DILLON, Mont. – Beaverhead County is cow country, so by default it is cowboy country. Signifying the unofficial end of summer, Dillon has forever been known for hosting a top-notch county fair and PRCA sanctioned rodeo over Labor Day weekend which has come to be coined as “Montana’s Biggest Weekend” and it is a time when even the cowboys come to town.
This year for the first time, working cowboys and cowgirls had the opportunity to show off their rope, horsemanship and stockmanship skills under the big lights of Labor Day weekend in their very own ranch rodeo.
“A ranch rodeo gives the average cowboy a chance to compete and I think the community can relate better to the working cowboy,” explained event coordinator Amy Ward.
Ranch rodeos are much different then traditionally thought of rodeos. Four-person teams compete in every event and the events reflect tasks that working cowboys perform on a daily basis. Strategy and cohesiveness are key components as teammates race against the clock. At the Dillon Ranch Rodeo, 20 teams from across Montana, Idaho and Wyoming competed in a branding, sort and rope, trailer loading, modified team roping event and a team tie down event.
With $8,500 added to the pot, teams at this year’s Dillon Ranch Rodeo were competing for some serious cash. When the dust all settled the Friday of Labor Day weekend, the Riverbend Ranch team from Dillon, Mont., consisting of John Ward, Jason Ward, Ike Folsom and Casey Brunson walked away the champions, winning $1,241.50 per man. John Ward also won the Top Hand and was awarded a custom-made belt buckle donated by Beaverhead Home and Ranch Reality. Colter Carter of Blackfoot, Idaho, was awarded Top Horse and he too received a custom buckle sponsored by Beaverhead Home and Ranch Reality.
Ward and others on the event committee wanted to orchestrate a community centered event, so they decided to offer a ribbon roping in addition to the ranch rodeo. Only students enrolled at the University of Montana Western (UMW) were allowed to compete in this event while wearing their UMW rodeo vests or sports jerseys. Garrett Mussman and Kaycee Rogers won the event with an impressive time of 15 seconds.
In true cowboy culture, event coordinators also wanted to find a way they could use this event to give back to the Dillon community. They decided to set up a crisis-fund where a percentage of the profits from the ranch rodeo were donated to a family in need. The proceeds from this year’s inaugural event went to the family of Brandy Sorden. Sorden suffered a traumatic brain injury following a horse accident earlier this summer.
The crowd-pleaser at the Ranch Rodeo may very well have been the women’s triathlon, which combined the three events women traditionally compete in at rodeos. Using one horse and receiving one time, competitors where required to breakaway rope a calf, then run a barrel pattern and they then had to tie a goat on the way home from third barrel.
“I’ve competed in a women’s triathlon down in Idaho and I have always wanted to bring one to Montana,” said Ward.
The event was a huge success with 20 women competing. Brooke Hirschy of Jackson, Mont., left the arena the overall champion after she completed the triathlon in 31 seconds, pocketing $720.
Ranch rodeos are continuing to gain in popularity across western states as they pay homage to the traditions of working cowboys. The Dillon Ranch Rodeo Committee couldn’t have asked for a more successful first event, but this is only the tip of the iceberg, Ward emphasized. Looking ahead there are plans to incorporate a matched ranch bronc riding to next year’s slate of events. With some great goals in place for the ranch rodeo in future years, Ward hopes this unique, community-driven event will only continue to get better and better as it goes on.