Ranch rodeo brings family and friends together to celebrate skills and traditions.
Dozens of families gather along the row of trucks and trailers at the Wyo Wild Ride Ranch Rodeo. Down the way, cowboys talk horses with their booted feet braced on a truck’s grill guard. A mom rocks her sleeping child in a stroller and watches her family as the kids send lariat loops flying onto a roping dummy. Near the rough-stock chutes another family leans back in their lawn chairs and prop their extended legs on the arena rail. The camaraderie draws contestants and audiences as much as the action-packed rodeo events.
Folks drive in from rural towns and ranches nine states away to attend the Wyo Wild Ride every June. This year the event takes place June 23 at the Southern Campbell County Ag Complex in Wright, Wyoming.
The event would not be produced without a team of dedicated ranch rodeo fans. For Tiffany Schwenke of Gillette, Wyoming, producing the Wyo Wild Ride is for her own enjoyment as well as a service to her community.
“The first year I helped another gal find sponsors and vendors for the inaugural all women’s ranch rodeo in the state,” Schwenke says of how she became the ranch rodeo’s co-producer in 2014. “I like to compete in ranch rodeos, but most of them are so far away. I’m a mom of three. I can’t really justify driving and spending a ton of money to go play and have fun. But when the rodeo is in my hometown, well, sure I can be in that one. My mom actually founded and produced a local youth rodeo called the Jesus Little Levi in the early 1980s, so I guess it’s just in my blood.”
The next year Schwenke became the sole producer, expanded the rodeo to include men, and enlisted friends and family to help her. In 2017 at the third annual event, returning announcers Kendall Cox (Schwenke’s father’s cousin) and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns bantered above the arena about cowboys, wild times, horses and cows. Below on the arena dirt, 16 four-person teams roped and ran on foot to doctor steers.
Mounted on his horse to the side of the action, Schwenke’s brother T.J. Camblin judged the doctoring event. Soon Schwenke hopped out of the announcer’s box to doctor a steer with her team, the Ropin Lady Ranc’Her’s. As with any rodeo, the event provided spills for the announcers’ to add colorful commentary.
“The thing I love about ranch rodeo is the unpredictability of it all,” Schwenke says. “No matter how great of a hand you are, things can go awry. My friend Jessie Hotchkiss on the Slim Butte Girls team roped a steer, and it ran up the rope. Her horse stepped over the slack, tangled its leg in the rope, and bucked her off.
“After the rodeo we messaged about her wreck and my stomach where the steer stuck me with his horn. ‘Just bruised,’ I reported. She replied, ‘I’m hobbling off to do chores now.’”
It’s All For Rodeo
Due to popularity, Schwenke limits the number of entries in Wyo Wild Ride in the team events, women’s steer stopping and ranch-style bronc riding. The Western States Ranch Rodeo Association (WSRRA) sanctions the rodeo, and the winning men’s and women’s teams are eligible to attend the WSRRA National Finals the first week of November in Winnemucca, Nevada.
At the 2017 Wyo Wild Ride, Schwenke switched out the team branding for a ranch horse competition. The Texas-owned Poison Spider Ranch located outside Casper, Wyoming, sponsored the ranch horse competition, which Schwenke says is open to riders not on ranch rodeo teams. The Poison Spider crew also lent their half-top stock trailer for the trailer-loading event. This made it easier for teams to pull their roped steer into the trailer.
Schwenke says there are two main ranch rodeo associations in the United States: the WSRRA and the Working Ranch Cowboy Association (WRCA), which has their finals in Amarillo, Texas.
“Generally the flat-brim hatted buckaroos go to WSRRA finals in Winnemucca,” Schwenke explains, “and the taco-hat wearing punchers do WRCA in Amarillo. But both kinds of cowboys attend each event. Everybody has the same goals no matter the ranch or ranch rodeo.
“Matt Robertson sings ‘Day Working Cowboy,’ and I love it. It goes, ‘Don’t call me a puncher. Don’t say I’m a buckaroo. I don’t need a label, just a job to do.’”
After the Wyo Wild Ride, the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame held their 2017 Region 1 induction ceremony for Crook, Weston and Campbell counties. Musician Trinity Seely strummed her guitar and sang of cowboys as the ranch rodeo teams, inductees and their family and friends swapped stories of the day’s rodeo and their ranches back home.
“Celebrating our older cowboys keeps our heritage and traditions alive,” Schwenke says. “And the ranch rodeo is for those of us still out there being cowboys. It all goes together perfectly. Plus it’s fun to see your friends that live in all different directions.”
Schwenke turned to the front as the rodeo-announcer-turned-master-of-ceremony, Stearns, took the microphone to read short biographies of each inductee. Stearns narrated the life accomplishments of Robert Isenberger, whose cowboy days included standing in the bed of a racing pickup truck chasing a bear to rope it. She told how another honoree, Joseph Fordyce, rode out a hard-bucking horse and the resulting friction ignited the wooden matches in his pocket and set his pants on fire. The tales are worthy of being told across a truck’s hood at a ranch rodeo. And this June the families will return with similar stories of triumphs and tomfoolery to tell along the back row at the Wyo Wild Ride.