Working Ranch Cowboys Kick It at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo
Cowboys from throughout the region galloped into the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo again this year, treating spectators to hours of fast and furious fun, working ranch style. Ten teams participated in the Denver Championship WRCA (Working Ranch Cowboys Association) Ranch Rodeo Saturday night, March 14, representing spreads from Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska. Taking part in events like Wild Cow Milking, Ranch Sorting, Stray Gathering, Ranch Branding and Ranch Bronc Riding, the competition was a way to keep the spirit of the authentic west alive and kicking.
“It shows people what the cowboy way of life is all about and how (modern) rodeo came from the ranches,” said Harry Vold, ProRodeo Hall of Fame Stock Contractor and the stock supplier for the Denver Championship WRCA Ranch Rodeo. “We have professional rodeos all over the country … but it’s a nice change for us to be able to see one like this. These are ranch cowboys here.”
Those cowboys teamed up and tried to win each event, gaining points along the way depending on their placement, with the most cumulative points determining the winning ranch for the competition.
The first event was a round of Ranch Bronc Riding, with Sandhill Cattle Company (Earth, Texas) setting a 79-point pace in front of a cheering crowd. The Sandhill crew never let up throughout the contest, keeping the pressure on by successfully completing each and every event. That consistency of effort and skill earned the team first place overall for the night.
“Oh, it’s great,” described Tripp Townsend about coming in first. Townsend is the co-owner of the Sandhill Cattle Company, a yearling and cow/calf operation in business since 1998. “We’re qualified to go to the (WRCA) finals now. It’s the first rodeo of the season for us and there’s no more worrying about getting qualified. Now the rodeos we go to for the rest of the summer, well there’s not as much pressure,” he ended with a smile.
On top of showing how ranch work is done, each event contained plenty of entertainment. The bucking broncs entertainment value is self-explanatory, but the rest of the events carried their share of the load.
Ranch Sorting displayed a team’s skill at separating cattle, as four members worked together to sort five consecutive numbered cows from the herd in under two minutes. All team members were on horseback but only one rider at a time was allowed to sort. Making matters difficult, the calves were nowhere near domesticated; showing the kind of moves any NFL running back would be proud to have in his repertoire. Successful teams had the horses and riders to match those moves, much to the delight of the crowd.
Ranch Branding may have been the most traditional event for the evening, displaying cowboying skills as a pair of teams competed at a time, attempting to brand two calves in the fastest time possible, with limits in place regarding loping horses and how the calves must be roped, dragged, and branded (with white chalk). A no-time was given if the process took longer than two minutes.
Stray Gathering looked a lot like Team Roping, but when was the last time you saw four Team Ropers chasing down a couple of yearlings inside an arena at the same time? With galloping horses, running yearlings and flying ropes, the action was a wreck waiting to happen. The awareness and skill of those cowboys on horseback prevented most wrecks from occurring, but there were enough close calls to make it mighty interesting. In order to get a score, both yearlings had to be headed and heeled, as well as tied by three legs, all within a three-minute time frame.
Then there was Wild Cow Milking. Called the “bull riding of ranch rodeo,” the event was not a wreck waiting to happen ” it was a guaranteed wreck every time. A wild momma cow was released into the arena where a four member team, one on horseback, tried to rope her around the neck and then get her stopped (as much as possible for a big wild momma) while a team member milked a small amount into a bottle. That milker then ran to a specified circle to stop the timers. If enough milk was in a bottle to pour out when tipped, the team’s time would count. If you want to see cowboys fly, just watch a Wild Cow Milking contest.
Once all the events were near complete, the only thing left was for the last five bronc riders to show their stuff. Hoping to beat the 79 score put up earlier by Sandhill Cattle Company’s Quinten Bean, it took another Quinten to make it happen. Quinten Gass of the Thompson Ranch (near Munday, Texas) was last to go, and he earned top bronc rider of the night with an 81-point ride aboard a big gray Vold bucking horse in front of an excited crowd. That score also helped the Thompson Ranch earn third place overall, behind both Sandhill Cattle Company and Singleton Ranches (New Mexico).
“Oh, that horse was stout, that’s all I can say,” said Gass afterward with a big smile. “I was just praying to stay in the middle.”
When asked how it felt to learn he was the top bronc rider for the night, the humble young cowboy gave credit where credit was due.
“I was just tickled pink,” he said of his reaction. “I just praise the Lord that I got it covered, that’s all I can say.”
After watching cowboys get tossed, trampled, kicked or otherwise abused during the competition, it seemed safe to ask if they have a good time participating in these ranch rodeos.
“This is how we have a good time,” a smiling Townsend answered when asked the question. Townsend’s Sandhill team not only won the event, but Townsend himself walked away with the Top Hand Award. “We stay home and work seven days a week almost, and this is how we slip off and have fun,” added the soft-spoken cowboy. “We bring our families, our wives and kids … our wives like each other and our kids like each other. It really helps.”
Winning $5,000 for first place helped make it fun, as well.
“That sure helps pay for the expense up here, yes sir,” Townsend said with a laugh. “It’s a long way from Earth, Texas to Denver, (but) it was great. We love to come to the Colorado rodeo. They had good cattle, and it’s a professional bunch that puts it on here.”
“I thought it went extremely well,” summed up Vold after the competition was complete. “There were some good teams (and) it was a great show.” v