Photography: James Phifer/
Photography: James Phifer/

The young bronc rider is setting the stage for a successful career in the arena.

The rodeo at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, is as full of history and legend as it is fast horses and 8-second thrills. Touted as the first indoor rodeo, the event began in the Stockyards in 1918 and moved to the site of the Will Rogers Coliseum in 1944.

To this day, a traditional grand entry still kicks off each performance of the PRCA event, which is held twice daily for 16 days. There’s a live house band that sets the tone and takes you back in time.

It’s a rodeo where you feel at once caught up in the present-day action and transported back, as if you might actually see rodeo legends like Tad Lucas, Jim Shoulders, and Casey Tibbs.

This year, while you won’t see Casey Tibbs, you will see legends in the making. And if you were at the rodeo this past Sunday, you’d have seen Cole Elshere, the young-yet-accomplished saddle bronc rider who portrays Tibbs in an upcoming documentary film on the cowboy’s life.

At 26 years old, Elshere is already well-known for his bronc riding successes, which include three qualifications to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from 2012 – 14. Knee surgery in early 2015 sidelined him for much of the season and cost him his fourth trip to the NFR.

But this season, things are a little different for the bronc rider. He’s not only riding horses for 8 seconds, he’s making a run for the gold in the bull riding, too. “I grew up on a ranch in South Dakota, and as a young kid starting out in rodeo you can first [get] on sheep, then move up to steers and eventually bulls,” Elshere explains, adding that you can’t get on bucking broncs until high school. “So most of the rough stock kids grow up riding bulls, and then they end up riding broncs or barebacks as well,” he says.

That’s why it’s not exactly a new thing for Elshere to get on the back of a bucking bovine, but last season was his first calculated attempt at competing in both events professionally.

This season, he’s amping it up even more. Sunday in Fort Worth, Elshere rode at the two rodeo performances and got on bulls and horses each time.

It’s perhaps safe to say that saddle bronc riding is Elshere’s first love.

“Bronc riding is a learning process, and it was so much fun just trying to figure out the finesse of it, so I just really put a lot of effort into that,” Elshere says of focusing on broncs after his first year of college and into his early professional career.

Now, though, his new tactic comes with an added mental boost.

“It’s good because you get done with one, and whether it went well or poor you’ve got another shot. You just try to train your focus to switch to the other event and then go prepare for that,” he says. “I have to hustle a little bit because there’s not a whole lot of time in between, but it’s good for me and keeps my mind off of things.”

That mental toughness is one of the biggest assets to success at the professional rodeo level, Elshere explains. “The mental part is what you have to focus on the most, because it can either boost you or drag you down.”

The rodeo road is certainly a marathon, not a sprint.

“We go to 100 rodeos, and some of them like this one, you could be there for three days,” Elshere says. “We get on approximately 150 bucking horses a year. If I’m going to do both events I could be getting on 300 head easily. Just trying to save your body and prepare it to take the beating it will, and compete well at the same time is one of the challenges.”

If there are challenges, there are also plenty of rewards for Elshere.

“I love the feeling of competing and trying to win. That’s what drives me to do this,” Elshere says.

The bigger picture is not lost on him either. Another thing that motivates him: “Being able to [represent] South Dakota and show all the kids from home that they can go out into the world and ride well and compete at the top level.”

And Fort Worth is the perfect place to get that goal started each season, Elshere says. “Fort Worth is one of the first big rodeos we go to for the whole season, so doing well here really sets the pace and can put you on the leader board.”

Rodeo fans can get just as energized as the athletes, Elshere assures. “This rodeo is one of the oldest rodeos, and in the old Coliseum where a lot of history has been made. It’s fun to see the atmosphere and the sport at its finest.”

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo continues through February 6.

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