Meet the Member Eli Hershberger

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story by Lily Weinacht

Eli Hershberger capped off his rookie year in the APRA by qualifying for AFR 41 in the bareback and saddle bronc riding, winning money in both events. The 23-year-old, currently of Piffard, New York, climbed over the back of the chutes for the first time in 2016 at a bronc riding school in Wyoming. A year later at a bronc riding school in Pennsylvania instructed by Heith DeMoss and Clint Cory, Eli met Sam Swearingen of Rawhide Rodeo Company, who offered him a job. “I started going to rodeos and getting on nice horses,” says Eli. “Sam is a very good bronc rider and willing to teach me how to do it, and I’ve stuck with it.”
Originally from Ohio, Eli grew up in an Amish family, who could watch rodeos but not participate in them. After he left home, Eli started getting on a few broncs while traveling around the country, but truly found his opportunity to rodeo through Rawhide Rodeo Company. He started working for Sam in the spring of 2017, and now has his CDL to drive the semis with livestock and the arena. After a year of riding for Sam in the novice events, Eli was encouraged by him to buy an APRA card. “Probably my favorite rodeos are North Washington and Attica. In North Washington, I got on a horse that’s been bucking me off, and I rode him really good and won some money. Me and my traveling buddy Colton Swearingen went to Millersburg, Ohio. That was my first rodeo I ever went to as a spectator five years ago, and to go back and ride in it was really cool for me. I won the bareback riding, which was very special.”
This fall, Eli won Roughstock U’s 2018 Saddle Bronc Champion title, a series of roughstock events put on by Sam Swearingen, Dave Waltz, Danna Gann, and Doug Lutz. “They put together a show for us guys who are just starting out, and I’ve been riding in it for two years. I won the year end for that in the saddle bronc and made some money in the bareback, and that was definitely a goal for me this year,” says Eli. “I love rodeo because it’s a humbling sport, and it really is about finding good people you like to work with. Usually I can pick up some stuff really easy, and rodeo has not been easy for me, but when you work at it and see it coming together, it drives you to keep going.”
Along with the APRA, Eli purchased his PRCA permit this year and is riding broncs on the First Frontier Circuit. He won both rounds of the bareback riding at the pro rodeo in Barre, Vermont, and placed second in the saddle bronc. He also enjoys tie-down roping and team roping, and plans to learn steer wrestling so he can boost his all-around points. Eli is also training a 3-year-old in roping. “Timmy Buckenmeyer and Colton Swearingen have both been helping me with teaching him how to rope, so it’s a work in progress. Sam and his boys, Colton and Daylon, are very inspiring, and another good friend of mine, Raymond Hostetler, has been a big role model for me. Dave Waltz and his son Tyler have helped me—I go get on their bucking machine—and they’re all really good people to inspire you.”
Eli enjoys hunting when rodeo season slows down, and plans to go to Georgia with the Swearingens this winter to ride broncs and rope. “My goal this year was to enter the APRA and make it to the finals, and I did that, so my next goal will always be to win it. I also want to make the First Frontier Circuit Finals and get an all-around title. I’m just taking it one step at a time and having as much fun as I can.”

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