The Wild West has won our hearts again. Have you ever been to a rodeo? Okay, yes, if you have been out West, you probably performed your tourist duty and went to a rodeo. But, have you ever been to a ranch rodeo? You won’t see any bucking bronco riding at a ranch rodeo; this type of rodeo is not just about the show. A ranch rodeo focuses on the skills that ranchers use on a daily basis to manage their herds of cattle. Our last weekend in Montana fell on the same weekend as the annual Willsal Ranch Rodeo. The event brought folks in from all around the countryside and each person had a connection to one of the teams competing. The stakes were high and the competition fierce as the winning team in each event went home with over $2,000. Ten teams, made up of four individuals competed in six events. The fourth individual was required to be either a woman or a boy under the age of 15. Proud day for my gender. Luckily, each team decided that a woman was a better teammate than a child.
The rules for the day’s events were complex and specific. Each event had separate rules and judges carefully scored each team’s performance. With all of the seriousness of the judging, they even had rules for the clothing of the teams. All teams were required to dress in Western attire, which I have now learned means a cowboy hat, jeans, belt buckle, and button-up shirt – pretty standard dress for Montana cowboys and girls. The day’s events began with the Ranch Horse Class, which required the rider to catch a cow and rope him around the neck and drive him into a pen. The second event timed each team as they attempted to brand four calves in less than eight minutes. Team Penning was the most strategic event of the day. The judge would give the participating team a number as they entered the arena. The team would then ride through the herd of cattle and round up all of the cattle bearing their designated number. This had to be done as quickly as possible and they could only allow the correct numbered cows to cross the middle of the arena. If any cows crossed the middle bearing an incorrect number, your team had to make sure they were herded back across the line before time was called.
An important duty on any ranch is administering medicine to sick cows. The fourth event timed each team’s ability to head and heel a cow in order to get it to the ground and administer any necessary doctoring. The roping skills that this event required clearly demonstrated the upbringing of the participants. All around the arena, young boys and girls were practicing their roping skills. I was even lucky enough to learn the basics. Jared taught me the lingo and lessons of roping with the ease of a seasoned cowboy. After a couple failed attempts, I finally succeeded to lasso my first cow. Jared says that if I make it to the farm and fleet store, I could pick up my own 31-foot Cactus rope in order to continue practicing on my own.
Wild cow milking solidified my love for the ranch rodeo – although, I don’t think my love was ever in doubt. They let a wild cow, who had never been milked in her life, loose into the arena. One team member then had to rope her around the head, while the other two tried to slow her down enough to somehow milk her. Each team ended up squeezing a drop or two of milk into the bottle and then racing it into the judges hand for the final pour. Wild cow milking quickly turned into wild cow wrestling for some unruly cows and sent one team member to the hospital due to injury. The final event was herd counting. Teams worked together to lead a herd of cattle between two barrels. Each cow was counted as they ran through the barrels and teams had to give the judge the final number of the herd. While teams counted as quickly as the cows ran, the audience also tried to keep track of the tally. I ended up only counting the correct number one time, whereas the seven-year-old girl directly behind me counted correctly every single time. I guess there are some skills that a Minnesota girl just didn’t learn growing up with more fish than cattle in her backyard.