Stack On The Dallies


By: Corinne J. Brown

The first thing apparent about the ropers in the recent statewide finals of the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Association (RMRRSHA) in Colorado was the way they moved—without a sound. Barely a whisper could be heard in the indoor arena or the grandstand, for that matter; the silence broken only by the bawl of a critter suddenly snagged by a rope. Then, with finesse and speed, the three-man teams sprang into action and completed the job. In the background, even the announcer, Mr. Rich Scott, tracking their success, spoke in a low and calming voice. Without fuss or fanfare, the fine art of roping and tying was demonstrated with humble grace and style.

Style here refers mainly to traditional roping methods by which some of the most accomplished cowboys and buckaroos work cattle and horses; in particular, using a big loop or “la reata,” the legendary Californio or vaquero technique. Breath-taking to watch, this kind of roping is extremely popular at ranches in Colorado’s high country and
all along the Front Range, and requires a great sense of timing and skill.

Those who competed came from diverse backgrounds. Some  are full or part-time cowboys; others, day workers. There were gear makers, horse trainers and farriers; even business people who might not work on a ranch but practice year-round anyway.

That’s part of what made the competition held in Denver at the Jeffco Fairgrounds on December 2nd, 2012, so fascinating. The event joined talented buckaroos from ranchlands north of Denver like Fort Collins, Longmont, Greeley and Brush, and from as far out as Garfield County and the famed Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen, hundreds of miles away.

For the spectator, there was plenty to ponder. According to Tom Harrington, ranch manager of the Crystal River Ranch in Carbondale, Colorado, and cofounder of the Roaring Fork Ranch Roping, “Ropers are hoping to score points for stockmanship and horsemanship. The judge is mounted on horseback in the arena so he can get a clear view and intervene if there’s trouble. During each go, ground work really counts, things like dallying and handling your slack, a necessity lest it get in the way of a moving cow or horse causing a wreck.”

Harrington should know. A competitor himself, he has also been the major guiding force behind the Roaring Fork Ranch Roping event held each September. He is involved with roping throughout the state, including judging on the Western slope, and serves on the board of the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stockhorse Association. He pointed out that the event judge, Mr. Jim McKinney of Gardnerville, NV, was watching for a competitor who is calm and collected, essential for keeping cattle quiet and in a low stress environment.

weekend-2“After all,” said Harrington, “pounds on the hoof is what a rancher is paid for; you want to handle the animals as safely and gently as possible. The judge is checking to see if the rodear is maintained; holding the group of animals together so you can get a good look at them, simulating a health check in a pasture setting.”

Mark Howes, a Colorado saddle maker, roper, and founder of the RMRRSHA in Colorado, confirms the growing passion for the sport. “People are interested in upping the game,” he explained. “Our members want to hold an event that showcases just how well you can handle livestock. Founded 12 years ago, we only became a full association in 2010. The Roaring Fork Ropers are part of our group. We hold six events a year, and every one, based on locale and members, has its own flavor and color.”

Each entry at the Finals provided another opportunity to watch some of the best ropers and novices go through their paces. Scoring is based on difficulty, distance, and the appropriate shot for the situation. The pros made it look like magic, smooth and fast. But then, withthe upset of an occasional cow hightailing the perimeter of the arena, and the bunch starting to mill, the novices inadvertently let you know how hard it is. The Finals, open to men and women, consist of traditional three-man teams. The roping teams are randomly drawn so none of the ropers know who they’ll be competing with. In order to make the finals, a competitor  must rope in two ropings sanctioned by the Rocky Mountain Ranch Roping and Stockhorse Association, and place first or second in at least one. A total of 40 ropers qualified for the recent first annual year-end finals; 21 open and 19 novice.

Winners of the Open and Novice events are posted on the Facebook site of the RMRRSHA. Notably, Sean Soya took the Smooth Hand Award, a bosalita made by Jim McKinney, and Blaire Adamson won Top Hand Lady Award, a fine buckle donated by Amy Star.

Cowgirl Ginny Harrington, Tom’s wife, summarizes the sport this way. “Ranch roping competitions are meant to represent how we feel cattle should be handled on a ranch, in the pasture, in the corral, on the mountain in the summer – each and every each time an animal is handled. Plus, it’s the enjoyment of doing a job that cowboys love, and doing it well for both the safety of the cattle and the horse’s sake. It’s a way of life on the ranch that is represented in the arena.”

As a fan who appreciates weekend ranch rodeo, narrowing the competition down to just one tough skill made this event a true test of the best. It was clear that neither size, age, nor gender made the difference: patience and savvy won every time.

Keep ‘Em Coming Back For More


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!”

