Championship roads lead to Helmville
By JOE KUSEK
September 3, 2020
This is it.
In a season filled with twists and turns and stops and starts, the final road to year-end championships lead to Helmville.
With the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of the Northern Rodeo Association and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association Finals, year-end titles will be determined by the regular season standings.
And the regular season concludes with Sunday and Labor Day performances in the small, unincorporated community in western Montana.
Of 11 individual year-end championships to be awarded, 10 could mathematically be decided at the final NRA/NWRA event of 2020.
“I’m looking forward to Helmville,” said Browning saddle bronc rider Alan Gobert. “I’m pretty excited.”
Gobert is one of 11 competitors trying to maintain their standings lead during the final weekend of competition.
The friendly 24-year-old cowboy is riding a tsunami of momentum, having won saddle bronc titles at the last three NRA/NWRA rodeos: Darby, Wibaux and Deer Lodge. Gobert traveled almost 2,000 miles and won 70 percent of his season earnings during his three-week hot streak.
“I’m just drawing well and doing what I can do on the horse,” said Gobert, who also shared first place at Opheim earlier in the season. “The majority of it is I’m just drawing right.”
Gobert takes a lead of $282 over former NRA champion Andrew Evjene of Two Dot. Evjene, the 2018 champion, will also be riding in Helmville.
Gobert’s late-season win streak includes a stellar 87-point ride at Darby aboard Iceberg, owned by the Red Eye Rodeo Company. Red Eye Rodeo will also be providing the stock in the season finale.
“That was my best ride of the year,” said Gobert, who was the saddle bronc Montana state high school champion in 2014. “Iceberg was just outstanding. She just starts floating, taking you straight down the arena.”
Gobert began riding bucking horses as a freshman in high school. “I just like riding broncs,” he said.
This is his first year competing in the NRA.
“My buddies all told me good things about the NRA,” said Gobert. “That it’s got great stock … it just has the horses you want to ride.”
During the week, he takes care of his grandfather’s farm 10 miles north of Browning and helps around the family homestead in the Two Medicine area.
“It gets a little hectic,” Gobert said. “Weekends is when I ride.”
He also tied for second at Malta and was fourth at Big Timber. Gobert knows he needs another solid ride to keep ahead of the saddle bronc field where $1,015 separates the top four in the standings.
“It’s nice being in first, but I ride better when I’m in second,” Gobert joked. “Everything is clicking for me. I feel healthy and ready to go.
“It’s kind of surreal that it’s almost ever.”
Down to the wire
The closet standings race is among team roping headers where Garrett Duncan of Belgrade has a lead of just $28 over Shawn Bessette of Great Falls. Bessette is a three-time (2011, 2014-15) team roping heading champion.
Only $133 separates the top three in the team roping heading standings and $711 the top five.
The most dramatic battle to the finish has emerged in the all-around cowgirl standings.
Alicia Stockton of Cut Bank used a barrel racing win at Deer Lodge to pull within $48 of Kalispell’s Tammy Jo Carpenter. Both are entered in both barrel racing and breakaway roping at Helmville. Bella Fossum of Billings trail Carpenter by just $163.
Carpenter has won four of the last six all-around cowgirl titles.
Other events that could be decided at the last performance include: steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping heelers, barrel racing, bull riding and all-around cowboy.
All-around cowboy standings leader Ben Ayre has entered steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping in Helmville. He ropes with his father Bill, a former team roping champion.