Most communities in Montana have rodeos at least once each summer, often on the Fourth of July, during the county fair, or sometimes just whenever enough interested parties come together in one place. “Little Britches” rodeos are held for grade-school children. High-school rodeo clubs are often the largest extracurricular groups in small towns. Intercollegiate rodeo is also popular—and a source of scholarships for Montana students. Bozeman hosts the national finals for intercollegiate rodeo.
Make every attempt to attend some rodeo. Rodeos are quintessentially Western but haven’t yet become heavily commercialized. Be prepared to get hot and dusty, and be friendly. Summer rodeos are a community’s way to visit with friends and family. Dates of rodeos are available from local chambers of commerce or from publications available from regional tourism bureaus.
Rodeos can be confusing to the first-time spectator. Saddle-bronc riding involves a cowboy staying on a saddled bucking horse for eight seconds. Similarly, in bareback bronc riding, the rider tries to stay aboard a bucking horse for eight seconds, but he has only a “rigging” (a very small seatless leather saddle) for assistance. Bull riding pitches an enormous bull, usually a Brahma, against a cowboy, who must ride the bull for eight seconds. The bulls and the horses in these events are strapped around their lower abdomen with a “flank cinch,” which annoys the animals into greater bucking fits. In all events, the cowboy must make the ride using only one hand to hang on (using two hands, even briefly, results in disqualification). The cowboys are not judged on the length of their ride. If they make it the necessary eight seconds, the ride is then judged on its particular merits, including amount and quality of spurring (which further annoys the animal, increasing the bucking), the general comportment of the cowboy on the animal, and the fierceness of the animal’s bucking.
In bulldogging, a steer emerges at full lope from the chute. A cowboy gives chase aboard a galloping horse, jumps from the horse to the steer, and wrestles the steer to the ground. Winners are determined by speed. Calf roping begins similarly, but the cowboy must lasso the calf, leap from his horse (while the horse keeps the rope taut), and tie three of the calf’s legs to immobilize it for five seconds. Some rodeos also include team roping, where one of a pair of cowboys ropes the head and the other the hind legs of a steer.
In most rodeos, the sole cowgirl event is barrel racing, in which riders zip in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. If the horse knocks over a barrel, five seconds are added to the contestant’s time.
Other rodeo events include the grand entry at the beginning of the rodeo, wherein two young cowgirls “present the colors” (U.S. and state) while galloping around the arena on horseback. Every entrant who has brought a horse to the event immediately joins the flag bearers in the arena for a horseback national anthem.
Clowns are also a part of the rodeo. During the bull-riding event, irate bulls can turn on thrown addled riders and gore them. Clowns draw the bull’s attention to themselves by teasing or throwing tractor inner tubes at the bull, while the dazed cowboy makes a safe escape.
Some rodeos also include novelty events such as wild-cow milking (first team with any milk at all wins), various kinds of racing, or some children’s events such as greased pig contests or wild-sheep riding.
Montana Minor League Baseball
The only other spectator sport in Montana is professional baseball’s Pioneer League (www.pioneerleague.com), which has been a crowd-pleaser here since 1939. Most of the players are recent draft picks, and the Pioneer League is their first real baseball job.
The Billings Mustangs (a farm team for the Cincinnati Reds), the Missoula Osprey (associated with the Arizona Diamondbacks), the Helena Brewers (Milwaukee Brewers), and the Great Falls Voyagers (Chicago White Sox) play in the Pioneer League’s northern division.
Each team plays 70 games between mid-June and the end of August. Games are taken seriously, and fans often develop a rapport with the young players.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition