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EMERSON - Twelve Hi Lo Rodeo animal athletes will soon compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and the Cinch Boyd Gaming Chute Out in Las Vegas, NV. , on Dec. 7.The WNFR will run for 10 consecutive nights and will be televised. The Chute Out is set for 2 p.m. on Dec. 7-9, with the finals and semifinals held on that Saturday. Four Hi Lo animals were voted among the top 100 in North America to participate in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in the Thomas and Mack Arena on the campus of UNLV. Two of the animals are making return trips to the event and two are new to the WNFR. Wilson Sanchez, a 7-year-old mare is making her third appearance as a bareback horse at the event. She, along with rider Jake Vold, won the prestigious WNFR fifth go round in 2016. She and Logan Corbett tied for the record highest scored ride in the PRCA for 2017. They accomplished this feat at Las Cruces, NM on September 30. Look for Wilson in the 5th and 10th go rounds. Garden City Gal, a 7-year-old mare is making her second appearance as a saddle bronc at the WNFR. She was voted the “Rank Horse” of the seventh go round at the WNFR last year. Paired with bronc rider Cody DeMoss, she scored the highest number of points given to an animal in the round even though DeMoss did not place on her. Making her first appearance at the WNFR is another 7-year-old mare, Pretty Woman. Pretty Woman is no stranger to Las Vegas. She was voted the second best horse at the 2016 Cinch Boyd Gaming Chute Out. You can watch for Pretty Woman in what is termed “The Rank Pen” or “The Eliminator Pen” at the WNFR. This means she bucks so hard that she is very difficult to ride.

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Also making his first appearance at the WNFR is a bull branded +220 and named Twenty to Life. This bull has gone unridden in PRCA action in his career. Eight Hi Lo animals were selected to participate in the Cinch Boyd Gaming Chute Out at The Orleans Arena. This is the third year that Cinch and Boyd Gaming have teamed up to present a premier event that matches cowboys ranked just out of the top 15 in the world and specially invited former world champions. The cowboys compete against stock that fell just short of qualifying for the WNFR. Larry Culpepper, a 7 year old gelding, makes his first appearance in bareback riding at the Chute Out. This is not Larry’s first trip to Las Vegas. Hi Lo purchased him there at the WNFR Bucking Stock Sale in 2015. Redzilla, a 6-year-old mare is also making her first trip to the Chute Out. She is entered in the bareback riding. Before she was purchased at the WNFR Bucking Stock Sale in 2015, she was the highest marked horse in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rookie Bronc Riding. Little Bit, a 7-year-old mare is making her first trip to the Chute Out. As her name implies, she is a smaller horse weighing around 1,000 pounds, but 500 pounds of that is heart. Her bucking action is electric. She has spent 2017 touring the country competing in bareback riding at rodeos. Making her return to The Orleans Arena is 086, Toma Jo, another bareback horse. She is a 7-year-old mare who recently competed at the Ram Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo in Davie, Florida. Toma Jo has campaigned extensively this year while also raising a foal to add to the Hi Lo herd. Billie, a 7-year-old mare is making her return to the Chute Out as a saddle bronc. This is her third trip to the event. She has been selected to participate in the final round at the Chute Out where the cowboys are competing for $10,000 for first place. Billie is coming off her win earlier this month with Joey Sonnier in the final round of the Ram Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo. Billie has competed from South Florida to Cheyenne, WY this year. Three bulls are headed to the Chute Out. Two are rookies and one is making his return trip to the arena. 411 Walls, and X80 Game Changer, are a pair of Texas bulls that were brought into the herd this year. They have toured extensively and have proven themselves to be outstanding youngsters. 90 Short Cut is returning to the Chute Out for his third time. He was the 2016 top bull of the Chute Out, winning the Big Tex Trailers award. Short Cut is the bull that the riders like to draw, turning and spinning just in front of the bucking chutes. When ridden, the score is high. He split second place in the first go round at the Cheyenne Frontier Days with Elliot Jacoby scoring 87 points. Hi Lo ProRodeo Company and Hi Lo ProRodeo, both owned by Hi Lo Rodeo Company, LLC recently had 20 animals compete at the Ram Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo in Davie, FL. Davie is a suburb of Miami. The animals competing in the Bareback Riding were: Tallulah, Branded, Toma Jo, Spanish Bit, Bon Jovi and Download. The first go round was won by Tallulah with Blade Elliot. The Saddle Broncs were: Teton Pass, First Class, Holiday, Baline Bride, Wild Side, Peanut Butter Oreo, Larry Culpepper, Black Jack and Billie. Joey Sonnier won the second and third go rounds aboard, respectively, Peanut Butter Oreo and Billie. Sonnier also placed second in the first go round on Teton Pass, missing the win by one-half of a point. The Hi Lo bulls competing in Davie were: Road Hammer, The Brow, Cross Hairs, Jac, and Little Appolo. Jeffery Ramagos split the first round win on The Brow. Hi Lo Rodeo Company runs 150 bucking horses, 50 bulls and over 60 steers on ranches in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Emerson and Magnolia. In 2017 the company contracted and subcontracted rodeos in 10 states from Florida to Nevada.

