Shelby Lukehart

Riding on the big stage for the first time was a little overwhelming for Shelby Lukehart. Thursday at the Junior World Finals the 13-year-old eighth grader from Sand Hollow, Idaho, climbed aboard Shidly, a big bay mare.

One of the final competitors to ride in the first section of the Senior Saddle Bronc division, Lukehart walked around behind the Wrangler Rodeo Arena chutes at the Las Vegas Convention Center while listening to announcers Steve Goedert and Andy Seiler describe the action.

Lukehart’s nerves started to get the best of her.

“I was just sitting here behind the bucking chutes and I thought I was going to puke I was so nervous,” she said. “When I got my (Junior World Finals) jacket, I thought, ‘Wow! This is really real!’ I almost started bawling because I had made it.”

As her horse was loaded into the bucking chute, Lukehart put on her riding vest, pulled a black helmet over her long blond hair and climbed onto the riser behind the chutes. Her nerves went to another level.

“I told myself, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this,’” Lukehart said. “But then I turned to my mom right before I went and gave her a big hug and told her, ‘I love you.’ And then I got on my horse.

She settled onto Shidly’s back, set her feet, grabbed the rein with her right hand and tried to calm her nerves as a CT Rodeo contractor and four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Cody DeMers, who helps in the arena and serves as a mentor to the Junior World Finals roughstock competitors, offered advice.

Image“The contractor told me, ‘This horse is going to fire, but you’re going to go with him. Stay with him and drive him to the front,’” Lukehart said. “And Cody said, ‘You’ve got this. Just nod your head and go.’

“After that I was like, ‘Let’s just go out there and have fun.’ I made it here, why give it up? So I nodded my head and said, ‘Let’s go, boys! Let ‘er buck in the big time!’”

Unfortunately, Lukehart’s ride didn’t last long. Shidly burst out of the chutes and Lukehart’s first ride in Vegas ended with her on the Wrangler Rodeo Arena dirt.

Thirty minutes later, though, Lukehart was no longer nervous. She had already broken down the ride in her mind and knew exactly what had gone wrong, outside of not controlling her nerves.

“My rein was too short and she jumped out and went out from underneath me,” Lukehart explained. “And I went to fire but I was too late. With my rein being too short, when she put her head down that pulled my arm all the way extended. I did check myself up, but I was out there too much.”

The ability to break down a ride within minutes of its completion is something that bronc riders need to be able to do in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. It’s something that comes with experience.

So, how long has Lukehart been riding saddle broncs?

“I started about five months ago,” Lukehart said matter-of-factly. “Before that I had been riding ranch broncs for two or three years.

“With ranch broncs you’re holding the rein with two hands and you just stick it to ‘em and keep your feet in the cinch. But with saddle bronc you’re stretched out and your feet are in the front. And you’ve got to spur broncs.”

Lukehart qualified for the Junior World Finals on Oct. 7 in Ogden, Utah. Ever since then she’s been riding on a bucking machine when possible and getting on broncs. She also competes in barrel racing and goat tying, but admits that saddle bronc riding “is more of an adrenaline rush.”

Her mother, Jenni Lukehart, never wavered in her support of Shelby deciding to compete in the roughstock event.

“I pushed her for it,” Jenni said. “My dad and my grandpa both rode bareback and saddle bronc. I never did because I was always working ranches and we always rode ranky horses. But I never had any doubt, she’s a tough kid.”

Shelby is also stubborn, which is a good trait for a bronc rider.

“One time I got a concussion and I told Hilary at Blue Music Ranch, ‘I want that horse again,’” Shelby said. “I got on that horse and he turned back and threw me off and then stepped on me and peeled out on my leg. Now I know: Don’t ask for a horse.

“But I’ll get on anything I can to make me more confident in my riding.”

Shelby is already looking ahead to Saturday, when she’ll have her second ride. After going what she went through Thursday she doesn’t expect nerves to be an issue this time around.

“I just have to remember that I got here and this is what I love,” she said. “Just ride rank and make bank.”

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