By: Shawn O’Brate

THERMOPOLIS – Over the weekend the Hot Springs County Fairgrounds hosted their third straight Junior Bull Riding Championships with boys (and girls) ages 10–18 gripping the bull rope and testing their strength and skill against other younger riders from around Wyoming, specifically Fremont County.

The event was part of the Rocky Mountain Region Junior World Finals Championships schedule and was one of the final events for juniors to earn points that could boost them into the national finals in Las Vegas or the International Miniature Bull Riders Association (IMBA) Finals in Reno.

Not only was this a great opportunity for the youngin’s to gain some experience on the back of the bulls and earn more points for their collective total throughout the season, but it was also a great chance for these kids to earn their own money including through the jackpot opportunities on the final day of the weekend, with kids like Busby, Montana’s Bre’zhon Spang winning a couple hundred dollars for staying on the full eight seconds. 

Spang was not the only one that had a fun and successful weekend though. There was also announcer-slash-producer, Shanna Firnekas, who helped put together the event in Thermopolis all three years and has announced them in their entirety at the Hot Springs County Fairgrounds.

After a decade of putting together bull riding events Firnekas has knowledge about most of the competitors and almost all of the children who were participating in Thermopolis over the weekend, which made each ride not just a thrill-ride for eight seconds but also an informational journey into the rider’s life before and after the gates opened.

“It’s really cool to watch them all grow up and compete,” Firnekas said after the end of Sunday’s events, “That’s why I like announcing, because I know their history, I know who they are. For me it gives the crowd a little bit more of a personal touch to know where these kids have been, what they do, that’s why I do what I do.”

Some of those kids come from around Montana, and even California, but on Saturday and Sunday there were four Fremont County names on the board in the competitions. Spread out amongst three divisions–ages 10-11, 12-13, and 16-18–the county was well represented in Thermopolis throughout the day. Cannon Muellner, Kolten Boneberger, Levi Vold and Brandon Rios were all on the docket for the weekend, ready to represent the Fremont County community.

As previously mentioned, the kids were riding for more points to help them qualify for Junior World Finals and IMBA Finals, but they were also there to grow their skills to help them in the future rodeos and to have fun doing something they like. 

When receiving his money at the end of Sunday young Ryder Griffith, who participated in the 10-11 year old division, learned of his placement in his age range and was giddy with excitement. 

“It was a fun time, I can’t believe I have that many points,” Griffith said before exiting the fairgrounds to head back to Glendive, Montana.

Griffith wasn’t the only one who had to go through a long ride home after Sunday’s events, Firnekas also had to head back to Gillette in the blazing heat that came with the weekend. But, for Firnekas, Thermopolis is never a dull place to be:

“I love it here [in Thermopolis],” Firnekas said, “Everyone is so warm and so friendly.”

The people of Thermopolis were not only friendly to the people and riders that arrived, but they were also friendly to the singular bull that got loose on Saturday and trotted into town after devouring some of the local school’s front yard and even traveling through the weekly farmer’s market.

The escaped bull ran towards the small town of Thermopolis, eating some of the school’s front yard and disrupting the farmer’s market before being wrangled back to the stadium (photo credit: Abby Belus / Thermopolis Independent Record)

Nobody was injured from the bull and it was safely wrangled and brought back to the fairgrounds before heightening the security and putting men on horses around the arena for the remainder of the weekend. 

Other than that moment the Junior Bull Riding Championship weekend went off without a hitch and provided new ideas to improve the event for next year.

Cannon Muellner out of Shoshoni rode “Hollywood” the bull out of the chute in the 10-11 year old bracket of this year’s Junior Bull Riding Championships in Thermopolis

“Next year we’re going to change it up and we’re going to have an evening performance and then a morning performance the next morning,” Firnekas said, “It’ll be nice with this type of heat here too.”

That heat she referred to was immense and without cloud coverage for much of the weekend, which always causes concern, but the kids and Firnekas weren’t affected too much by that when it was all said and done.

“These guys, they’re used to riding in the heat, the bulls are used to going in the heat, they deal with it and they work with it well,” Firnekas added.

Congratulations to all the kids who participated, and a special congratulations to those that qualified for bigger and better tournaments in the future. Hopefully next year will be even bigger at the Hot Springs County Fairgrounds!