As the sun sank toward the horizon at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds on June 29, ranchers and horses joined bovine companions at the Four States Ag Expo Ranch Rodeo for a dance that has gone on for more than a century.
At times during the four-hour event, it was as if a foundational component of the United States was on display as men roped beasts and the smell of sweaty stock permeated the air. Country music blared over the loud speakers as bits of dust rose into the sky.
Lyrics from Johnny Cash’s timeless classic “Ragged Old Flag” opened the event, and after ranchers entered the arena and stood facing the crowd, those at the arena joined in a moment of prayer and gave thanks for the opportunity to be alive.
“This ranch rodeo, it shows what (ranchers) do on a daily basis,” said rodeo competitor Isiah Ethington, who has lived in Cortez his entire life. One of the greatest parts of this country is the ranching community, and we know that (God) is watching over us every time we trot out.”
Among the events at this year’s Ranch Rodeo, which was sanctioned by the Mountain West Ranch Rodeo Association, were calf branding, team sorting, pen and doctor, trailer loading, and wild cow milking.
In the calf branding event, teams made up of either four or five cowboys were charged with roping a designated calf that was mixed in with a larger herd. The calf was then secured and touched with a cold branding iron in a manner that simulated real life branding.
Next up came the team sorting, which required teams to separate specific cows from a larger herd and direct them to the opposite end of the arena and then keep them away from the larger herd.
Several times during the team sorting event, horses were forced to change directions on a dime as their riders deftly balanced upon their backs in a manner that made it seem as if ranchers and steeds were one.
“What I enjoy about the Ranch Rodeo is that it gives everybody a chance to see what we do on a daily basis,” Mancos native Wyatt Cox said. “It gives us a chance to go and play, and it also gives us a chance to win some money.”
In the trailer loading event, ranchers were required to separate a steer from a lager herd and drive that cow to a designated area of the arena before roping it and loading it into a trailer. Several times during the event, ranchers were nearly clotheslined by ropes as they attempted to grab the tails of steers and corral them into trailers.
The pen and doctor event required ranchers to drive designated cows into specific pens before performing tasks that simulated veterinary work. In the wild cow milking event, ranchers were asked to rope and milk fully grown cattle.
Male and female ranchers of all ages participated in this year’s Ranch Rodeo, which featured eight teams made up of individuals hailing from each of the Four Corners states. About 50 fans attended this year’s event, which many elements of ranching culture to life.
“I love the independence of (ranching),” said Arriola resident Frank Ethington, when asked what makes ranching special. “You’re doing everything yourself. Events like (the Ranch Rodeo) are great because girls, younger guys, older guys, whoever wants to participate just like they do on a ranch.”
As the sun slowly sank below the horizon, competitors trailered their horses and pointed their trucks in the direction of home knowing that another day of work was less than 12 hours away.
Before returning home however, many of those who attended this year’s Ranch Rodeo lifted their eyes toward the sky and gave thanks for the opportunity to once again showcase their livelihood.