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Going big: The Riggin' Rally brings best bareback riders in world to Darby

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On the first weekend of June, the tiny town of Darby will become the center of the universe for the best bareback riders in the world.

And the people who love to watch them explode from the chute are expected to journey from all parts of the country to watch what's billed as "The World's Richest Bareback Riding."

“There are going to be people coming here to watch this from the east coast, west coast, north and south,” said Bobby Steiner. “This is turning into a destination. The sponsors usually put sponsorship dollars into these things, but they don’t usually show up to the events, but they’re coming here.”

“All of these different sponsors are showing up here because it’s Darby and it’s beautiful,” he said.

The second annual Riggin’ Rally in Darby will match the top 30 bareback riders in the world against the best horses in the country in an event Sunday, June 6 that will be televised live nationwide in prime time on the Cowboy Channel.

With at least $50,000 of prize money on the line, the rodeo can help jump start a bareback rider's year.

“On the national and international level, this is a five-star event,” Steiner said. “From the money put here and how this comes across in the world standings, it’s a major set-up for national’s qualifications. It’s the only event where all these guys get together on the same day. It doesn’t happen any other place other than national finals.”

Steiner knows rodeo.

He grew up as a member of the legendary Steiner Rodeo Company family. Steiner competed in bull and bareback riding from 1968 to 1973. In his final year, Steiner was named the RCA World Champion Bull Rider.

He’s been to a lot of rodeo arenas in a lot of different states. There’s not one that he believes captures the cowboy way more than Darby.

“It doesn’t get any more code of the west than this Darby arena,” he said. “Of every place I’ve been, this is probably the most cowboy set up of all of them.”

During the inaugural Riggin’ Rally last fall, a record crowd of 2,000 spectators braved miserable weather to cheer on the top 24 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s bareback riders. With the forecast calling for close to 70 degrees under partly cloudy skies, the stands are likely to be packed again.

“There’s still a few tickets left,” said Darby Rodeo Association President Cal Ruark. “Sales have really been picking up over the last few days. If people want to be there, they definitely need to get their tickets soon.”

This year’s event is a two-day affair.

On Saturday, folks can buy a $20 ticket at the gate to watch some of the best up-and-coming bareback riders display their skills atop the best young bucking horses that may someday end up at the national finals.

“There will be like 25 guys entered in that,” Steiner said. “Six of them will make the big show the next day. It might not be quite as fast-paced, but it’s going to be wild. When you have hungry guys going in to try to qualify to be in with the elite, anything can happen.”

“And then you have those young horses that will for sure get wild and crazy,” he said. “They might hit the chute a little bit more coming out. It’s different, but it’s going to be some good watching.”

The Saturday rodeo gets underway at 3 p.m.

The actual rodeo on Sunday has been pushed back to 6:30 to allow the Cowboy Channel to televise it live in major markets across the country.

“They thought so much of Darby and this event that they wanted it in their prime slot,” Steiner said. “We have so much support for this. The PRCA is so behind it now. And we’ve got the Cowboy Channel wanting it to be televised live. It’s one of their five-star events and that they don’t have many of those.”

The Steiners host a semi-private Riggin’ Rally at their ranch in Texas. Other than that, there isn’t anything quite like this anywhere else in the world.

“They don’t have another one of these in Montana,” Steiner said. “As far as a rodeo event it is as big as they have in a five-state area. These guys can win as much here as they can go win in Cheyenne, which is a huge event with lots of history.”

Ruark and Steiner are planning a Calcutta where people can purchase a rider for $1,000 with a chance of winning $15,000 if their pick finishes first and $7,000 for second place. The rest of the money raised will go to the Cowboy Crisis Fund that helps pay expenses for rodeo participants who are injured. They also plan to raffle off a replica of the Darby Riggin’ Rally championship buckle for the fund.

The excitement from last year’s Riggin’ Rally has put a new focus on all the rodeo events happening this summer at the Darby Rodeo Arena, Ruark said.

“The general intensity of what people want to do and commit to this arena and little town has exploded because of this Riggin’ Rally,” Ruark said. “I get new sponsors every day that I’ve never heard from before.”

Steiner is not surprised.

“This is such an elevated status event,” he said. “I don’t want that to sound like Darby is a little, out of the way place, but Darby is a little, out of the way place. To have an event of this size and magnitude is something special. There are just not many events in the world of rodeo that can keep up with this one.”

Tickets for Sunday’s event can be purchased at darbyrodeo.org, Darby Wine and Spirits and Murdoch’s Ranch Supply in Hamilton.

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