Last December, Cole Elshere was searching for answers.

He was at the National Finals Rodeo for the fourth time in his career, and he was excited to be there. Once there – at the NFR’s one-time home at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas – things did not go his way. He rode just one of the 10 horses he mounted, but he failed to collect a paycheck through the week and a half of Professional Rodeo’s Super Bowl.

He watched replays of his ride, watching from every angle, deciphered every move he had made in err. Embarrassed and frustrated on the sport’s biggest stage turned him sour to the performance. Still, he showed up each day with his trademark smile, a heart filled with prayed and aspirations for great success at the biggest payday of the year. The success didn't come.

Ryder Wright, a fellow bronc buster, earned just shy of $250,000 over the 10 nights in north Texas — highlighting the monetary opportunities present. Elshere, the 31-year-old bronc buster from the tiny hamlet of Faith, South Dakota couldn't understand why his physical performance couldn't match his mental fortitude, experience and talent.

The answer would come two months ago.

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Elshere's doctors revealed that a bulging disc in Elshere’s neck, which pinched a nerve and didn’t allow for the cowboy to grip his bronc rein properly, was the culprit of his problems. Knowing that age had not yet caught up to the cowboy, and knowing that he still had a few rodeos left to garner additional accolades, only one option remained for him to cash in.

“I had to get an injection in the bulged disc so it would take the pressure off my nerve so I would quit having pinched nerves,” he said. “It was making my hand so I couldn’t squeeze.”

Cervical epidural steroid injections are anything but a final solution, but a dysfunction in the cervical spine leads to pain that radiates through the shoulders and down the arm. A cervical epidural steroid injection may not be a long term solution, but it does help provide short-term relief.

Since the injection in July, Elshere has begun physical therapy aimed at helping loosen the muscles in his neck — which also had become a deterrent to his riding style.

According to Elshere, It’s paying off and he proved it Thursday night by riding Pete Carr's Pro Rodeo beast of a bronc, Mid Knight Train, for 85 points to win the bronc riding title at the Badlands Iron Cowboy Rodeo at the Killdeer Rodeo Grounds.

As one of 29 bronc riders in the competition, Elshere said it was a nice trip to North Dakota to ride a Texas bucking horse.

“They were saying that horse was going to be really nice, but when he came out there you could tell he was going to be a little bit more than just nice,” Elshere said. “He had a lot of fire to him, and he was bucking so hard and making me hustle just to make a bronc ride and stay on. Whenever you’re having to fight to make it work, you know the judge are going to mark a bunch of points.”

While not the financial windfall of the National Finals Rodeo, his ride garnered the South Dakota cowboy $2,019 and pushed him up a spot in the Badlands Circuit standings — one rung closer to a return to the big show.

In fact, the event’s producer, Alicia Fettig of Fettig Pro Rodeo, enlisted the assistance of Carr and Alberta-based Macza Pro Rodeo to help make for tremendous bucking power in Killdeer on Thursday.

“She wants the best for the cowboys,” Elshere said of Fettig. “To make it an even pen with that many bronc riders per night, she brought in more contractors to make us all have a chance at winning."

Elshere added, “That’s what good contractors do.”

EVENT RECAP

Bareback riding: 1. Zachariah Phillips, 86 points on Fettig Pro Rodeo’s Ninety Proof, $1,823; 2. Tanner Aus, 83, $1,382; 3. Anthony Thomas, 80, $995; 4. Clay Jorgenson, 79, $663; 5. (tie) Andy Gingerich and Nate McFadden 74, $332 each.

Breakaway roping: 1. Joey Williams, 1.9 seconds, $2,024; 2. (tie) Taylor Engesser and Rickie Engeser, 2.0, $1,628 each; 4. (tie) Kasie Kautzman and Syerra C.Y. Christensen, 2.2, $1,100 each; 6. Kirby Eppert, Sarah Morissey, Tanegai Ziverberg, Jessica Maglike and Jennifer Belkham, 2.3, $264 each.

Steer wrestling: 1. Jason Reiss, 3.5 seconds, $1,472; 2. Caden Camp, 3.9, $1,218; 3. (tie) Landon Richard Silversten and Colten Herbert, 4.3, $838 each; 5. Kyle Callaway, 4.4, $457; 6. Bryn Roy, 4.6, $254.

Team roping: 1. Brady Tryan/Justin Viles, 5.0 seconds, $1,751; 2. Reece Weber/Matt Kasner, 6.1, $1,523; 3. Clint Gorrell/Cody Smith, 6.7, $1,294; 4. Jade Schmidt/Jade Nelson, 6.9, $1,066; 5. Tucker Dale/Jesse Fredrickson, 7.7, $838; 6. Nate Norner/Wyatt Maglike, 7.9, $609; 7. Peter John Bennett/Brandt Ross, $381; 8. (tie) Jared Odens/J.D. Gerard and Brent McInerney/Tanner McInerney, 8.9, $76 each.

Saddle bronc riding: 1. Cole Elshere, 85 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Mid Knight Train, $2,019; 2. Taygen Schuelke, 82.5, $1,548; 3. (tie) Brody Wells and Jade Blackwell, 79.5, $942 each; 5. Lane Schuelke, 79, $471; 6. Dusty Hausauer, 76, $337; 7. (tie) Brand Jackson Morgan and Houston Garrett Brown, 75, $236.

Tie-down roping: 1. Chase Lako, 8.0 seconds, $1,533; 2. (tie) trey Young and Rance Marshall Johnson, 8.2, $1,137; 4. Thanne Lockhart, 8.7, $740; 5. Joe Schmidt, 9.8, $4,76; 6. Clint Kindred, 10.0, $264.

Barrel racing: 1. Kailee Webb, 17.43 seconds, $1,076; 2. Heather Crowley, 17.46, $922; 3. Kristen Zancanella, 17.52, $768; 4. Ashley Day, 17.57, $666; 5. (tie) Terri Kaye Kirkland and Lakken Bice, 17.58, $461 each; 7. (tie) Lexi Bagnell and Allison Pauley, 17.68, $265 each; 9. Erin Williams, 17.77, $154; 10. (tie) Lindsay Kruse and Jenna Humble, 17.81, $51 each.

Bull riding: 1. Dylan Rice, 86 points on Fettig Pro Rodeo’s Air Tight Alibi, $1,974; 2. Levi Walter Schoenbaum, 85, $1,513; 3. Casey Fredricks, 82.5, $1,119; 4. Dalton Wright, $724; 5. Boudreaux Campbell, 81.5, $461; 6. Corey Maier, 81, $329; 7. Jeff Bertus, 79, $263; 8. Riggin Shippy, 75, $197.