When the National Finals Rodeo begins on Dec. 7 in Las Vegas, Lisa Lockhart will be trying to become the second member of her tight-knit family to win a world championship. Less than a month ago, nephew Jess Lockwood of Volborg became the youngest competitor to win the Professional Bull Riders world title. Now his aunt will try to match his success in the same city.“Oh my gosh,” Lockhart said of watching Lockwood win the PBR gold buckle. “Words can’t even express it. We had heartfelt pride at what he accomplished. It was so amazing, words can’t describe it. There is nothing that is going to top that.“Jess hasn’t said anything about it (her winning a world title). All he said was that he was going to be at the NFR and, ‘Who do I owe for tickets?’ Those are some great expectations to live up to.”But she will try. Lockhart, of Oelrichs, South Dakota, enters her 11th consecutive NFR ninth in the world standings with $96,454 won.“Eleven years in a row,” the Circle native said. “That’s pretty unfathomable.”Lockhart ranks second all-time in the WPRA with $2.147 million won during her career. Lockhart, and her prized horse Louie, will have a lot of ground to make up chasing world standings leader Tiany Schuster of Krum, Texas. Schuster, a first-time NFR qualifier, has won $250,378, a WPRA single-season record. It is the most won by any competitor, male or female.“We’ve never approached it that way,” Lockhart said of chasing a world title. “We’ll just go and do our thing. Go out there and win some money. It’s (the world title) just not a thought of mine. But I’m not saying it can’t be done.“Point blank, from where we’re at in the standings, we’re just glad to be there.”A year ago, Lockhart and Louie set the NFR average record with a total time of 137.98 for 10 runs. The two also won the average in 2014. Lockhart has placed third, second, second, third and fifth at her last five NFRs. Louie underwent surgery after the NFR and did not return to the arena until the Fourth of July run this past summer.“Louie, he is definitely the comeback kid,” Lockhart said of the 14-year-old buckskin gelding. “So many horses would have had to stop competing. He just keeps going.”Lockhart, also using her horses Rosa and Chisum, used a sizzling run in late July and early August to climb into the top 15 of the world standings. She won nine rodeos in 2017, including five in Montana, and almost another $30,000 at the Calgary Stampede. Lockhart and Rosa also won Lawton, Oklahoma, with an arena-record time of 16.93 seconds.“We entered something almost daily,” said Lockhart, who has competed in 59 rodeos this year, up from 38 the previous year. “We were just trying to get qualified.“We’re not quite in the position where we wanted to be, but it was a business thing. No doubt, that’s part of it.”Rosa, a 7-year-old buckskin, will join Louie in Las Vegas.“Louie goes right, Rosa goes left. That’s the only way to tell them apart for some people,” Lockhart said. The mother of three also opted to pull off the road before the fall rodeo season, wanting to watch her sons Thane and Cade play high school football. She planned to race Louie at rodeos in Brookings, South Dakota, and Casper, Wyoming, as tune-ups, but they conflicted with the PBR World Finals.“No way were we going to miss that,” Lockhart said. “Everything is good.“At the Finals, we’ll try and go win first every day. Who is to say it can’t happen? The goal is to win as much money as you can. You tally it up and it tells you where you stand.”And cashing checks from the Thomas and Mack Center is something she has done well. Lockhart has earned more than $945,000 at the NFR. She has placed in 66 rounds, winning 13. Lockhart is one of two NFR veterans competing. Two-time world champion Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi is also making her 11th NFR appearance but first since 2013. Schuster is one of six first-time qualifiers who will run under the bright lights.“Lot of new faces,” Lockhart said. “When you’ve been there that long, it gives you some perspective. You don’t take it for granted.”That hit home when Lockhart recently showed a friend her 10 rings from qualifying for the NFR. “I had them all lined up. Holy cow! That’s a lot of rings there,” she said.“It doesn’t get old, having success. The driving, that gets old.”

