Steamboat Springs When the working cowboys from Lone Pine Ranch in Kansas failed to make a scoring time in the “stray cattle gathering” competition at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena on Thursday night, their chances of leaving Steamboat Springs with the $4,000 first-place prize in the ranch rodeo didn’t look good. But then, seven teams already had failed ahead of them.
“We were a little down,” confessed Jess Coirier, of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, “but we knew we had to suck it up and go on.”
The challenge immediately in front of the Lone Pine cowboys was the wild cow-milking contest. And Coirier’s job, as the anchor man, was to get a firm grip on the tail of 1,500 pounds of truly irritated cow so teammate Chris Potter, of Arkansas City, Kansas, could grab ahold of a teat and coax a little milk into an empty Coors bottle before dashing back to the finish line.
The Lone Pine boys roped the cow, subdued her and got a squirt of warm milk in the bottle — all in one minute flat. They would be the ultimate winners of the night's competition.
For the uninitiated, this ranch rodeo sanctioned by the Working Ranch Cowboys Association was as action-packed as a traditional rodeo but more madcap, while still managing to be grounded in the chores that take place on a ranch every day.
Rodeo announcer Randy Lewis said it well: “The point of this event is to remind you that real cowboys still exist in the West.”
The rodeo began with a faux branding event that closely resembles the chore of branding calves in the spring, except no hide was singed. It was followed up by the trailer-loading event.
Now, loading a steer and a couple of saddle horses into a trailer might sound tame, but one would have to witness it to appreciate how wild it can get. The action begins when a team of four cowboys enters the rodeo arena tasked with separating one specific steer — No. 7, for example — from a herd of 10. The cowboys are required to do so without letting any of the other steers escape across a white line in the far east end of the arena.
Next, they must prod, coax and, ultimately, stuff the belligerent steer into a horse trailer followed by two of their own mounts, who by this time have become excitable. Finally, all four cowboys had to jump in a pickup hitched to the trailer and slam the doors shut, all inside three minutes.
Watching the cowboys accomplish this feat was a little like watching an old Keystone Cops movie.
A crowd of about 1,000 spectators who packed the covered grandstand clearly loved it.
The cowboys came from as far away as Tulia, Texas, down Amarillo way, and as nearby as Walden, just the other side of the Continental Divide from Steamboat Springs. Team Adams Ranch/Wilhelm Land and Cattle made the trip up from Tulia. They were one of just two teams to succeed in the wild steer-gathering competition that frustrated the Lone Pine cowboys. It required them to rope two steers, throwing their lariats at head and heels no more than six times, throw the beeves to the ground and bind up their hind legs inside of two minutes. Every miss of the lariat ratcheted up the tension.
Even the Texans came close to failing that challenge; they were granted a do-over by the judges when one of the steers they were pursuing stuck its head through the gap in a swinging gate in the arena fence to escape its tormenters. No cowboy who ever walked the Earth could rope a steer with its head stuck in a gate.
The steer was freed unharmed, and the top hands from Tulia roped clean on their second chance. However, they couldn’t repeat their success in the wild cow-milking contest. When Cody Sturgess made his mad dash back to the finish line and turned in his Coors bottle, the judge held it high and inverted the bottle, and nary a drop of milk was spilt.
The evening’s competition came down to the final event, a traditional saddle bronc riding event.
Brooks Bland, of Silver Spur Ranch/Walden, turned in the highest-scoring ride of the night, which earned him 75 points from the judges. And Potter’s score of 73 was good enough to secure the win for the Lone Pine cowboys.
Of course, cowboys are always modest to a fault.
“It was good enough,” Potter said about his saddle bronc ride. “The horse made two or three good jumps before he leveled off.”
The Lone Pine crew drove back over Rabbit Ears Pass on Thursday night hoping to be back in the plains of West Kansas by sunup and on their way to another Fourth of July ranch rodeo.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1