July 17, 2014 | 118 13

Wild horse race is dangerous, but entertaining spectacle at Stampede

Crunch Time

This weekend I had a chance to make it out to the Bi-Mart Arena to enjoy a little bit of the Cheney Rodeo. I haven't been to many rodeos in my lifetime - in fact, this was the second rodeo I have ever attended.

I was in awe of the pageantry of the event. I also tip my hat to the riders in the various events, specifically the cowboys in the bareback and bull riding competitions. I've only ridden a mechanical bull and that was hard enough. I can't imagine the skill and intestinal fortitude it takes for someone to ride a bucking bronco - even if they only need to stay on for 8 seconds.

Being at the rodeo took me back to one year where I attended the 90th Wild Horse Stampede Rodeo in Wolf Point, Mont. I had started as the editor of The Herald News and my second day on the job consisted of taking a trip to Marvin Brookman Stadium to take pictures.

Like the Cheney Rodeo, the Stampede featured several events including bareback riding, bull riding and barrel racing.

However, one event stood out to me - the wild horse race.

It consists of teams of three riders attempting to saddle, mount and ride a horse to the end of the track. Unlike the steeds used in the other events, these horses are wild and have never been ridden by a human.

The race begins when the horse comes out of the chute with a rope attached to it. Two riders hold on to the rope long enough to subdue the horse for their teammate to throw the saddle on and mount it. The rider has to stay on the horse and ride it to the finish line.

Teams are generally a mix of experienced ranchers and the average Joe. Their only protection worn was jeans, hats, boots and shirts. Some teams would ready themselves for the race in the usual fashion, stretching and going over their strategy. Others had a different method of preparation that included praying and drinking shots of Jack Daniels.

Although plenty of teams had success in the race over the decades, the year I went to the Stampede, the race had no winners - unless you count the horses.

The race was chaos. Several riders either let go early or were dragged along the track until their fingers released the rope. Although a few riders managed to get the saddles on the steeds, they failed to mount the horses in order to finish the race. As for the riders who were successful, their horses quickly threw them to the dirt

The race might be funny to folks who spectate, but it is quite dangerous.

Several riders had bruises and bandages to go along with the dirt and sweat on their clothes. Thankfully no one was taken to the hospital.

The race is considered the highlight of the rodeo because it was featured in the first Stampede. However, several rodeos have canceled the event over the years, not only because of the danger it poses to riders, but also to the horses.

Organizations like the Oregon Humane Society have asked rodeos to stop featuring the event. The St. Paul Rodeo canceled their wild horse race after an accident where two horses were involved in a head-on collision and had to be put down because of the injuries they sustained.

I can see why rodeos would cancel this event - even without the pressure from outside parties - however small towns like Wolf Point hold traditions and I don't seem them canceling the race anytime soon. If there was a way to make it safer for both the riders and the horses - such as only allowing one team to compete at a time - I think this event could make a comeback.

Al Stover can be reached at al@cheneyfreepress.com.

Reader Comments

(0)