Rodeo is as much an old west tradition as it is a modern way of life. What was a way for homesteaders to blow off steam and relax; is now a lifelong commitment of the rodeo athletes, the animals that make it possible, and their family. Today, like it was in the old west, the Rodeo gathers spectators and athletes in an event that builds camaraderie and community. Rodeo is a genuine part of Montana’s identity, and this summer, you can enjoy watching the grit of Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association [PRCA] Cowboys and Cowgirls and tenacity of the livestock as both compete along the PRCA Rodeo Circuit for a chance at State, Regional, and National Titles.
The production of any rodeo is a strategically coordinated effort by the Rodeo Committee, bringing together stock contractors, announcers, pickup men, photographers, timers, clowns, officials, bullfighters, and many others to ensure a safe, sanctioned, and entertaining event.
Montana’s Basecamp offers 5 PRCA Rodeos and the crowning jewel, Montana Circuit Finals. The rodeo season kicks off in Belt, just 20 minutes from Great Falls. The Belt Rodeo is held every year over Father’s Day weekend and is packed with community pride. Dust off your hats and pull on your boots, or go in flip-flops and shorts, either way you will feel welcome, and prepare for street dancing, pancake breakfast, parades and rodeo action. Professional cowboys and cowgirls compete in Bareback Riding, Steer Wrestling, Saddle Bronc, Team Roping, Tie Down Roping, Barrel Racing, and Bull Riding over 2 days. Added prize money and tough stock from Bookman-Hyland Rodeo brings a pay-off for the hard work, if the run is good. Matt Tarr will entertain the crowds with his quick wit during the Bull Riding, and is a proud role model for everyone. The Mutton Bustin’ competition begins the rodeo tradition for the next generation, where kids will try to stay on long enough to place. The grandstands are close to the action to ensure you will enjoy every minute of the action.
30 minutes north of Great Falls, in Montana’s Birthplace, you will find the next stop on the trail, Fort Benton Rodeo. This one-day rodeo is the Friday evening anchor of Fort Benton’s Summer Celebration, a 43-year community tradition with live music, street dances, church services, historic tours, ice cream socials, city band concert, pie auction, and Art on the Levee during the day. The rodeo action kicks off in the evening at the Chouteau County Fairgrounds, followed by the street dance downtown.
One of Montana’s Oldest Rodeos, The Augusta American Legion Rodeo brings the cowboys and cowgirls to the 3rd stop on the trail toward the finals. Augusts runs slack on Saturday with the Rodeo on Sunday. By their nature, Tie Down, Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling is not as traditionally fast-paced as saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding are. So, instead of running all the events back to back in one day, the Slack portion of the rodeo includes events that are slower paced and less watched. It usually makes the Sunday Rodeo a less lengthy and more focused on the traditional crowd-pleasing events. Watching the determination of these athletes during Slack or the Main Rodeo does not change the amount of passion they give to their craft. The Rodeo grounds in Augusta are in the heart of town, making it easy to attend the parade, craft vendor fair and the street dance that accompanies the 83rd Augusta American Legion Rodeo.
By the time the 4-night Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup approaches, some of the contestants competing for a berth to the National Stage have traveled thousands of miles, through hundreds of small towns, in multiple States, sleeping in pickups, trailers, next to their horses, with 6 other guys in a low-rent hotel room with two beds, or wherever they can; and yet, they come, and they give it their all, once again. This rodeo is cornerstone to the Montana State Fair, with 4-nights of entertainment and action. The big names that have been contestants here included: Jesse Kruse, Ryan Mapston, Clay Tryan, Jade Corkill, Ty Erickson, Cody Wright, Spencer Wright, Stevi Hillman, Tiany Schuster, and Jessy Davis. The stock is top notch as well and comes from Sankey Pro Rodeo & Robinson Bulls and the announcing is done by Will Rasmussen. To see the best compete, be in Great Falls, Montana in August.
The Cascade Pro Rodeo in the Chestnut Valley Equine Arena is the 5th stop for PRCA Cowboys and Cowgirls in the Great Falls area. At the 2017 Rodeo, Trevin Baumann won best all-around cowboy and along with Bryant Mikkelson, Tiany Schuster, and Cody Tew were in the money; what will their fortunes be this year? The young Cascade Pro Rodeo is steeped in rodeo traditions with Muttin’ Busting competition, Cowboy Calcutta, and a street dance to bring everyone together after the chutes and stands have cleared and the dust has settled.
If you have yet to attend, make plans now to witness the western heritage in action and watch the contestants, stock, and families gather in support of each other. Rodeo is a community in and of itself and is truly something worth witnessing in person. This is the only place you can you experience the sheer excitement and adrenaline rush of the PRCA-sanctioned events, coupled with the heartbreak of a bad performance, the praise from your fellow competitors and the comfort of a horse that has been your partner along the long road. Competitors, spectators, adults, children and everyone in between has something to experience during each and every rodeo. There is an atmosphere of excitement and a hint of danger; nowhere else does 8 seconds last so long and the thousands of miles seem so short.
Thank you to Mary Peters for the use of her images to help us tell a rodeo story. Mary is a professional photographer born and raised in Central Montana who is also a working ranch wife and mother to 3 beautiful children. She has delicately captured the spirit and tenacity of rodeo athletes for over 16 years and her images tell the stories of triumph, beauty and sometimes tragedy, just as it unfolds around her. Mary’s work hangs in galleries, is for sale in boutiques, and graces the cover of national magazines. Thanks to you and your family Mary for all the miles and capturing those rodeo stories.