For people who like to watch rough stock and blazing-fast horses, Darby is going to be the place to be this Friday and Saturday.
The fourth annual Joe Reynolds’ Memorial Bronc Bustin’ and Barrel Burnin’ rodeo brings some of nation’s finest young saddle broncs to the Bitterroot Valley and some big-name cowboys looking to for a chance in late-season payday.
In between the rough and tumble action of saddle bronc riding, the rodeo also includes an invitation-only class of 40 barrel riders whose horses hit the arena at full gallop to whirl around three barrels in a cloud of dust and flying hooves.
And if that's not enough to keep the crowd entertained, local youngsters will also get a chance to show off their riding skills with sections of miniature bucking ponies, wild steers and a fast-moving sheep event called mutton busting.
“For people who really enjoy rough stock events, this has become one of the premier bronc riding rodeos in the region,” said Darby Rodeo organizer Cal Ruark. “If you go to the pro rodeo, you’re lucky to see 10 saddle broncs at a single rodeo. Every night, we’ll have 25. It makes for quite a show.”
The horses come from all across the region, including Canada, for the World Class Bucking Horse Association-sanctioned event.
Their owners enter three horses — each has to be 4- or 5-years-old — with the hope they will qualify for the association’s national finals held in Las Vegas in December. If they make it to the big show, Ruark said they have a chance to sell their horses for upwards of $25,000.
“We have horse teams consigned from Big Bend Rodeo, Flying Five Rodeo, New West Rodeo and a lot of private stock contractors from North and South Dakota, Canada, Idaho, Washington and Oregon,” Ruark said. “This event brings in some of the best broncs to Darby.”
Former national champion bronc rider Jesse Kruse will compete at the event.
The gates will open at 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, and Saturday, Sept. 15. The chutes for the first section of bucking horses will begin flying open at 6 p.m.
“We’ll mix in the kids’ events throughout the night,” Ruark said. “That’s good family fun to be able to watch some up and coming future rodeo stars get out there and do their best.”
When it comes time for the barrel racing portion of the rodeo, Ruark said the arena is cut in half so all the action happens fast.
“They come into the arena up the alleyway at a full gallop,” he said. “From out of the dark and into the light, they’ll be going 45 mph when they hit the arena. It’s fun to watch. It’s a different twist to barrel racing.”
The first 20 to compete on Friday night are by invitation only. On Saturday morning, there’s another competition. The best 10 from the morning’s event will go up against the top 10 from the night before to see who will come out on top.
The event also features one event that doesn’t include anything equine.
The boot race pits upwards of 30 youngsters against one another in an event that requires them to give up their shoes at the start. All of that footwear is then deposited in the middle of the arena before the horde of sock-footed kids race across the arena to reboot before running back to the finish line.
“That usually turns into a fun little circus,” Ruark said.
The cost of admission for regular seating is $15, or $12 for tickets purchased early. Premium seats cost $20, or $15 prepaid. Tickets can be purchased at Murdoch’s Ranch and Supply in Hamilton, Darby’s Wine and Spirits, or the Darby branch of Farmers State Bank.
“It looks like we’re going to have some perfect weather for it,” Ruark said. “You really couldn’t ask for better. The forecast is calling for 70 degrees and partly cloudy. If it’s too hot or too cold, horses don’t like buck quite as hard. At 70 degrees, it’s guaranteed they will come out of there firing.”