Craig In his last year of competition as a Little Wrangler, Kasen Brennise's expectation heading into the National Little Britches Rodeo Association finals July 28 was simple.
Advance to the final round - the short go - in his third time competing in junior rodeo's biggest stage.
Weeks before the competition, Kasen was working hard to achieve that goal.
All was going as planned.
He was practicing morning noon and night, getting ready for the biggest rodeo of his life.
Then, the unthinkable occurred.
His close friend who had carried him - literally - throughout the entire year's worth of rodeos, had become sick.
He earned his shot at the NLBRA national finals on the back of his horse, Lilo.
But, staph infection had taken over Lilo's body.
Open wounds and lesions engulfed nearly half of Lilo's shrinking frame, forcing the Brennise family to put the horse down July 14.
Less than two weeks before the biggest rodeo of his 8-year-old life, Kasen was horseless.
And, without his trusted best friend.
The veterinarians attending to Lilo "thought there was cancer or something," Kasen said, eyes beginning to swell, an obvious sign he's still not healed from the loss. "They couldn't kill the infection, so they thought there was something else going on.
"We had to put her down."
With little time to find a replacement - and even less time to practice - the Brennise's borrowed a horse from family friends in Snyder.
"The Segelke family let us use their horse, Possum," Sheila Brennise, Kasen's mother, said. "They were so kind. They really came through for us. But mostly for Kasen."
So when he arrived in Pueblo, Kasen was riding a stranger.
The first time the duo competed was in the barrel racing finals.
Much to Kasen's - and his family's - surprise, he and Possum seemed to be meant for each other.
Kasen's first run - a long go - ended in 16.2 seconds.
When he looked up, he was sitting in second place.
And things kept getting better from there.
"He just kept getting better every time," Sheila said.
Kasen sped through his second long go round in 16 seconds flat, taking one-tenth of a second lead over his closet competitor heading into the final round.
The short go that he'd been aiming for.
Once he had made it that far, his goal suddenly had changed.
He wanted to win.
The title of Barrel Racing World Champion was calling him.
"That was the farthest I had ever been," Kasen said. "I knew if I went really fast, I could win."
As the leader heading into the final round, Kasen was scheduled to ride last.
He watched the rider in second place complete the course in 15.9 seconds.
"I knew what I had to beat," he said. "I was thinking about how tough it would be."
For him to win, his mission was to at least tie his best run recorded earlier in the event.
Kasen blew through the course in a blistery 15.7 seconds, claiming the title.
"I could tell it was a good run," he said. "I was nervous at first, but I just thought about Lilo and how much fun she would be having with me. I wanted to do it for her."
Kasen claimed his first ever championship saddle at the most opportune time, and the dunking in a horse trough that comes along with it.
"It's tradition to get dunked when you win your first saddle," Kasen said. "It was a big relief to get it done."
Kasen moves up to the junior division once the Little Britches season begins again, but for the time being, he's relishing the title of world champion.
"It shows how hard work pays off," he said.
Leaving the Little Wrangler division as world champion "is the best way to go out."