We select a campsite in the pasture.
Families exercisied their horses all around us.
9-year-old Szeplyn was on her horse all afternoon.
She stopped by for a visit.
Szeplyn shows us how her horse can smile.
The steer dashes across the field with the ropers in pursuit.
Ropes fly as the "header" tries to snag the horns.
Success - the steer's horns are caught.
Tied head and foot, the steer rolls his eyes.
Header and Heeler pause for a split second then release the steer.
Catching a steer this way is no easy task.
The round-robin ropers wait their turn and laugh at the
antics of a buddy in the ring.
The steer are herded from the landing pen back to the
starting pen for another round.
Standing room only in the starting pen.
No kid is too young for a rodeo.
The bucking broncos do their best to
fling their riders into the air.
This is not for the faint hearted.
This horse came out kicking.
Mark does Annie Oakley.
Helmville, Montana Rodeo (1)
Labor Day Weekend, 2009 - Our Stevensville, Montana friends, Bob
and Donna Lea, wanted us to get a taste of the real western cowboy
experience, so they took us to the Helmville Rodeo. This is an annual
three-day event over Labor Day weekend that attracts rodeo stars and
ranch hands from all over the west. Spectators and entrants alike find a
spot in the pasture to park their campers and horse trailers, and
everyone sets up for a fun-filled weekend.
We soon found
by kids and their
their horses. The
thick grasses and
expansive lands that
spread out against
the rolling brown
Montana hills seemed
perfect for taking your
horse out for a spin.
One little girl in
particular caught our
Szeplyn had a
magical way with her
horse. She pranced past us repeatedly,
hair flying in the wind, as free and happy
as any girl her age could be. At other
times she would wander by in a more
contemplative mood, scanning the
distant horizon. She seemed to drift by
us on silent feet, at one with her horse,
the breeze and her world.
She stopped by our campsite to pay us a
visit and introduced herself. She was
going to be in the barrel race the next
day. There was a special category for
kids 10-and-under from the local area.
She was excited and we watched her
practicing with her dad.
During our visit she showed us how she
could make her horse smile. Funny thing, he didn't seem to mind much as she pulled his lips into a
big toothy grin. There was a real affection in this relationship that went both ways.
Next morning, down at the rodeo fairgrounds, the round-robin team
roping event was already underway when we got there. In this event
a steer would be released to run across the field. Two ropers would
the follow in hot pursuit.
One roper, the "header," would attempt to rope the steer's
horns. Only one in five ropers managed to snare those horns.
Most steer got across the field in record time, untouched.
If the steer's horns were caught, the other roper, the "heeler," would
attempt to rope the steer's feet. The was very tricky, as the feet are
running darned quickly and the rope has to slip under them mid-stride.
Of the steer whose heads were caught only a few got their feet caught
Once the steer was strung out between the two ropers, a
huge cheer would go up. Then, as fast as you could click
the shutter on your camera, the steer would be released.
Of the forty or so round-robin ropers waiting their turn, every header in the
bunch would pair up with every heeler, giving every possible pairing of
ropers a chance.
There was a
large herd of
and once they
each had run across the field in a
scrambling effort to evade getting
caught, they would all be herded back
to the starting line so they could run
The holding pen of steer waiting to
run across the field was very tight.
We learned later that these cattle are
rented to rodeos for performance purposes, so
they have a pretty good handle on what's
ahead of them. I'm sure some of all that
mooing in the pen was a lively discussion about
how to outwit the ropers. There might have
even been a bit of story telling among them about their
escapades in the rodeo.
The rodeo was a family event, and we saw kids of all ages
enjoying the fun. No youngster was too small to be a part.
After the round-robin event was over, the professional show
started, kicked off by a circling of the Montana flag, then the
US flag, and finally everyone stood for the national anthem.
The bucking broncos were a real eye opener. These horses get
their privates cinched up in a way that makes men cringe. The
gate is flung open and the horse leaps into the air while the
cowboy hangs on for dear life.
Some horses really let their riders have it. But
some riders manage to stay on for a miraculously
long time too.
One horse came out clawing the air. His rider
somehow stayed on his back, even though the
horse reared a second time before giving him a rip-
The facial expressions of the riders were priceless.
The event is timed in seconds, and rarely lasted
more than a few, but time must have been standing
still for those dare-devil men as they got
flung about like rag dolls.
The rodeo was a place where testosterone
was in very good supply. Getting a burger,
we stood behind a fellow whose thoughts
about gun ownership were proudly
emblazoned on the back of his shirt.
There was a raffle for a gun Mark thought
was especially cool, and he did his best
Annie Oakley after he bought a ticket. I
don't know what his plans were for the gun
if he'd won it, but his ticket didn't turn out to
be a winner in the end.
Neither of us has
spent much time
around horses or
farm animals, so we
loved every minute of
this action packed
weekend. In the
evening we retreated
to our campsite,
watching the kids
trotting around on their horses. We fell asleep to the sounds of horses
whinnying and snorting all around us as they stood outside tied to their
trailers. Next morning we were up bright and early to catch more of the