The first time Neil DeZort dislocated his shoulder he was a little bummed, not because his arm was dangling limply, but because he still wanted to ride. So his trainer popped his shoulder back in place and the freshman bareback rider was on a bucking horse again two days later.
The same shoulder popped out of place again.
“It made me kind of lose my concentration and I fell,” he said.
DeZort’s idea of “kind of losing concentration” may differ from that of people who don’t choose to ride large angry animals. But when the adrenaline wore off from his third and final ride of the national championships, he felt more than a lapse of concentration.
“That was a new kind of pain for me,” he said. “I broke my arm before and (the shoulder) hurt way worse than that.”
The 19-year-old from Kalispell was one of two freshmen from the University of Wyoming to compete in the College National Finals Rodeo two weeks ago. To qualify for nationals, DeZort ranked second in bareback riding for the Central Rocky Mountain region, which includes all colleges in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. He won first place in five out of the 10 rodeos he competed in this year.
DeZort has only been riding bareback since 2004. That year he began taking lessons in Arlee from nationally-renowned bareback rider Deb Greenough. DeZort’s best friend and classmate, Chad Marquardt, had already started lessons. Marquardt now has a rodeo scholarship at the University of Montana-Western.
“At first me and Chad wanted to ride bulls,” he said. “Our parents strongly discouraged that.”
His mother, Marj DeZort, said bareback riding sounded a little better that bull riding.
“At least the horse doesn’t come after you after it’s bucked you off,” she said.
Even though people “are really surprised when they hear” he’s only been riding for three years, Dezort said, it wasn’t easy to get going. He said a lot of horses bucked him off before he ever rode one.
“I was bound and determined,” he said. “It gets in your blood.”
DeZort is back home for the summer, working and doing physical therapy to recuperate his shoulder. After he dislocated it the second time, he was taken to the hospital. He’ll have an MRI in three weeks and if anything’s torn, he’ll need surgery.
His first dislocation happened after his second ride was finished. The horse took off and jolted his right shoulder out of place. He scored a solid 72 on the ride.
When his right shoulder, which is his free one, popped out of place again on his third ride two days later, he fell off the horse but his left hand was still stuck in the grip. The horse dragged him by his arm for six seconds.
He said when he’s riding he doesn’t notice anything, including pain, until the ride’s over.
“To be honest, it’s a blur when you’re out there,” he said. “Even when there’s a big crowd, I can’t hear anything – just the whistle.”
He averaged a 73 score his first two rides but registered a “no score” on his third ride. If he had scored a 75 or higher on this third try, he would have finished in the top 10. Instead, he finished 21st.
DeZort finished his senior year in high school as the fifth-ranked bareback rider in Montana, his mom said, but only the top four made it to the national high school rodeo finals. He did, however, qualify for the Silver State International Rodeo in Fallon, Nev., where he won first place.
Before Silver State, DeZort had committed to Montana Tech for civil engineering, not rodeo. Wyoming’s head coach saw him at Silver State and offered him a full scholarship. DeZort accepted, but has continued studying civil engineering at Wyoming.
His mother, who witnessed both of her son’s shoulder dislocations, recalled an incident when Neil got hit in the head with a baseball while pitching in high school. She ran out to him as he was lying on the mound bleeding from above his eye.
“He looked up at me,” she said. “And he told me, ‘I told you that bareback riding was no worse than baseball.”