When the National Finals Rodeo unfolds in Las Vegas in two weeks, several Montana cowboys will be riding and roping for riches. And an award-winning Montana horse will be providing big bucks, all right.“Virgil,” a bareback horse owned by Bar C5 Rodeo Company that grew up near East Glacier on the John McNeely ranch, recently was voted PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year. The big grey gelding is the two-time reigning Bareback Horse of the Year in the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. The professional cowboys vote for the honors. That makes horse owners like McNeely proud.“Still part of my family, yep,” said McNeely. “He’s 13 years old now. A big grey horse that weighs probably 15 or 16 hundred pounds.”Virgil was born, bred and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation by McNeely.“I sold him as a 2-year-old to Maury Tate at a bucking horse sale, and Maury sold him to Vern McDonald up there in Lac La Biche, Alberta,” McNeely said. McNeely is a fan of the film “Tombstone,” which recalls the story of the OK Corral. He named Virgil after one of the Earp brothers. And there’s more.Yep,” he laughed. “I’ve got one now named ‘Wyatt Earp.’ And I’ve got a mare I call ‘Big Nose Kate.’ “Kate, of course, was the longtime companion of Doc Holliday. McNeely, 53, graduated from Browning High in 1982 and has lived his entire life near East Glacier on the Blackfeet Reservation. He said the business of raising bucking horses is not a sure bet.

“It’s kind of like a gamble,” he said. “You breed an athlete to an athlete and try to get a good one.”McNeely has never been aboard Virgil. Which is probably a good thing.“Yep,” he laughed. When McNeely watches his bareback horses in action, you understand, he’s not rooting for the cowboy.“That’s right,” he said. “Either rooting for them to get bucked off or win it.”He said there are several colts he’s got high hopes for. McNeely was asked if it’s a good living.“Kinda depends,” he said. “It’s hit and miss, like you’re playing the lotto. One horse maybe brings 200 bucks and another might bring 60 to 70,000.”

McNeely has about 60 or 70 bucking horses now. He recently sold a 2-year-old to Henry Real Bird that’s bucking at the United Bucking Horse Association Finals, which is the same time as the NFR and is also in Las Vegas. McNeely said bucking horses are in his blood.“I’ve broke a lotta horses,” he said. “I’ve been around horses all my life and just decided to breed some bucking horses. It’s an adrenaline rush to watch them buck and sure makes a guy proud to have one go this far in the world.”

McNeely still has sisters and a half-brother to Virgil. The sire, named “Big John,” was sold to Sammy Andrews of Texas and also eventually was purchased by McDonald.“He was used in the Calgary Stampede and got a colt out of him in the Binion Sale in Vegas during the NFR,” McNeely said. Benny Binion’s World Famous Bucking Horse Sale and Bull Sale at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas is Dec. 7-8. Jake Vold was 90.75 points on Virgil at Ponoka, Alberta, in July at the Ponoko Stampede. That was the fourth-highest bareback score of 2017. Virgil bucked Vold off just the other day at the Canadian Finals Rodeo. Austin Foss scored 88 on Virgil to win at Lynden, Wash., in August.“He’s a horse that bucks every time,” Foss told the PRCA. “If a guy is doing his job you’re going to win on him every time. That combo makes him obviously the riders’ choice.”He’s a horse that bucks every time,” Foss told the PRCA. “If a guy is doing his job you’re going to win on him every time. That combo makes him obviously the riders’ choice.”When McNeely was young, he yearned to ride bucking horses. In high school he gave it a good try. And how did it go?“I went to raising ‘em instead of trying to ride ‘em,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a little easier.”The National Finals Rodeo is scheduled for Dec. 7-16 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The Montana contingent includes Ty Erickson of Helena (steer wrestling), Dustin Bird of Cut Bank and Clay Tryan of Billings (team roping), Wolf Point native Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D. (barrel racing), and JR Vezain of Wyoming (bareback), whose father is from Great Falls and whose grandparents still live in central Montana.