Bucking Tradition 

Montana's rich rodeo culture goes beyond just an eight second ride

In just eight seconds, a bull rider can vault himself from no-name cowboy to celebrated hero. In rodeo's most celebrated event—so popular, in fact, it spawned it's own NASCAR-like circuit, the Professional Bull Riders—the prize money is high, the risk steep, and reputations are either earned or lost quickly.

Montana events tend to buck this high-profile trend. More than 90 community rodeos take place in Montana every year, each filled with a distinctive local pageantry that keeps the focus more on its cattle ranching roots than its contemporary appeal. Whether crowds come together for the 112th annual Fourth of July rodeo in Arlee, the 68th annual Drummond rodeo in mid-July or Missoula's Western Montana Fair and Rodeo in mid-August, these gatherings offer a rare window to the original American West.

click to enlarge Young cowboys keep their eyes on a barrel racer during the Fourth of July rodeo in Arlee. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Young cowboys keep their eyes on a barrel racer during the Fourth of July rodeo in Arlee.



click to enlarge “Pinto Bill” stands quietly at the Arlee rodeo grounds, still painted from the Fourth of July parade earlier in the day. Well-worn harnesses adorn the fence in Drummond. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • “Pinto Bill” stands quietly at the Arlee rodeo grounds, still painted from the Fourth of July parade earlier in the day. Well-worn harnesses adorn the fence in Drummond.



click to enlarge Miss Teen Rodeo Montana Libby Gurnett waves the American flag during the grand entry at the Drummond PRCA rodeo. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Miss Teen Rodeo Montana Libby Gurnett waves the American flag during the grand entry at the Drummond PRCA rodeo.



click to enlarge Riker Carter of Stone, Idaho, waits for his bull riding event at the 112th annual Fourth of July rodeo in Arlee. Carter was one of 114 entrants in the rodeo’s nine events. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Riker Carter of Stone, Idaho, waits for his bull riding event at the 112th annual Fourth of July rodeo in Arlee. Carter was one of 114 entrants in the rodeo’s nine events.



click to enlarge Ty Tescher, of Sidney, netted $655.50 when he took first place in the bull riding competition at the Drummond Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo despite suffering a broken wrist the night before during a competition in Wolf Point. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Ty Tescher, of Sidney, netted $655.50 when he took first place in the bull riding competition at the Drummond Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo despite suffering a broken wrist the night before during a competition in Wolf Point.



click to enlarge Crowned Miss Teen Rodeo Montana in January 2010, Libby Gurnett, 18, of Helena, is a sixth-generation Montanan spending the year acting as an ambassador for pro rodeo and all things Western. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Crowned Miss Teen Rodeo Montana in January 2010, Libby Gurnett, 18, of Helena, is a sixth-generation Montanan spending the year acting as an ambassador for pro rodeo and all things Western.



click to enlarge Dilbert High, 78, has been handling rodeo stock and running the calf chutes for Kesler Rodeo for the past 17 years. He’s quick to point out his claim to fame: making $8,000 for being featured as a Marlboro cowboy in an ad campaign years ago. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Dilbert High, 78, has been handling rodeo stock and running the calf chutes for Kesler Rodeo for the past 17 years. He’s quick to point out his claim to fame: making $8,000 for being featured as a Marlboro cowboy in an ad campaign years ago.



click to enlarge A bareback rider hangs on during the opening event at the 68th annual Drummond PRCA rodeo on July 11. JR Vezain, an 18-year-old from Cowley, Wyo., won the event and a $471 prize. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • A bareback rider hangs on during the opening event at the 68th annual Drummond PRCA rodeo on July 11. JR Vezain, an 18-year-old from Cowley, Wyo., won the event and a $471 prize.



click to enlarge Moments before getting atop the bull, a bull rider pauses to collect his thoughts. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Moments before getting atop the bull, a bull rider pauses to collect his thoughts.



click to enlarge Mayhem erupts inside the Arlee rodeo arena as kids of all ages jump in for the “chicken chase.” The rules are simple: You catch it, you keep it. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • Mayhem erupts inside the Arlee rodeo arena as kids of all ages jump in for the “chicken chase.” The rules are simple: You catch it, you keep it.



click to enlarge A bull rider at the Drummond Rodeo warms up prior to entering the chute. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY



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