Like competition? Head for the Black Hills Stock Show
By: Corinne J. Brown
Ever wonder why so many visitors flock in droves up to Rapid City, South Dakota? You might say to see Mount Rushmore, a memorable American landmark if there ever was one. Or, maybe to attend the mass motorcycle rally at nearby Sturgis; biker heaven for those who ride. But for those who really ride— as in broncs and working ranch horses, how about the Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo, held this past February 3rd thru the 6th— one of the biggest, most well-attended events in the national ranch rodeo calendar. In fact, the Stock Show itself, held from January 31st thru February 9th, is the second largest event in the state of South Dakota following the Sturgis gathering, drawing nearly 331,000 attendees.
“The Ranch Rodeo addition to the Stock Show was started here in 1985,” said organizer Kevin Schmidt, a roper, and the rodeo’s chief volunteer, going on 20 years. “It alone draws some 4,500 hundred fans. One of the reasons it’s so popular is that we’re open to anybody; day worker, full time cowboy; really, anyone who can throw a loop. We’re not affiliated with any national ranch rodeo organization, either. I’d say we draw the true cowboy, someone who’s grown up on a ranch somewhere.”
Not surprisingly, contestants come from as far away as Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and most of the upper Midwest. The Black Hills Stock Show General Manager, Ron Jeffries added, “Most folks don’t realize that there’s some serious ranch country up here and our boys are no strangers to getting the job done. In fact, if I had to sum up the talent in just one word, I’d say competitors from around here are just plain handy; good horsemen who know how to do it all. The main issues our judges consider are speed and accuracy; even bronc riding is judged by a combined formula.”
The statistics for the competition are staggering. This year’s preliminaries started with 54 teams. Within six hours on the first day these were whittled down to ten, plus two more teams, winners from last year’s rodeo and the summer qualifier at the Central States Fair, both of whom are automatically entered. Preliminary events included Steer Loading, Range Doctoring and Stray Gathering.
The twelve teams tackling the finals then compete in five events with a two-minute time limit: a Trailer Relay; Rope-Mug-Tie; Stray Gathering; Wild Cow Milking and the Crown Royal Wild Bronc Ride. A popular team with contestants from South Dakota and its surrounds, the Graff Ranch, took top honors by the end of the day with impressive places in all five events.
Team members include Josh Graff, Olive, Montana; Brady Graff, Ainsworth, Nebraska; Miles Stoner, Woodlake, Nebraska, and Clint Doll, Prairie City, South Dakota. They’re all veterans of this stock show and other regional competitions. In addition to braggin’ rights, the boys went home with saddles, coats, hats, $5,000 cash, and a traveling team trophy. Second place went to Wilson Cattle (Texas) and Third place to Creative Broadcast Services out of South Dakota and Oklahoma.
“The popularity of this rodeo draws new talent every year,” said Kevin, “ranging from cowboys 20 years of age to past 60. We see cowboys from our Native population as well; even past NFR competitors, plus we only charge $600.00 per team to enter.
To think that we started with just 12 teams 20 years ago. On top of that, we’ve got great stock handlers with fresh stock for every round (Burch Rodeo for our bucking horses from Rosette, Wyoming, and Ross McPherson for steers from South Dakota). No animal ever goes more than once. Add a great mercantile, (real useful during the breaks between rounds at the preliminaries) and a sale barn with almost every ranch in South Dakota represented, plus a dance at the very end; we’ve got it all.”
The best part seems to be the spectator turn out; families mostly with wild, enthusiastic support. Most teams have relatives somewhere in the vicinity, all events are manned by volunteers, and the area is a tourist destination. Put it all together and this is one rodeo with enviable numbers in the grandstands. Hats off to Jake Poppe of Poppe Livestock in Montana (formerly from Colorado) for winning Top Hand and Sage Haythorn from the legendary Haythorn Land & Cattle Company in Nebraska for taking Top Horse on his Quarterhorse, Lamar.
When Poppe was asked why he loves this particular rodeo and is willing to go the distance to compete, he answered, “The rodeo’s got a reputation for being well-produced, paying well and always draws good players.” (For those who might not be aware, Jake’s team won the rodeo in 2014 and his good ranch mare won Top Horse honors in 2014.)
It’s been a strong run for him and he’ll more than likely be back. Even the teams who don’t make the Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo finals usually stick around for the rest of the rodeo to cheer on those who qualified and see what they can learn to make next year’s go even better. Those who have to travel a far distance might head home early, but with regret. So consider South Dakota, cowboys.
When General Manager Jeffries was asked what advice he might give to anyone thinking of entering, he replied, “If you think you’re tough enough, come on up!”