work.
“I think growing up riding so much has made a big impact on my bareback riding. That feel for a horse is part of horsemanship. Logging hundreds of miles working horseback had a pretty big impact on my ability to pick up riding bareback horses later.”
When he wasn’t riding horses on the family’s place or handling other tasks that came his way, Shadbolt was likely in a wrestling room preparing for another sport he loved. He ran some cross country and tried his hand at golf, but he spent much of his time wrestling. In fact, he competed on the wrestling team at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska.
“I think wrestling is one of the best sports for roughstock riders, particularly bareback riders,” he said. “It develops muscles that are critical on a bareback horse. As much as wrestling helped me physically, it helped me mentally even more, as far as setting goals, training and staying out of slumps.
“I put in so much time in my mental training in college to where I don’t think a lot of things are going to bother me. You learn these little tricks on how to think about adversity and how to overcome. In eight seconds of a wrestling match, you can hit four moves; you’re making one move right after another in a flurry of action. That mental training and being ale to think on your feet can really go over in bareback riding.”
Rodeo was just an extraneous part of his life until he was in school. He’d grown up in a saddle and had competed in the sport through his youth, and his father, Quentin, had ridden bucking horses. When Garrett was 16, he was riding colts on the ranch, and one was particularly broncy – a horse that was more prone to bucking and kicking.
“I rode him, and I thought that was pretty fun,” he said. “I think the dream of the NFR solidified in my mind about the time I got to riding at some amateur rodeos and actually got to spurring the horses. When that clicks in your head, it’s an amazing feeling. A lot of guys can ride a bucking horses, but getting that timing down and that spurring action can be tough for some people to get ahold of.”
While wrestling in college, he continued to rodeo and actually worked it out with the administration of Doane College to compete in intercollegiate rodeo.
“There wasn’t a rodeo team, and I wasn’t into rodeo as much as I was into wrestling,” Shadbolt said. “During my sophomore or junior year in college, I talked to some kids that were college rodeoing and decided to give it a try.”
It was just another step in his maturation process, one that is now taking him to Las Vegas to compete for ProRodeo’s championship. He will have his folks, Quentin and Angela, as well as his wife, Katie, 22-month-old son George and, by then, a newborn baby girl. They all know how important their support has been to his success and how much it will play a role in what happens in the months and years ahead.
“My dad rode bareback horses, and my mom barrel raced a little bit,” he said, noting that he has two sisters, one of whom who is older. “Dad went to quite a few ProRodeos, but he was never that serious because when he was growing up, he had to ranch. He had to grow up a little faster than I did. Consequently, my dad wants me to go rodeo because he never got that chance.
“Family trumps rodeo any day. That’s actually one of the biggest reasons I’ve done the majority of my rodeoing by myself. If I do that, then I can come home the most. I like to stay at home. Most of my trips are out and back. I put a lot of miles on my van to do it, but it’s worth it to me.”
That’s a priority many in rodeo don’t make. Most leave their homes toward the end of June and may not make it back more than a handful of times until the season ends Sept. 30. But each person finds success in his/her own ways, and Shadbolt knows that as well as anyone.
After all, a Lone Ranger can spot the bright spots in any situation that comes his way.