More bronc riders than before

Rodeo’s first event, the saddle bronc riding, has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years. More riders compete for more money on better bucking horses than any time in rodeo’s history.

A cowboy trying to stay on a bucking horse that doesn’t want him on its back is no doubt one of the first contests people gathered together to watch.

When I was starting, saddle bronc riding had fewer contestants than the bull riding and especially the bareback riding. I always figured it was because people were like me and didn’t have the money to buy a bronc saddle, a specialized saddle with no saddle horn. In the 1960s and ‘70s, there were probably two and three times as many bareback riders as saddle bronc riders. So I stuck to bareback riding and bull riding and only got on one saddle bronc. That was in Arizona it didn't work out too well.

At the Last Stand Rodeo held in Coulee City over Memorial Day weekend, there were 36 saddle bronc riders for the two-day event, about as many riders as the bareback and bull riding combined. The saddle bronc riding drew the most riding event entries at the Colorama Rodeo in Grand Coulee as well.

Saddle bronc riding is considered a finesse event. It takes years to master, as just staying on a horse for eight seconds isn’t enough, the rider must also look good doing so, spurring from the shoulder to the cantle every jump. It takes more balance and timing than the other riding events. When it goes right it is like a dance, with horse and rider moving as one across the arena.

When it doesn't go right, like all rodeo events, especially the rough stock events, there is an element of danger. In addition to being smashed in the chute, or thrown and kicked or having a horse fall, bronc riders can also hang a foot in the stirrup and be dragged under the horse. Fortunately, that doesn't happen very often.

And since, as one veteran stock contractor once told me, horses are mysterious, they may not buck at all or may buck far differently than predicted.

In general though, there are more hard-to-ride bucking horses now, largely as a result of born to buck programs where horses are bred with bucking in mind. Bronc riders used to go years without getting thrown. Those days are long past, especially at the highest levels.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s National Finals Rodeo, rodeo’s world series, has saddle bronc go-rounds that look like the bull riding, with less than half the riders making qualified rides.

Saddle bronc riding has become a stand alone event, like the bull riding, where contests are held with just the saddle bronc riding. The PRCA has started an Extreme Broncs Tour featuring the saddle bronc riding.

Newport’s Austin Krogh is probably the most well known local bronc rider, but the area has had a few. Mike Haptonstall is the probably the most accomplished rider from the Newport area, competing in the 1970s and '80s. Eddie Bigler, who lived and trained horses here after he was done competing, was also a good bronc rider, as was Priest River's Caleb Nichols, who has retired from competing.

There have been many good bronc riders who have competed at the rodeo over the years, including world champions. Newport Rodeo Association President Ray Hanson says the rodeo will take place this year for sure, on June 25-26. Now that the rodeo has returned to the PRCA ranks, the competition will be better than ever.

Don Gronning is a former PRCA bull rider and publisher of Northwest Rodeo Scene.