Fantastic at the Finals


by Corinne J. Brown / Photos by Tanna White

Classy cowgirls from the WRAA ramp up the competition

Not every woman dreams of getting away from it all by driving hundreds of miles in a horse trailer to rope calves with three of her best friends. But not every woman can. Female ranch rodeo contestants have something extra that makes them want to compete and win at being top-notch cowgirls. After all, who do you know that sits down late at night to fill out her team’s entry forms and map a road trip to the Finals, long after the stock’s been fed, the laundry’s folded, and the last bedtime story has lulled a little one to sleep? If this gal is in your house, she may be a member of the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association, and darn proud of it.

Founded officially as an organization in Kansas back in 2005, the WRRA has made ranch rodeo history. What might have started as a dare or a dream is a now a successful, proven reality with 150 team members and 25 individuals, reminding the rest of us that cowgirls have always been able to handle ranching challenges just as well as men.

“We appreciate what ranch rodeo represents,” explains Billie Franks, one of the founding members. “It’s our life. We’re doing what we love. I know I can speak for all my team members, including Jenna Adams from Schilder, Oklahoma; Neesa Smith from Hydro, Oklahoma, and Kelsey Mosby from Rising Star, Texas.”

That love has spread like wildfire across the western states and the Midwest. WRRA members now hail from as far north as Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming and south to Oklahoma and Texas. A total of 18 teams with evocative names like “Too Hard to Handle”, “Cowgirl Swank”, and “4 Branded Chicks” (to name a few) competed in their recent 10th Annual WRRA World Finals, held for the first time this past fall, October 17-18 at the Larimer County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Loveland, Colorado. A Calcutta, three full rounds, and a Saturday morning stray gathering gave viewers more than their money’s worth. Billie Frank’s seasoned team proudly won the Finals for the second year in a row!

Holding the competition in a venue farther west gave some contestants and audience members a more geographically central location.and audience members a more geographically central location. “The move got us a few new sponsors,” says Frank, “in addition to an almost soldout arena— over 200 ticket holders. Special thanks goes to the Colorado State University’s rodeo team as well, who were the set-up and ground crew.

“Our sponsors are like family,” adds Franks. “We couldn’t exist without them.” A very special debt is owed to nutritional consultant Dr. Harry Anderson, a former Kansas resident, for his longtime encouragement and support.

“The move got us a few new sponsors,” says Frank, “in addition to an almost sold out arena— over 200 ticket holders. Special thanks goes to the Colorado State University’s rodeo team as well, who were the set-up and ground crew. “Our sponsors are like family,” adds Franks. “We couldn’t exist without them.” A very special debt is owed to nutritional consultant Dr. Harry Anderson, a former Kansas resident, for his longtime encouragement and support.

“I’ve known Billie Franks ever since the beginning of the organization,” Anderson recalls. “I went to watch a women’s ranch rodeo in Oklahoma years ago and was completely enamored with what I saw there— women tackling the same events as cowboys. I couldn’t believe how good they were. More than fun to watch, the event was truly impressive. I know this much— I wouldn’t want to arm wrestle with any of them!”

If you’re not familiar with the WRRA, memberships are open with no minimum age limit. The oldest competitor at present is 51. Not every member is a ranch gal; some are weekend cowgirls with great skills who appreciate cowboy
life all the more. Each state’s members vote for a state representative and an elected board of eight women rule for a
one-year term. Meetings are held monthly via conference call.

As far as rodeos go, the rules are easy: gals do everything regular ranch rodeo cowboys do except ride broncs and milk wild cows. Otherwise, the teams compete at sorting, doctoring, mugging and trailer loading. And a big plus— entry fees for most rodeos has 100% payback for winners.

When asked what size steers the gals are roping, and how, Franks explains, “We work with whatever’s
available. In the stray gathering/mugging event, (everyone’s favorite) our girls can either head ‘em or heel ‘em;
no accounting for style. Even though women are less muscular on top than men, even our lighter gals have a way of getting those steers down. In fact we often wonder why cowboys don’t try it our way.” (With all due respect,
this particular technique remains like the secret ingredient in a family recipe; unrevealed. You have to come see it for yourself.)

“Each team has to know its strengths,” she continues. “Some teams have real stout girls for example;
some don’t. We still get the job done.” Many teams seem to strategize more, one possible advantage, and
some just use female intuition.

If anything has been common to the association’s growth, it’s the many roles a woman has to fill. The teams add and lose competitors based on who is pregnant that year. Nonetheless, all the members are committed, whether they’re competing or not. Working around recitals, soccer practice, even home schooling—they make time for their passion.
If they have to head out, they know they can leave the table set, with supper simmering on the stove.

Some WR readers might also have seen WRRA members competing at the Western States Ranch Rodeo finals in Winnemucca, Nevada, another opportunity held even farther west for these amazing cowgirls to show what they’re made of. But no matter where they ride, they stick together, passing the ranch rodeo torch on to willing daughters and sisters who love the sport as much they do.