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Wins at the Ellensburg Rodeo create confidence for a cowboy or cowgirl. People have this rodeo circled on the calendar, they know to enter it because the paydays are so lucrative. But beyond the money, countless arena athletes mention Ellensburg’s fan base, its culture and its energy as the reasoning behind it being a favorite rodeo each year.

“Ellensburg and the Northwest, there are so many people at the rodeos here,” Jordon Briggs said after she won barrel racing’s second round on Sunday. “It has just been such a rush of excitement and so many people are excited to come watch us. The rush in the alleyway, the buildup of watching the other girls is why I do this.”

Harnessing that energy and taking advantage of the opportunity is just as important. Ask bull rider Matt Palmer.

“I’ve been to a lot of the major short rounds, I just haven’t capitalized on them,” he said. “This is the first one actually that I’ve rode in the short round and then I end up winning it. It’s a major blessing for me. I’m at a loss for words. To be here for one, and to get my first bull rode, make the short round and then end up catching the win it’s something that’s just special.”

Some might be just thrilled to be here and while Leighton Berry is happy to be in Ellensburg, happiness doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. The bareback rider Berry won the first round, placed in the short round and finished second in the average for more than $7,400, but it’s a far cry from where he was in early January.

“I’ve been out since January, I had a horse accident in Odessa, Texas, where I had a back injury and had to have my spine fused back together,” he said, rather nonchalantly. “So, I came back late in the season in August in Dodge City (Kansas) and I’m literally at the one-month mark of rodeoing and so far I’m feeling better than I ever have. I’m strong and healthy. The chance at the NFR is still alive, but I’m not worried about that right now I’m just focused on today.”

It’s still within reach. Berry was 33rd in the world with $24,200 made in one month of rodeoing, some $25,000 out of the top 15 to make the National Finals Rodeo. A few more paydays like Ellensburg and he’ll be a factor. But he made himself a factor within 24 hours of his back surgery.

“I checked out of the hospital the next day and that’s the day I started walking, that’s when it started for me,” he said. “I started walking with a walker, then without, then a mile, two miles, three miles a day. Got to where I could go up hills and then the stationary bike and this is all before the eight-week mark when physical therapy started.”

For some athletes, the week starts in Ellensburg and hopefully ends with Ellensburg’s short round, but there are plenty of rodeos in between. Ellensburg is the largest Labor Day weekend rodeo in the world — and one of the biggest rodeos of the year no matter what — but there are plenty of paychecks to be won in the Northwest and beyond. For instance, Stetson Wright won $4,030 in Saturday’s Xtreme Bulls and another $6,207 in bull riding here. But he also picked up $4,027 for winning Filer, Idaho’s bull riding as well as another $2,141 in Filer’s bronc riding. He has more than $270,000 in All-Around earnings going into this week, about $150,000 ahead of Paden Bray in second place.

Orin Larsen was another big winner on the week. In addition to the $2,336 he cashed in Ellensburg, the Canadian won Walla Walla’s bareback riding for $4,160 and followed suit with Filer’s win for another $3,983.

Jordon Briggs, who has two of the top four fastest barrel racing times ever in Ellensburg (16.93- and 16.98-second times), was quick around Walla Walla’s pattern as well. She placed second there for $3,047.

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