BIG TIMBER, Mont. – There is just something about a rodeo. The grand entry, the sound of chute gates opening and the smell of dust that has this innate ability to bring everyone together. Although normally an outdoor event, crowd-packing rodeos were being cancelled across the county this year as the threat of COVID-19 continued to grow.
However, there is just something about a rodeo, so John and Mardi Smith of JS Rodeo Company put on their thinking caps and decided to start a weekly rodeo in their company’s hometown of Big Timber. The town’s peaceful, tree-lined rodeo grounds, was the perfect place to host the weekly rodeo.
“The weekly rodeo was definitely born out of COVID and the fact there just wasn’t as many rodeos happening this year because of the pandemic,” explained Cassidy Shay O’Neil.
The Smiths are busy on the road a lot of the time hauling rough stock, so O’Neil helps the couple out with the communication needs of their rodeo company.
Once the idea was sparked, it only took a matter of days for things to fall into place. Just 10 days after pursuing the idea, Mardi Smith had every Wednesday night in July booked for an open rodeo and every Wednesday evening in August was slated as a PRCA-sanctioned rodeo.
Naturally, JS Rodeo Company provided the rough stock for the Big Timber Weekly Rodeo, while the timed-event cattle came from other generous contributors. Each nightly performance showcased the seven traditional rodeo events, with the addition of ranch saddle bronc riding and the classic event, steer roping.
The Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit is one of only a few professional rodeo circuits that still offers a handful of steer roping events. When the Smiths decided to put on the Big Timber Weekly Rodeo, staying true to the classic rodeo events is something they wanted to do and it ended up being a popular draw for the rodeo.
“A lot of rodeos don’t offer steer roping anymore, so I think that is another element as to why we always had so many contestants at our rodeos,” O’Neil stated.
Steer roping may have contributed to the Big Timber Weekly Rodeo’s popularity, but overall, the event experienced smashing success during its first summer out. Its first few weeks as an open rodeo gave organizers a chance to gage interest, and after finding out there was plenty, the Smiths then decided to take their rodeo dream one step further and sanction the Big Timber Weekly Rodeo with the PRCA.
Once sanctioned as a pro rodeo, Big Timber began drawing high caliber contestants like Montana-raised World Champions Ty Erickson and Haven Meged, who both won their first year-end title at the 2019 NFR in steer wrestling and tie-down roping, respectively. Other household rodeo names like Tyson Durfey and Fallon Taylor also made appearances at the Big Timber Weekly Rodeo.
“We put a lot out on the line to make sure those professional guys could rodeo this year and we are so thankful to have gotten the level of contestants we did,” O’Neil said.
As the rodeos continued on throughout the summer, spectator interest also increased. Rodeo organizers put in special effort to ensure each rodeo’s grand entry was unique and memorable, and as a result, ticket sales steadily grew over the summer. By the final rodeo, the crowd was standing room only.
Community outreach is very near and dear to the heart of the Smiths and one of their goals from the beginning was to use the weekly rodeo as a way to bolster the town of Big Timber. Not only did the town see economic benefits from the rodeo, but the Smiths were able to donate a portion of the rodeo’s profits to different entities in the community like the local school system and volunteer fire department.
It may be hard to top the Big Timber Weekly Rodeo’s maiden year, but John and Mardi Smith plan to keep the momentum going. Looking ahead, their goals include offering the weekly rodeos as a series and maybe even someday turning the rodeo into a nightly event similar to the iconic Cody Night Rodeo.
“We have goals to get more involved with our community and we are hoping that this rodeo will grow and that we can work hard to help make Montana Pro Rodeo the best it can be,” O’Neil concluded.