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South Dakotans Qualify For National Finals Rodeo



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For the the past 27 years, Las Vegas has gone country for 10 days in December as the city  hosts  the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) where world championships are decided.

This year’s rodeo is Dec. 6 – 15th and will feature 10 nights of the best contestants from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. Up for grabs is over $6 million in prize money and world championships in bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, women’s barrel racing and bull riding.

South Dakota will be well represented with six qualifiers for this year’s WNFR. There are two qualifiers in saddle bronc riding, Chad Ferley, from Oelrichs who won the world championship in 2006 and Cole Elshere, from Faith who has qualified for the first time. Ferley is making his sixth appearance at the WNFR and will enter the rodeo in sixth place with $76,366. Elshere is in 13th with $65,837.
Todd Suhn, from Hermosa, has qualified for the 16th time in ninth place with $66,136.  This year’s qualification ties him with Byron Walker for the second most WNFR qualifications in steer wrestling. Roy Duvall is first with 24.

Representing the barrel racers will be Lisa Lockhart from Oelrichs and Nikki Steffes from Vale. Lockhart has qualified for the sixth consecutive time. She will start the rodeo in ninth place with $72,462. This is Steffes first qualification. She started the year with a big win at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo and over $10,000 last February. Steffes had an outstanding college career while attending the University of Wyoming where she won the women’s national all-around title twice. She will be attending dental school in the future but has put that on hold to take advantage of having an outstanding horse, Dash Ta Vanilla, that she calls “Nilla.” They are in sixth place in the regular season standings with $86,722.
 Making his second appearance in the bull riding will be Timber Lake’s Ardie Maier. Maier qualified in 2010, but injuries kept him from making the trip in 2011. This year he is in sixth place in the world standings with $90,191.

To compete at the WNFR contestants had to be among the top 15 in the world standings. They traveled across the United States paying their own entry fees and expenses hoping to earn enough money to be among the elite athletes that advance to rodeo’s championship event. The WNFR has seen continued growth in prize money and fan support since it moved to Las Vegas. Each contestant will compete in 10 individual rounds which will pay the winner $18,257.  On Dec. 15th their total scores and times will be added together for average placings. First place in that category will win $46,820 and a saddle as the WNFR champion.

World championships are determined by adding a contestant’s WNFR and regular season earnings together. Those champions have the esteemed honor of wearing the traditional gold buckle that signifies they are the world’s best in the sport of rodeo.
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