Libby residents keeping rodeo alive

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Trisha Davis-Stacy, Patty Rambo, Suzanne Resch and Tracey Ovnicek hold the banner for the 2019 Kootenai River Stampede in the offices of The Western News. (Paul Seivers/The Western News)

Seventeen years ago, a few Libby residents noticed the tradition of rodeo was fading out in Lincoln County, and they decided to do something about it. Almost two decades in, the Kootenai River Stampede PRCA Rodeo is still going strong.

“They did it literally from nothing,” said KRSR organizer, Patty Rambo. “No arena, no bleachers, no background, just blind enthusiasm.”

Four members of the St. John’s Lutheran Hospital Foundation Board, Suzanne Resch, KC Hoyer, Kerry Beasley and Deb Campbell, started the rodeo as a fundraiser for the hospital.

Because of the enthusiasm and unwillingness to quit shown by the KRSR organizers, the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame has decided to honor the rodeo with the Heritage Award of 2019. Just like the rodeo itself, every event within the sport has meaning and history.

According to the KRSR 2018 event program, the tie-down roping event dates back to when ranch hands had to immobilize calves that were sick so they could get them veterinary help. They would have to work fast to rope the calves, and the ranch hands prided themselves on their speed.

Likewise, saddle bronc riding stemmed from cowboys having to break and train wild horses. The event does not just require the cowboy to stay in the saddle. They are also judged on style, grace and precise timing. The same goes for bull riding, one of the more popular events of a rodeo. While the cowboys are also judged for style in this competition, it does not seem to stem from any necessity other than to fulfill the cowboys’ wild nature.

Bull riding is intentionally climbing onto the back of an upwards of 2,000 pound bull and riding that bull for eight seconds. The cowboy must do this while holding onto a braided rope that is wrapped around the bull’s chest, with one hand. The ride is graded on the way the cowboy has the free hand above his head and how his legs kick the bull. In order to do this, a rider must have impeccable mental and physical strength.

The rodeo circuit is not just for men. Women get involved too.

According to Cowgirl Magazine, in 1948, 38 women in San Angelo, Texas began the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. It is now the oldest women’s sports organization in the United States and the only one governed entirely by women.

While they do not ride the broncs or the bulls, the tasks they perform require them to be in perfect mental and physical shape as well.

Women’s rodeo events include barrel racing, where contestants on horseback run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels set in a triangle in the arena. The quickest time determines the winner, with five second penalties assessed for each tipped barrel. Calf roping is also a popular sport with cowgirls.

Every year cowboys and cowgirls compete for millions of dollars worth of prizes. Come summer, the competitors in the Kootenai River Stampede Rodeo will be doing the same at the J. Neils Arena north of Libby on Highway 37.

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