National Western Stock Show in Denver

Cowboy skills pitted against professional rodeo stock

By Jaclyn Schrock

The thrilling entertainment and competitive sport originating from the daily and seasonally used skills of a ranch hand in the American West is what has become Professional Rodeo. The unpredictable actions empowered by great strength of the animals, cared for and provided by contracted ranchers, is challenged by the Professional Cowboy who uses courage, prayer, and specialized skills. He or she is often cooperating with his horse and sometimes with team mates in rodeos. Typical rodeo events focus on the safety of the animal, the rider, the venue, and the judges, supporting ranch hands and the audience.

The 113th National Western Stock Show in Denver keeps agriculture and rural traditions fresh with excitement of the rodeo, along with the many, skilled accomplishments of those who tend and nurture the livestock. The cowboy ways are perpetuated and rewarded at NWSS, with huge piles of thanks to sponsors who support this annual event.

Colorado gathers together annually to participate in the deepening of our roots as the state celebrates a part of our heritage. Some recent additions to activities include nonprofessional rodeo ranch hand competitions that were a new thrill for the spectators. The multitude of kid friendly nurturing, educational support with scholarships and mentoring perpetuates this lifestyle. Certainly, included is the traditional, professional rodeo: pro bull riding, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling,  the Westernaires, teams drawing coaches, and of course the rodeo clown with his own special fun!

NWSS includes a multitude of other events as well: a fiddle contest, horse dancing, Mexican Extravaganza, dog shows, special needs rodeo, Coors Western Art gallery, petting and baby animal nursery, the animal barns with immaculately manicured livestock that change with the shows and exhibits, trade shows for the cowboy’s life, and so many more expo events.

Denver could nearly come to a standstill keeping its festive Christmas decorations in participation of the opening parade and the 16 days of events at the National Western Stock Show grounds at I-70 off Brighton Blvd. These grounds are being reconstructed to improve the opportunities to include some underground parking, as I-70 makes changes also.

Saturday, January 12, 2019 was the first day to hold three of 30 rodeo competitions for the NWSS. 11 a.m. brought the Champions from 2018 rodeos in Houston, Calgary Stampede, Cheyenne Frontier, Dodge City and more. While the 3:30 p.m. RAM Rodeo Team Colorado with top contestants from the 2018 NWSS, Greeley Stampede, Pikes Peak or Bust Pro Rodeo, Colorado State Fair Pro Rodeo, Roof Top Rodeo (Estes Park), and many more. At 8 p.m. the overall champions were realized with the finals of the Colorado vs World rodeo.  Colorado won Bareback Riding, World won Steer Wrestling, and final rides were tied at 90.0 but the World Rider had a better score overall so won, Saddle Bronc Riding, World won Barrel Racing by one-one thousandths of a second, and World won the Bull Riding. The challenge of staying safely positioned to earn the most possible points while being tossed like a rag doll holding onto a bucking beast was often very quick for the rider, but appreciation for the ride via thundering applause came from the record-breaking attendance of the audience helped with the pain.

We arrived early enough to enjoy the company of those wearing rodeo duds and appreciated the efforts it took every person and animal to get to the National Western Stock Show. After walking the grounds and stopping off to investigate things and spend time talking with folks, we hauled along the goods we collected and the memories we are sharing.

This year was our first time to find the Invitational Ranch Rodeo (IRR) at the CINCH Arena/ Events Center at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, January 12. Colorado Barrier presented these well-practiced rodeo skills, along with many other corporate sponsors. The Monarch Casino of Black Hawk also sponsored this rodeo, like our own Mardi Gras Rodeo held at our Gilpin County Fair each year. It wasn’t easy to leave the steers in the exhibit barn, nor the alpaca and llamas, or the many interests in the trade show to get to the CINCH Arena before IRR started. Good thing we are going back, having gotten a package of multi-day tickets!

2019 was NWSS’s fourth Invitational Ranch Rodeo in four years and is a non-professional rodeo. That simply means that the ones competing in this rodeo make their living on the ranch, not on the professional rodeo circuit. Another difference is that this is strictly a 4-man “jack of all trade” team event, while the pro rodeo has individual cowboys who typically only compete in a few events that they excel in. IRR are real ranch hands – they spend most of their working days, and sometimes nights, on their horse, with the herd or tending to the needs of the ranch. The National Western Stock Show invites four rider teams that come from one or two combined ranches to compete against teams from other ranches. Their competitive events mimic common practices they are called upon to perform, all in the line of duty as a ranch hand. They compete in the Ranch Rodeo for fun and bragging rights instead of as their job.

Eight teams comprised of four cowboy/girl team used their own horses to compete in four events. These teams were introduced and stood in a line with hats off and heads bowed during the opening prayer and sat proudly on their horses while the national anthem was sung. These teams were specifically invited to Denver to compete. Most of the team members have wins for the same ranch in other Ranch Rodeos as far back as 2008. Each event had four horsemen judging and caring for the herd or livestock while in the arena during competition. Many others including the livestock contractor worked to have the cattle available at the right time and place for the rodeo. The 2019 NWSS events were Sorting, Cut & Brand, Double Mugging, and Wild Cow Milking.

With “sorting” the arena was set so a line was powdered on the dirt floor to show where the herd was to stay. When the herd of about 30 yearling cattle was brought in, each had a large number visible from both sides on their neck and they seemed willing to stay on their side of the line. Three officials stayed near the line on their horses while the fourth official was calming the heard, bringing them closer together. Once calm, they moved out into the arena to watch the sorting of three yearlings from the herd. These three were then escorted to the far end of the arena where the opening was similar to a box car with the door open to receive the three yearlings.

