There was a time when just about everyone who lived in Montana rode a horse.
Most rural kids were skilled riders, and probably broke at least one horse in their youth. This is no longer true, and we are at least a generation removed from a time when pretty much everyone rode a horse at least for a season in their life.
Montana still has a strong riding presence as almost every college has a rodeo team, and all summer and a little of winter we enjoy the sport of rodeo. Increasingly though, the western scene has changed to ATVs moving cattle and dubbing our beloved horses as “hay burners”.
There are those that will always maintain that a good cow horse will always be worth the hay. It is from these holdouts that a rich heritage of ranching from horseback is preserved and passed down from generation to generation. From these ranching families working ranch horse sport competitions have emerged and the day-to-day practice of working all week on the ranch culminates in cow horse sports.
It is with signs and groans for a friend’s misfortune, and whoops and hollers of encouragement that these comrades who are also competitors find a sense of belonging and understanding. These kids from a very young age have worked a man’s job. They know all too well what it is like to put in a 15-hour day, for five days in a row. They are no stranger to the 2:00 a.m. hour putting away horses, or checking cows from horseback. They’ve been stuck in solitude on a mountain top with their “stomach eating a hole in their spine,” looking for that last pair with a 3 hour ride home ahead of them.
Their camp is a long ways from Easy Street, nonetheless many Montana boys and girls are drawn to it. One thing is for sure, they don’t last long without these two very expensive things: a good horse and quality cowboy gear. A horse without a handle will hurt you bad and waste precious time, and flimsy equipment breaks the first time you need it to work. Most will have to learn with help to make their own horse. Ropes, bridles, custom bits, chaps, reins, etc. are essentials for this type of work. With a little luck and preparation these items can sometimes by won through competition, or they learn to custom make their own equipment and later turn it into a business.
For some kids, a family mentor is there to encourage them along, but increasingly there are more and more that have no one to show them. There are also a few places where knowledgeable, accomplished, passionate adult volunteers who want to promote a future in cow horse sport lend a helping hand. Below are a few of the places and events where cowboys and cowgirls can get a “leg up”, and find friendly competition. All of them are family-friendly events with free admission where Montana ranch heritage is being nurtured and preserved. Come support these folks as they put on display their passion and skills for horseback ranching something very unique to the west.
4-H Ranch Horse Project: 4-H has amazing curriculum and some of the best written help offered in the Horsemanship and Ranch Horse Project Manuals. Help differs from county to county, but in Teton county, one Sunday a month leaders will help kids with basic horsemanship like gaits, leads, transitions, plus trail, roping and tracking cattle skills. Many counties have a ranch horse competition. Teton and Cascade counties combine efforts, and that event was held Wednesday, July 24, 2019.
Coming up August 24-25, 2019 at the King’s Arena is the State 4-H Working Ranch Horse and Open Youth Ranch Versatility competition. Saturday’s 4-H competition is open to any and all 4-H members currently enrolled. Competition includes riding a pattern, roping at head and roping at heels, sorting cattle and a knowledge test.
Sunday’s Versatility Ranch Horse event is open to any youth aged 8-18. VRH classes include Ranch Reining, Ranch Pleasure, Ranch Trail, and Working Cow Horse. You can enter all 4 or just a couple of your favorite classes.
This event offers over $15,000 in the highest quality cowboy gear prizes including Greeley hats, saddle pads, ropes, spurs, custom bits, cinch bags, and a jacket to all entries and much more. There is also a free two-hour clinic Saturday morning that is open to contestants. Contact Lisa Jassen Contact Lisa at 406.781.3678 or firstname.lastname@example.org or locally Lindsey Garpestead or Kate Banner at 406-264-5124 for more questions.
Treasure State Cutting Club: The Treasure State Cutting Club was founded in 2013 in the heart of Montana and promotes the sport of Cutting and Cow Horse for Beginners through advanced enthusiasts. The instruction of trained and seasoned competitors is no charge. All you pay is the one time per year membership fee of $35, and cattle charge $45 fresh or $35 for used. Parents, or youth can also get turnback instruction during these practice times which always start Friday at 4 pm before the Saturday event. You must call ahead. There is only one practice left this year, September 6, 2019 at the Never Sweat Ranch in Hamilton, Montana. Added Bonus!!
There is a free Judges Seminar on Friday, September 6 after the practice at the Never Sweat Ranch. As a member, you can also enter the Saturday competitions which start at 10 am September 7 & 8, 2019 in the Bitterroot Valley. Youth classes are $35, Beginner classes include Never Won a Buckle and $500 Limited Rider Class which are $70 and some will be using 2 hands. Great turnback help always available. You do not have to have a trainer; anyone you ask who is qualified will be glad to help. That is what TSCC does. There are only one practice and two shows left this year, but several opportunities next year across the state. You can stay local or participate in all of them if you want to. Definitely put this on your radar for help next year.
They have incredible cowboy gear prizes for year-end awards. At the show in Sun River on August 3, 2019, Mark and Jeanne Reyher of Reyher Embryonics teamed up with David Miller of CHS and purchased a bag of Equis Feed for every youth contestant. Treasure State is very generous and encouraging to youth that participate.
See the Treasure State Cutting Club website for more information at www.treasurestatecuttingclub.com, or call Kate Banner at 406-264-5124.
Montana High School Rodeo: Cutting and Working Ranch Horse are two lesser known events on the Montana High School Rodeo venue. Justin Warneke out of Vaughn, Montana is the coordinator of those events. For more information and a schedule, contact him and visit Montana High School Rodeo website.
Youth and Women’s Ranch Rodeo Wolf Creek, Montana: Sunday, August 11, 2019 in Wolf Creek, Montana Youth Ranch Rodeo and Women’s team Ranch Rodeo was put on by Quarter Circle Z Guest Ranch. There were five youth teams of 4, each team could have up to 2 adults. The winning youth team Jason, Cody (age 12), Dusty Weaver (age 14) and Matt Nisly, came out of Fort Shaw, Montana with a cash prize of $1,100 and qualified for national youth ranch rodeo in Nevada. Dusty and Cody will also be participating in the 4-H State Finals Working Ranch Horse Competition August 24-25 mentioned above.
There are probably many more opportunities available, and new ones coming up all the time. We will keep the Fairfield Sun Times updated as to what is happening so they can include the events in their schedule.
An unaffiliated Montana Ranch Horse Facebook page is also in the works, organized by Fort Shaw native Lindsey Garpestead to keep your finger on the pulse. A link to the page will be posted on the Sun Times’ Facebook page when it becomes available. It will include 4-H, Montana High School Rodeo, and things like the Montana Youth Ranch Rodeo as well as great cowboy gear vendor who sponsor the above listed events.
Montana cow horse sport is on the rise and there are many opportunities available as competitions become increasingly more popular. Men and women who ride are genuinely interested in preserving their discipline and there is help available for anyone willing to put forth the effort.
This story originated at fairfieldsuntimes.com