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Gavin Firnekas competes in the mini bull riding event during the third performance of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo on Monday, July 24, 2017 at Frontier Park Arena. Shawn Havel/Special to the Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Three smiling young bull riders gave each other congratulatory half-hugs as they recounted their rides in Frontier Park Arena on Monday afternoon.

It’s a scene that has played out countless times in the roughstock ready area during the 121 years of Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeos.

What made Monday’s moment unique is that the bull riders were no older than 12 years old.

CFD added miniature bull riding to three of the main rodeo performances this year. The youths have their second go-round today, and three will be brought back for the final round Saturday afternoon.

The six athletes were invited to compete in the inaugural Flying B Invitational by Brannon Bartlett, who helped prepare the proposal that got the youngsters and the dwarf bulls they tried to ride into the rodeo.

“We got the top six kids in the region, and we’re trying to make this really fun for them,” said Brannon Bartlett, whose son, Brenson Bartlett, scored 72 points Monday.

“We have gotten some great sponsors, who have donated some things that have allowed us to have some great prizes for the kids. They’re riding for buckles, spurs, gear bags and money.”

As nice as the prize packages are, the kids were more excited about competing on one of the rodeo world’s grandest stages.

“Most kids don’t get to do this,” said 10-year-old Brenson Bartlett.

“Hopefully, more kids get to do this. This was a really good opportunity and a lot of fun.”

The “Daddy of ’em All” might be the biggest stage the youngsters have competed on, but they’re no strangers to the arena.

Brenson Bartlett was the national calf riding world champion in 2015. Jonathan Malovic of Briggsdale, Colorado, started out riding sheep in mutton-busting competitions and has worked his way up to mini bulls. The 12-year-old’s older brothers Ethan, 16, and Aidan, 14, also compete as bull riders.

Barbara Gale’s husband, Jim Gale, rode bulls as a high-schooler, but she never considered her family a “rodeo family.” That changed a few years ago after her adopted son, Justin Gale, proclaimed his love for the sport.

“We adopted Justin when he was 4 and, from the time he came to live with us, he talked about being a cowboy and riding bulls,” the Mills, Wyoming, resident said. “We found some avenues so we could get him into this.

“We didn’t know a whole lot about it, but Justin said he wanted to do it, and we let him go for it.”

Justin Gale now competes on the Miniature Bull Riders circuit, which is sponsored by the Professional Bull Riders tour. The MBR has taken the 12-year-old to competitions in Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada and Oklahoma.

“I saw the movie ‘8 Seconds’ and fell in love with bull riding,” he said, referring to the 1994 biopic about bull rider Lane Frost, who died July 30, 1989, due to injuries suffered after a bull ride at CFD. “I was really excited about riding (in Cheyenne).”

Justin Gale has been home-schooled but attended Poison Spider Elementary in Casper this spring because the Gales thought he needed to attend public school to compete in the Wyoming High School Rodeo Association’s junior high division. They have since found out home-schoolers are allowed in the WYHSRA, and Justin Gale will be home-schooled again starting this fall.

“It fits with our family,” Barbara Gale said. “We can take his school on the road with us without having to worry about making up a lot of work.”

Barbara Gale described the Flying B Invitational as an “awesome experience” for the youngsters.

“They got to compete at Cheyenne Frontier Days, so they realized a lot of cowboys’ dreams at a young age,” she said.

The young cowboys did their best to keep from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of competing on such a big stage.

“It’s just another rodeo,” Malovich said. “You can’t let a lot of people and a big arena get to you.

“You have to treat every ride like just another rodeo. I try to have that mindset all the time.”

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