This Montana town really knows how to put on a ranch rodeo
By Kesly Porter Ellis
Photos by Sharon Moore
Ranch rodeo in itself stands as a reminder of the rich history of western culture, but wouldn’t you agree that it takes more than just a regular ranch rodeo to truly capture the cowboy tradition, and not only represent its history, but promote the future of what some have deemed a dying breed? The community of Miles City, Montana certainly agrees that not just any rodeo can make the cut, and they tackled and accomplished the task of hosting one of the very few rodeos that truly brings together the practical, everyday working cowboy lifestyle with the event-packed Miles City Ranch Rodeo.
Miles City is the home of the final rodeo for the Eastern Montana Ranch Rodeo Association, however as committee member Roxanne Harding puts it, “The finals just isn’t the same as a ranch rodeo put on by the community.” Her husband Bill, a contestant as well as committee member, adds, “I competed in a few Miles City ranch rodeos, up until around ‘95 or ‘96 when they had a hard time finding someone to coordinate it and made the decision to discontinue the rodeo all together.”
“It was really a fun rodeo,” Bill continued, “and it was close to home so I didn’t have to travel to attend.” Ranch Rodeo contestants are generally full-time working ranch cowboys, and traveling on the rodeo circuit full-time simply is not an option. So in 2011 Roxanne, Bill and other members set out to bring the ranch rodeo back to Miles City, and in the last six years it has grown, gained momentum and now stands as a yearly gathering for working ranch cowboys and cowgirls who want to compete and have a little weekend rodeo fun.
Teams from all over
Although the teams come in from many different communities and states such as Wyoming and North Dakota, a neighborly atmosphere is maintained as friends and family gather to show off their skills. “We are really lucky to have a whole committee full of people who get along and work well together, it makes the whole rodeo a pleasure,” says Roxanne with a smile.
Miles City’s ranching community also knows the importance of promoting the future of the sport as well as the lifestyle associated with it, and in an effort to include the next generation of ranchers, a Youth Ranch Rodeo for kids 15 and under is held on Friday night. The exact events change from year to year but always include variations of roping, sorting and branding. Prizes and cash are awarded to the top team of the night. Roxanne, speaking for the entire rodeo committee says, “We really like to encourage the kids to come and be a part of the weekend’s events. We keep the entry fees really low and pay back everything that they put in.”
Friday night also features a saddle bronc riding for the cowboys, and a Women’s Ranch Rodeo for the cowgirls where teams made up of four compete for the top team, top hand and top horse awards. The 2017 1st place team was Tri-State Livestock News; the four cowgirls on the team were Ellie Rankin, Ila Rankin, Rainie Mullanix and Ava Rankin. Riata Smith took the top hand award, and Gillian Severe won top horse. Then on Saturday night cowboys and cowgirls combine to compete in an Open Ranch Rodeo, where up to 16 teams of five battle for cash, buckles, a claim to fame, and the chance at qualifying for the Eastern Montana Rodeo Association Finals. The teams of five must include at least one member of the opposite gender, and at the end of the night a prize is awarded as winners are selected for top cowboy, top cowgirl, top horse and top team. The 2017 1st place Open Ranch Rodeo team was the Maxwell Butte Ranch made up of Ava Rankin (now Mrs. Beardsly), Jake Goddard, Lane Krutzfeldt, Alec Haughian and John Henry Beardsley. The Open Ranch Rodeo top hand awards went to Jennifer Weeding and Clay Kincheloe. And DJ Martin won the bragging rights of top horse. The bronc riding ends on Saturday night as well, and Jay Phipps was crowned champion.
Roxanne pointed out that the Miles City Ranch Rodeo isn’t a regular rodeo or a team roping, “…we’re trying to highlight the skill and technique required of working ranch cowboys every day.”
Similar to the youth rodeo, the events vary slightly from year to year, however each event is crafted to imitate the tasks that have to be accomplished everyday as a rancher. “We always have a trailer loading event,” Bill begins, and Roxanne continues, “Having to load a cow in the trailer is a task that every cowboy is familiar with.” Along with trailer loading; team sorting, mugging, cow milking and branding events are also incorporated into the two rodeos.
Miles City certainly knows how to put on a ranch rodeo, and the competitors represent everything that a Working Ranch Cowboy stands for. Roxanne’s neighborly invitation really sums up the feeling of the entire event, “If you are ever near Miles City, Montana the first part of June, stop by and check us out.” I am personally confident that you won’t be disappointed.