For as long as he can remember, longtime Cortez area resident Hardy Tozer has been around livestock. Not long after he could walk, a rope was placed in his hand, and not long after that, he sat in a saddle for the first time.
Thus, when Tozer climbed aboard his horse for Cortez’s annual Ranch Rodeo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds on Aug. 3, he felt completely at home inside a large arena in front of an audience that had come to watch local cowboys and cowgirls do what they do best.
Twirling a rope above his head and chasing a small steer that had been separated from four cows in the arena, Tozer looked every bit the part of a fifth-generation rancher who has made a living tending animals that he loves.
“For me and my family, we’re fifth generation right here in the county,” Tozer said. “Ranching is what I do and who I am. It’s not a nine-to-five job. It’s your life. It’s not just something that you go and do.”
For Tozer and a multitude of other ranchers who combined to form the 13 teams that entered this year’s event, the challenges associated with riding, roping and corralling powerful heifers and feisty steers was evident throughout the night.
Upon entering the arena, each team was charged with separating and sorting a group of five cattle that had been released into the large area before the team’s entry.
One cow had to be loaded into a trailer, a second animal was tied to a fence post, two small steers were penned, and one steer was roped, tied down and mock-branded with a cold iron.
Among the most successful teams was Tozer’s group, dubbed T&T Arena, which was composed of a handful of ranchers, including some who work on Ute Mountain Ute farms. Together, the group members completed their tasks in a total time of 2 minutes, 30 seconds, which ranked as the fastest time of the night.
“We’re not running and roping every day like we are here, but we typically do a lot of sorting, and we do rope and ride,” Tozer said. “(The Ranch Rodeo) provides a good opportunity to come here and show your horse and show off what you do.”
Among many young contestants who participated in this year’s Ranch Rodeo was 14-year-old Lewis resident Wyatt Koskie, whose family has owned cattle for as long as he can remember. Part of a team known as Load ’em in the Dark,’ Koskie explained that planning is key to being successful at a ranch rodeo.
“Most of it is just about how you plan,” Koskie said. “You have to have a good game plan going in. I grew up ranching, and my dad taught me to rope, and pretty soon I was roping on a bucket. Ranch rodeos are a lot of fun.”
In addition to the sorting, roping, branding and loading exercises that took place, several teams participated in a Wild Cow Milking event that required cowboys to separate a specific heifer, hold it by the tail, and remove a bell from its neck.
Always a crowd favorite, the Wild Cow Milking elicited loud cheers, audience members who seemingly enjoyed seeing cowboys grapple with large cows while narrowly avoiding ropes, hooves and other dangers.
By the end of the evening, competitors and audience members left the arena looking pleased, thanks to what was by all accounts a successful event that will be remembered as one of the most entertaining at this year’s Montezuma County Fair.