DARBY – Don’t expect to find the word “can’t” in Cal Ruark’s vocabulary.
“The word can’t never will be in my vocabulary,” Ruark said last week, following a tour of Darby’s rodeo grounds. “There’s always a way to make something work if you try hard enough. I hate the word ‘can’t.’ ”
The latest manifestation of Ruark’s can-do attitude will show up Sept. 20 when 42 of the rankest bucking broncs you’ll find anywhere will blast out of the green-colored chutes for the first-ever Bronc Bustin’/Barrel Burnin’ event in Darby.
In between bronc riding sessions, spectators will watch the top contenders in a barrel racing challenge put their horses through the paces.
The brand new event has been an idea that Ruark and others have been pondering for the past few years, following the growing success of a bullriding competition held every July.
“For the last two or three years, I’ve had people asking me about the possibility of holding a saddle bronc riding completion here in Darby,” Ruark said.
“I didn’t want to make a commitment to anything new until I knew the bullriding event was solid,” he said.
At this point, the bullriding extravaganza couldn’t get much bigger.
Over the last couple of years, that summer event has drawn more than 2,100 spectators to the small town. Those folks arrive in Darby in enough cars to completely fill 12 parking areas.
“I was told that 60 to 70 percent of those cars parked in the parking lot had license plates from out of the area,” Ruark said. “That’s a good financial boost to our area.”
Ruark is hoping for at least 1,000 spectators for the inaugural saddle bronc and barrel racing event.
He knows if that many show up to watch some of the finest bronc riding horses and cowboys found anywhere, they’ll go home and tell their friends to be sure to circle the calendar for next year.
“Everyone who comes to our bullriding event loves this venue,” he said. “The bulls are right there in your face. You don’t get a seat like this at any other event.”
Ruark is working with the World Class Bucking Horse Association that’s filled with horsemen who breed their stock for the rodeo ring.
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“These aren’t just your backyard horses that buck every once in a while,” he said. “They are all bred to be part of the born to buck program.”
What makes this competition different from a typical rodeo is the owners of the horses will be competing for a cash prize too.
The stockmen will each enter teams of three horses. Just like the cowboys riding them, the horses will be judged cumulatively. The winner could go home with close to $5,000.
“They won’t be entering a horse that won’t buck,” Ruark said. “These are all four- and five-year-old horses. They are all really rank. They’ll be ready to blow up. There’s no telling what they are going to do when that chute flies open.”
The cowboys will each ride two horses. They’ll have a chance to go with a similar payday as the horse owners.
“We’ll buck all of those horses on Saturday night,” Ruark said. “Where else can you go where you can watch 42 saddle broncs buck in one night? There is all kinds of interest for these kinds of events. Now it’s our turn to try one.”
Starting Saturday morning, somewhere between 100 and 150 barrel racers will begin competing for a chance to be one of the 20 competitors who participate in the Barrel Burnin’ race on Saturday night.
Ruark said the event’s organizers will add $1,000 to the prize for the barrel racing event, with the winner taking all.
Gates for the evening’s event will open at 5 p.m. The first saddle bronc rider is scheduled to fly through the arena at 7 p.m.
If that’s not enough cowboy action for your weekend, then you will be able to come back Sunday to enjoy the first PRCA Rodeo in Darby since 1949.
Slack gets underway that day at 9 a.m. The main rodeo will start at 2 p.m.
None of this could happen without a community willing to step forward and offer its support, Ruark said.
This year there are 54 sponsors for the event. While some are headquartered in places like Missoula or Butte, most are from right here in the Bitterroot Valley.
“We are kind of riding on the laurels of the bullriding event,” Ruark said. “We’ve proven ourselves. That’s given people a good idea of what’s possible when we all work together.”