RODEO: Shadbolt wrestling with high expectations

Less than five years ago, Garrett Shadbolt’s primary focus revolved around working in the lab or on a wrestling mat and not as much inside a rodeo arena.

He was completing his chemistry degree at Doane College in his home state of Nebraska while also competing on the school’s wrestling team.

As his college career was coming to a close, that’s when things began to change for the bareback rider.

“I was really starting to take off in rodeo and ended up second at the collegiate finals my senior year,” Shadbolt said following his performance at the West of the Pecos Rodeo Wednesday at Bucks Jackson Arena.

“It started me on that path and honestly, those four years of wrestling made me who I am today with rodeo.

2019 was the first year as a pro for the Merriman, Neb. cowboy and it proved to be a sign of things to come.

Garrett Shadbolt of Merriman, NE competes in the Bareback Riding event during the 2021 West of the Pecos Rodeo at the Buck Jackson Arena Wednesday evening in Pecos, Texas. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

He earned PRCA Rookie of the Year honors in bareback riding after finishing in the Top 24 in the world and earning more than $54,000.

Shadbolt followed up by finishing No. 21 in 2020 in a year where schedules were uneven because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2021 is setting up as a breakout year for the 25-year-old.

Prior to his performance in West Texas, Shadbolt had moved to No. 6 in the world, having already surpassed more than $43,000 in earnings as the busiest part of the season was getting underway.

He has won three rodeos this season, most recently at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte, Neb.

“I’ve drawn a lot of good bucking horses in a row and it kind of helps build momentum,” Shadbolt said. “I think a lot of it just has to do with experience.

“This is my third year riding professionally and I had a pretty tough time getting in and rode about a third of the rodeos I did in 19. This year, I’ve just been getting the ball rolling and sharpened up.”

The positive momentum kept going during Wednesday’s effort.

Shadbolt finished as the top performer after the first night of the rodeo with an 86.5-point performance riding Sweet Kiss.

The West of the Pecos Rodeo marks the beginning of a busy stretch for Shadbolt that runs through the Fourth of July. It was his second time competing in Pecos after finishing tied for fourth with Paden Hurst in 2019.

Getting a chance to compete at the home of the first rodeo is something that he cherishes even more so this year.

“It really lets me know that rodeo is back in full swing,” Shadbolt said. “This is a stop on the way to the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) and everyone knows that going to Pecos is one of the big stops.”

A rodeo director releases the flank strap as Bareback competitor Garrett Shadbolt of Merriman, NE begins his ride at the 2021 West of the Pecos Rodeo at the Buck Jackson Arena Wednesday evening in Pecos, Texas. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

The top 15 from each category earn a spot at the NFR, which returns to its normal home of Las Vegas in 2021 after being held at Globe Life Field in Arlington in 2020.

Shadbolt was honored in Las Vegas in 2019 after earning Rookie of the Year honors.

The goal now is to get a chance to compete rather than just be a spectator.

“It would mean a lot,” Shadbolt said. “I’ve got a lot of support from back home and I’ve got so many people wanting to go. I think I’m riding at the caliber that I’m going to be able to compete with some of the other top guys.

“I don’t want to just show up and I think I’m at the level where I can compete at those top spots. We’re going to find out because I’m entered in about 10 rodeos from here to the end of July so we’re going to find out a lot.”