While the thousands in attendance at Cheyenne Frontier Days Park stared at the cowgirl on horseback holding the American flag during the National Anthem, Cole Reiner rocked on his feet and stared at his opponent. And as the bombs burst in the air, the Kaycee native settled into his zone at Chute 5.
This was his first appearance at the Daddy Of ‘Em All. He came in free of expectations. He simply wanted to get his name out in the open. And yet, on the final day of the 123rd edition of the World’s Largest Rodeo, the bareback rider cinched his rig to Korkow Rodeo’s Feather Fluffer with a chance at immortality. Just get your mark out, he thought.
“This is my first time here and it was exciting just to be here for the first round,” Reiner said. “To come back for the short round on Sunday and ride against these guys on these great horses is awesome. There’s nothing like it that I’ve been to yet. This is the biggest stage of rodeo I’ve been at so far. It’s really cool.”
That final ride didn’t go as well as he hoped. Just over halfway through his ride Reiner dropped his left hand and momentarily lost composure.
He regrouped and finished the ride to earn a 77.5, good enough for an 11th-place finish among some of the world’s best riders.
“I flanked on that arm a little bit and I knew I missed ‘er up,” he admitted. “But I was trying to get back to where I was. I kind of finished her a little better — I kind of bobbled her in the middle but finishing every ride strong is important and that’s what I was trying to do.”
While disappointing, that ride didn’t detract from the surreal experience. He held little vision for how his week would go before either of his 82-point rides in the quarterfinals and semifinals. He certainly didn’t foresee himself double-tapping his heavily-wrapped right arm before buttoning his white Wrangler shirt under his cream-colored vest and stepping to the chutes for a Sunday afternoon ride.
He didn’t want that moment just before his ride to overcome him. He didn’t look back at the thousands surrounding him. He barely acknowledged fellow rider Garrett Shadbolt’s hyped fist bump before both of their rides. Reiner never looked back at the crowd behind him.
“I’m just slowing down my breathing a bunch and just worried about marking her out,” he explained. “I don’t worry about anything else, just marking her out. Everything is kind of a reaction, but that’s the one thing you’ve got to do yourself.”
After watching five riders tally successful rides it was the former Casper College Thunderbird to dig in. He was told that Feather Fluffer was bad in the chutes and the young bronc was most certainly that. She continuously laid down in the chutes. So Reiner and the swarm of working hands moved her around. Shadbolt rode out while Reiner and Feather Fluffer moved into Chute 6. None of that bothered the Kaycee native. He was already in the zone.
In an effort to energize the crowd within the first 20 minutes of the short go, rodeo announcer Andy Stewart asked the Cheyenne crowd if it wanted to see a Wyoming boy win. The crowd answered with an applause that Reiner didn’t hear.
Even on that stage, at rodeo’s spotlight event, Reiner was simply bronc riding. He was riding just like he always did growing up in Kaycee, a general store away from the town’s statue in memory of its most famous bareback rider — Chris LeDoux. It didn’t matter how far away from his Powder River home he was. And there’s nothing quite like bronc riding.
“When that horse is under you, jumping in the air,” Reiner visualized, “you’re kind of waiting for her to do it and the first time she does it, it just feels so cool and you just go after that. You get in a rhythm after that. You try to stay with her and beat her to the ground.”
He considered himself lucky that the rest of his summer consists of that feeling. He thought his schedule was busy before, but as of Frontier Days he had just two scheduled days off for August. That’s all in effort to heighten his standing in the last year of his permit. With any luck, next season he’ll be back for a second championship go at Frontier Days. The thought excited him even with 365 days between. And maybe, he smiled, next year will be a little better.