On The Trail with Colten Fritzlan
The 20 year old just won RFD TV the American in the bull riding with a show-stopper ride aboard Chad Berger’s Safety Meeting. “He had […]
“To rodeo is not just one or two people committing – it’s the whole family,” says Mike Winchell. He and his wife, Shawna, committed wholeheartedly the day their daughters, Shelby and Libby, now ages 25 and 18, stepped onto the rodeo trail. Since then, the sisters have won several state and national titles apiece. Shelby is the assistant rodeo coach at Sheridan College in Wyoming and Libby, who won the 2016 Champions Challenge in Omaha, Nebraska, will be a freshman this fall at Eastern Wyoming College. Yet all the roots lead back to home in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and the foundation of hard work that Shelby and Libby built their careers on.
The rodeo tradition comes from both sides of the family, and Shawna’s dad, a steer wrestler named Dick Phillips, helped start the Chadron State College rodeo team in the 1960. Shawna also rodeoed on the college team after competing in Little Britches and high school rodeo, while Mike’s background is in ranching. They wanted their daughters to experience several different sports, including basketball and volleyball, but the rodeo spark is what took off.
Shelby started rodeoing when she was nine, and Libby occupied herself with stick horse barrel racing and pole bending, and helping carry goats to the arena for goat tying, until she was old enough to compete. Both she and Shelby showed in 4-H, where Shawna was a leader, and FFA. They also competed in the WJRA, NLBRA, and Nebraska junior high and high school. They entered the barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, and breakaway roping, but they’ve especially excelled in goat tying. Their mom, Shawna, was also a goat tyer. “It’s an event that’s not all about the horse – you get out of it what you put into it,” she explains. “It also requires athletic ability for getting off a horse that’s going thirty miles an hour. We call competitiveness the family sickness, but we’re fortunate the girls are willing to work hard at being their best. Mike and I have always been involved, going to clinics and learning new techniques right alongside them so when we’re in the practice arena, we know how to help them.”
Through one such clinic, Shelby met goat tyer and Cochise College rodeo coach, Lynn Smith. “In high school, I had the opportunity to travel with Lynn Smith and help with goat tying clinics. It instilled that desire to teach – I’ve always wanted to be a rodeo coach so I could share that knowledge. Not many people can say they are twenty-five years old and living their dream job!”
Before Shelby started rodeoing, she’d already overcome incredible odds, having been born 16 weeks early and going through extensive physical therapy as she grew up, making her drive to rodeo and compete twice as strong. She qualified for the NJHFR in 2006 and the NHSFR from 2008 – 2010, and after graduating from Scottsbluff High School, she attended Eastern Wyoming College. Shelby later transferred to Chadron State College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education. She qualified for the CNFR in goat tying in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016, also competing in breakaway in 2013 after winning reserve all-around in the Central Rocky Mountain Region. She won the region in goat tying last year before clinching the national title at the CNFR. That same day, Libby won the goat tying at the Nebraska state finals, and she and Shawna watched the live feed of Shelby competing in the CNFR on their way home.
“It’s interesting, because I’m known more for my goat tying success, but I also trained barrel and breakaway horses and seasoned them at college rodeos and sold them,” says Shelby, who is also finishing her master’s degree in K-12 school counseling through CSC. She enters jackpots, and will compete in the NRCA this summer. She plans to start seasoning a four-year-old in the breakaway roping and goat tying this summer, while she’s also riding Ace, whom she purchased from CSC rodeo coach Dustin Luper. “I’m able to keep my horses at the school and work them every day, which is a special thing for me, because I can observe the students and their different methods of training. I’ve also taken in several outside horses.”
Many of Shelby’s winning goat runs have been off Hadley, a 20-year-old gelding she’s shared with Libby. He returned to Scottsbluff last fall in time for fall high school rodeos. “Hadley used to be a steer wrestling horse, and he has a good personality,” says Libby. “Blaze is my barrel horse, but he got turned into a goat horse two weeks before Nationals my sophomore year when Hadley got hurt.” Blaze, whom they purchased from Wanda Brown, was trained by professional barrel racer RaNelle O’Keeffe from North Dakota, and Libby’s rope horse, Chase, came from PRCA tie-down roper Chase Williams. “Our good friends Troy and Riley Pruitt helped us find Chase. We rope at the Pruitt’s house, and they’ve been great. I can’t thank the people who have helped me and my family out enough: our vet and chiropractor, the Pruitts, and Lari Dee Guy and Hope Thompson. And without my mom and dad, I wouldn’t be here for sure.”