Haythorn was first team on the arena floor ready for the number 3 to be called. One rider gingerly went into the heard calmly and cut out the cattle with the number 3 on them. The other three horses guarded to keep the other numbered yearlings from crossing the line. Once all three were singled out, they corralled them into the box car. Those cutting horses seemed to know exactly how to guide those yearling cattle. They looked at the herd and moved on their own with little reining or spurring by the riders. They were very quick to move to either allow one to cross the line or to block them from crossing. Well trained cutting horses!

The crowd responded with cheers at hopeful moves anticipating successes, and groaned when disappointments were evident. Four teams earned a timed score in the Sorting event, while four did not – either they didn’t get the right numbered yearlings out, or didn’t get all of them into the box car. Haythorn Land and Cattle Company of Arthur, Nebraska was 3rd Place by making the goal in 126.03 seconds. Beachner Brothers Livestock of Erie, Kansas was 2nd Place with 104.09 seconds. The Jolly Ranch team of Agate, Colorado, won First Place with a score of 55. 21 seconds.

The second event was “Double Mugging.” The cattle were all returned behind the arena floor. When the judges and first team was ready, two yearlings with no numbers were sent in so the timed event began. The four riders on the Veale/Sarco Creek team was the first to work together to rope both calves. When one cowboy got the yearling roped, another would join to lay it down and rope three legs together. The nearby judge would lower the flag when this one was roped, and was informed when the rope had held for six seconds to signal with a thumbs up it had held. Once the second one was roped and held it position, the clock stopped. All the teams earned time points for Double Mugging. 3rd Place was Jolly Ranch of Agate Colorado, at 106.02 seconds. 2nd Place was Bootheel 7/ Hagerman of Lusk, Wyoming with 100.83 seconds. 1st Place was Veale/Sarco Creek from Fort Worth, Texas at 58.23 seconds.

The third event “Cut & Brand” brought the herd back out, but only one yearling and each had a number, 0-7. A gate was set up on one end of the line, while the rest of the line was open and spooked cattle easily sought to cross that line, which would be a penalty until after the one needed had gone through the gate, or open space between the edge of the arena and the temporary fencing. Inside the three fencing panels standing in a triangle shape, was a judge that monitored the branding iron in the bucket. The object of Cut & Branding is to cut out the cattle that is to be branded. Once the yearling was coerced through the gate, it was roped, tied to lie down and signaled by that the rope from the head was now secure around the legs, a team member ran on foot from the branding iron bucket with the decorative brand and placed on the animals side. This competition was just for show, and left no impression on the animal. Once the branding iron was raced back into the bucket, the time stopped.

When the herd was settled on their side of the line, and judges spread out in the arena, Arndt & Bailey Ranches were the first team. The announcer called for them to cut #3 out of the heard and the challenge began with the clock. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful to get #3 to go through the gate, although it crossed the line a number of times where a fence may have helped on the ranch. They and five other teams received no score for Cut & Brand. One other team did successfully get the job done, but many cattle crossed the line before they got their #6 tied down, disqualifying them. The horses and teams worked well together, but the yearlings were on to their plan, and stubbornly refused to cooperate.

The Cut & Brand 2nd Place team, Haythorn Land & Cattle Company of Nebraska, completed their goal in 153.61 seconds. 1st Place team Jolly Ranch of Agate, Colorado was very quick with 57.23 seconds.

The fourth event was very entertaining for spectators! Gary and Alynn Huffman were busy as usual this time of year as volunteers with the National Western Stock Show. Gary said he had participated in the Wild Cow Milking event some years earlier, and was very happy not to repeat that event. He pointed out Alynn, who was manning the opening and closing of a gate where the animals came into the arena.

Wild Cow Milking has a nearly empty arena, with just a small area chalked off near the announcer’s booth, where the milk is run to in a Coors bottle. Only a total of four team members and four judges on their horses are set with no other animals in the arena. Time begins when an often active and frisky cow with full udders is released into the area. The Beatty Canyon/ Flying A Ranch team gave the crowd our first taste of capturing an escaped momma who needs to have her pressure released.

Oh the many challenges they faced! The crowd gave much encouragement and laughter along the way of this event. Roping the wild cow was first. Once they had chased her around the arena hoping to be near the bottle inspecting spot, and she was roped, she seldom stayed there. She was usually stronger than the one horse pulling her. Two team members would dismount to attempt to hold her. The first cowboy would grab her tail to pull the opposite direction of the horse pulling her neck lassoed neck rope. The next cowboy often tried to hold her neck or shoulder area to stabilize her, while the third cowboy had the empty Coors bottle and wiggled and squirmed to grab a teat and get milk into the bottle. Sometimes they would start to run to the announcer’s booth, only to look in the bottle and find it empty and have to go back to do it again. Her neck rope had to be removed before they could run back with the milk to stop the time. It was quite the challenge to get the milk from the distraught cow that had not seen her baby in a while!

Each of the eight teams earned scores with this hilarious event. The times ranged from 35.69 to 133.67 seconds. Five teams scored with over 100 seconds. One team only got a few drops of milk in the bottle, but it was enough to score. The Wild Cow Milking team Bootheel 7/Hageman from Wyoming won 3rd Place with 57.30 seconds. 2nd Place with 56.59 seconds was won by the Veale/ Sarco Creek team from Texas. 1st Place with 35.69 seconds, was won by the Beachner Brothers Livestock team from Kansas.

Each event paid the top three teams, with the overall winners getting a larger check. Overall 3rd Place was Beacher Brothers Livestock from Kansas with $1,950. Overall 2nd Place, earning $3,900 was Haythorn Land and Cattle Company of Nebraska. Overall 2nd Place was two-time World Finalists with Ranch Rodeo, our own Agate Colorado Jolly Ranch team, winning $7,150. All the sponsors, teams, judges, support staff and volunteers made for a great rodeo that everyone looks forward to returning to again!

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