When the latch on the gate opens this week for the annual Buffalo Bill Rodeo, the rookies will be looking for their share of the pie with the veterans.

Several Nebraska cowboys who are in their rookie year, or the first couple years of their pro rodeo competition, are on the contestant list for the rodeo.

Rookie Garrett Shadbolt of Merriman is having a better year than he’d ever imagined.

The 23-year-old bareback rider has won $20,478 in the season, putting him in 27th place in the world standings. After a “dry spell” last winter, he pulled a check at the American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, and “I’ve been riding the best I’ve ridden in my life since then, honestly,” he said.

Ultimately, Shadbolt’s goal is to be among the top 15 bareback riders in the world who qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). But he has another goal: to win Rookie of the Year, bestowed on the cowboy in each event who has won the most money in his rookie year.

“Winning Rookie (of the Year) is a big stepping stone for a lot of guys in the PRCA,” he said. “I wanted to make a big splash when I jumped out and started going full time.”

A trio of cowboys: Shadbolt, Jesse Pope and Tristan Hansen are log jammed at the top of the rookie bareback riding standings, with only about $2,300 separating Pope, in the No. 1 spot, and Shadbolt, who is third. “Between the three of us, we have a good competition back and forth, and that will be good, to push us.”

Shadbolt has a chemistry degree from Doane College in Crete and works on the family ranch south of Merriman. His sisters are home to help ranch, which enables him to rodeo. “We have a lot of help on the ranch now, so that frees me up to go and rodeo,” he said. His dad, Quentin, used to ride bareback horses, but would have liked to rodeo more than he did.

“Dad had to work when he was young and couldn’t leave the ranch,” Shadbolt said. “He wished he could have rodeoed, so he lets me go. He does a good job of shooing me out of the house.”

Shadbolt’s mother, Angela, takes care of his travel arrangements; his wife, Katie, is a teacher at Gordon-Rushville High.

Shadbolt will compete on opening night, Wednesday, June 12.

Steer wrestler Reed Kraeger doesn’t rodeo full time, but figures he competes at about 95 rodeos a year, counting pros and regional associations.

The Elwood man has been a steer wrestler since his high school days and is now back at high school, this time as an ag teacher and FFA advisor at Elwood High.

Kraeger competed in high school rodeo and collegiately for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, earning reserve steer wrestling honors at the 2017 College National Finals and reserve average champion at the 2018 Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot, N.D.

As a teacher, he launched Elwood High’s FFA program from scratch, and in two years, has taken FFA students to a top 10 finish at state in both the natural resources and livestock judging competitions. With the help of a local family of dairy farmers, the Elwood High FFA team competed in dairy judging at the FFA National competition in October.

Kraeger, who will wrestle his first Buffalo Bill Rodeo steer on June 12 and his second on June 15, loves competing in North Platte.

“It’s such a huge western culture there,” he said. “The stands are full, and it’s the (second) biggest rodeo in the state, so it’s a pretty cool one to go to.” Kraeger is married with a daughter and a second child due in July.

For fellow steer wrestler Brody Cleveland, the North Platte arena is about as home-town as he can get.

Growing up in Keystone, he and his family attended the rodeo each year, and he competed in the arena during high school and regional events.

Cleveland, a 2015 Ogallala High School graduate and a 2019 graduate of UNL, played football for the Huskers for two years, then turned to collegiate rodeo for two years. He has never competed in the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, so he elected to make both of his runs in slack.

“I’d like to compete there once or twice before I run in the performance,” he said.

Cleveland is competing on his PRCA permit, the membership status before becoming a card holder. His dad, Paul, was a veteran rodeo competitor in steer wrestling.

Other local competitors in the rodeo include barrel racer Melissa Brouillette (North Platte), team ropers Cooper and Tucker White (Hershey); bareback rider Steven Dent and barrel racer Deb Cox, both of Mullen; steer wrestlers Jake Fulton and Gabe Taylor, and team roper Reece Weber, all of Valentine; saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer (Elsmere) and steer wrestler Jim Persinger (Ogallala), among others.

Among the 414 contestants on the list, 25 states are represented.

The rodeo begins at 8 p.m. each night. Slack, the extra competition that doesn’t fit into the performances, will be at 8 a.m. on June 12 and 13 and is free to the public.

Tickets for the rodeo can be purchased at the NebraskalandDays office, or online at NebraskalandDays.com, and at the gate.

For more information, visit the website or call the office at 308.532.7939.