Libby has qualified for the NHSFR the past three years, winning Reserve National Goat Tying Champion in 2015 and 2016, along with the state reserve all-around title last year. She competed in the NJHFR twice, and is a two-time Nebraska state goat tying champion. For her senior year, she decided to rodeo with the WHSRA, and she’s currently leading the goat tying, seventh in the breakaway roping, 17th in barrels and third in All Around. “I like all my events equally,” Libby says. “Shelby has had a lot of success in the goat tying, and we’ve had lots of people help with that. We work hard at it – we’re in the arena every night like everyone else, roping after school and riding horses.”
Libby frequently sports a 100X Helmet when she steps into the saddle, a decision she made after taking a tumble at a rodeo her seventh grade year, causing her optic nerve to swell. “If I take another fall, I could permanently lose my vision, so I’m going to wear a helmet so I can do what I love.” In sixth grade, Libby spent two weeks in a children’s hospital with a perforated ulcer and optic neuritis. She’d had pain in her left side for three months before it was diagnosed, and her vision, which was 20/400 near and far at that time, has since improved. “I wear glasses to read and drive, and I still have headaches, but I’m learning to manage them,” says Libby.
“When Libby was at a Mayo clinic, her doctor was helping her with exercises for her headaches, and he suggested those same things for athletes in breathing and visualization,” says Mike, who played high school sports. Shawna adds, “Mike’s dad was an excellent basketball coach, and looking into rodeo from the outside perspective, Mike has instilled in the girls the usefulness of reading books and that mental game.” Mind Gym by Gary Mack was a favorite of Shelby’s, while Libby has found inspiration in books by golfers discussing the mental aspects of the game. “I have a saying that a champion is a champion that acts like one,” says Mike. “The girls do the work and have the work ethic, but it’s not a one-time deal. They’ve both barely missed national championships, and that just makes them want to come back. I think a lot of their success has come from learning about where we’re going before we get there. They’ll YouTube the arenas or use Google Earth so there are no big surprises. When they don’t have to worry about the little things, the bigger things come faster. Part of the reason Libby wanted to stay in the Central Rocky Mountain Region is because she’s competed in a lot of those same college arenas in the WHSRA, and that will help her collegiate career as a freshman.”
Along with helping their own two athletes, Shawna and Mike are passionate about bringing the best goats possible to junior high, high school, and college rodeos. They also contract goats for jackpots, and state and county fairs. “Our girls were running through so many goats at practice that we’ve always had an influx of practice stock,” says Mike. “There’s nothing I hate more than an animal making the winning decision in a rodeo and not the athlete. We work hard at providing the best stock possible.” Last year, the Winchells had more than 90 goats, and they do much of the hauling themselves for high school and college rodeos.
Shelby comes home periodically to trade out goats for her rodeo team, and she loves the camaraderie of her team. “At roughstock practice, we have the timed event athletes sorting stock and opening chutes, and the same with the roughies at timed event practice,” she says. “We have a fairly young team this year, but we had some phenomenal girls return to rodeo with us. It’s spectacular to see that improvement of self, and to see the student athletes improve not only in the rodeo arena, but in life.
“I’d love to continue being a rodeo coach, and continue training horses as long as I’m able. I have the lifelong goal to make it to the WNFR, and I’d like to start roping in the WPRA and train a horse that’s up to par for that avenue.”
Following graduation from Scottsbluff High School, Libby’s goal is to win state in goat tying and also go to Nationals in breakaway roping. “I’d love to win Nationals – I know what it’s like to get there, but I just need that extra step. I plan on getting a degree in sports medicine and college rodeoing all four years, and hopefully get my master’s and rodeoing a fifth year before going pro.”
“There’s not a sibling rivalry, but Shelby and Libby each want to walk their own road,” Shawna and Mike conclude. “We’ve met a lot of good people all over the United States. Kids that Libby and Shelby high school and Little Britches rodeoed with are competing together on the collegiate level, and so many people have helped us and we’ve enjoyed helping others. We don’t think there’s another sport in the world that has that.”
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