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Badlands Circuit Finals determines champs, qualifiers for the NFR Open

MINOT, N.D. – The gold buckles are on their winners’ belts, the championship saddles are packed in trucks headed home, and the final rodeo of the 2023 season is over for Badlands Circuit cowboys and cowgirls.

The annual Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo was held Oct. 13-15, with two champions crowned in each event: the year end champ (the cowboy or cowgirl who has won the most money throughout the regular season, and the finals champ (the cowboy or cowgirl who won the rodeo in Minot.)

Year end and finals champs qualify to compete at the NFR Open, held in Colorado Springs, Colo., next July. With a payout of over $600,000, the NFR Open is an exclusive opportunity for circuit winners from across the nation to win money and improve in the standings.

Some of the ’23 champs are repeats, continuing their winning ways, and some are just getting a good start to their pro rodeo careers.

Bareback rider Ben Kramer, Max, N.D. won his first circuit titles, claiming both the year end and finals spots. For the finals, he scored 240.5 points on three head, only two and a half points more than the number two man, Shane O’Connell, Rapid City.

The twenty-two year old has had the best year of his rodeo career. He won first place at Badlands Circuit rodeos like Clear Lake, Brookings and Watertown, S.D., and at the big shows as well, having won money at Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days.

Kramer is a third generation bareback rider; his granddad, Jack Kramer, and his dad, Shawn Kramer, also rode. Shawn qualified for the Badlands Circuit Finals three times in the 1990s.

This was Kramer’s fourth circuit finals qualification. He is currently ranked 34th in the world standings.

Another new name topped the list for Badlands winners.

Saddle bronc rider Cash Wilson, Wall, S.D., went home with both the year-end and finals titles, having won the most money during the regular season and earning 242.5 points on three head to win the finals.

The twenty-one year old won checks in each round, tying for second in round one, winning second in round two, and taking first place in the third round.

On Friday night, in round one, he rode the Sutton horse Big E Macksteel. “I could have rode that horse a lot better,” he said. “but I came back Saturday night and made a really good ride. Today I knew I had to do my job. I had a good horse of Korkow’s named Bambino Vold, so I knew I had a good chance.”

Wilson acknowledged the history of North and South Dakota being home to excellent saddle bronc riders.

“I’ve always looked up to these guys,” he said. “There are so many good bronc riders in the Dakotas, it’s hard to name them all. There’s been a lot of great guys who have won the Badlands Circuit, and I’m just happy to add my name to the list.”

Wilson, who finished the 2023 pro rodeo season in 26th place in the world standings, is excited to be heading to the NFR Open. “It’s a great opportunity. There’s a lot of big money up for grabs there. I’m excited to compete at that.”

Steer wrestler Cameron Morman is no stranger to Badlands titles. The Glen Ullin, N.D. cowboy won his eighth and ninth gold buckles this year, having won the year-end and finals titles.

He was aboard Kenny, a seventeen-year-old sorrel who carried Morman to his 2022 wins.

The sorrel “is real quick across the line, and I feel like this arena fits his style,” he said.

Bily Bolden hazed for Morman and for several other steer wrestlers at circuit finals.

The indoor arena at the N.D. State Fair Center in Minot is also a good fit for another horse.

Breakaway roping champ Sawyer Gilbert, who won the finals with 7.7 seconds on three head, was aboard her nineteen-year-old paint horse named Roger.

“He really likes this building,” she said. “It’s indoor and a short setup, and that’s his game. The cattle were a little slower, and he does really, really good with softer cattle, the ones that stop at the end of the rope. He quarters and gets the rope broke away really fast.”

Roger also likes music, which is louder at indoor rodeos. “He likes loud music,” she said. “When we practice on him, we’ll play music, and he’ll play with the lead rope or the fence.”

Gilbert won first place in the second round and fourth place in the third round.

“I drew really good all weekend,” she said, and she was careful not to break barriers, which adds a ten second penalty and ruins any chance a breakaway roper has of winning the rodeo.

During the third performance, as she rode into the breakaway box, she heard the announcer say she had to make a three second run, or faster. “I could have tried to win the round tonight and win the year end (title), but the smart thing to do when you’re winning the average by that much is to get out of the barrier and rope your cow and that’s what I did.”

Gilbert is the 2021 WPRA World Champion breakaway roper. Brooke Howell, Belle Fourche, S.D., was the year-end winner.

In the barrel racing, two veterans claimed wins. Jessica Routier, Buffalo, S.D., won the year-end title aboard her popular palomino horse Fiery Miss West, “Missy,” and Lisa Lockhart, Oelrichs, S.D., won the finals rodeo, on her well-known gray horse, Promise Me Fame Guys, “Levee.”

Mason Moody dominated the bull riding from the start.

The Letcher, S.D. man came into circuit finals with a commanding lead, and was the only bull rider to make three qualified rides; no one else rode two bulls, and only two men covered one bull (Riggin Shippy, Colome, S.D. and TJ Schmidt, Belle Fourche, S.D.) For his efforts, Moody won both the year end and finals titles.

Other 2023 champions include tie down ropers Bodie Mattson, Sturgis, S.D. (year end) and Austin Hurlburt, Norfolk, Neb. (finals), and team ropers Jon Peterson, Belle Fourche, S.D. and Cash Hetzel, Lemmon, S.D. (year end) and Jon Peterson, Belle Fourche, S.D. and Trae Smith, Georgetown, Idaho (finals).

The Badlands All-Around of the Year title went to Bodie Mattson, Sturgis, S.D. The Badlands All-Around title was won by Austin Hurlburt, Norfolk, Neb.

Both year-end and average champions will represent the RAM Badlands Circuit at the NFR Open, formerly known as the National Circuit Finals Rodeo, to be held in Colorado Springs in July of 2024. In the event that the same person has won both titles, the second person in the year-end race qualifies for the NFR Open.

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