Visitors packed themselves into the All Seasons Arena at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds Wednesday for the first of two nights featuring the 2013 Ranch Rodeo Championships. This is the sixth year the fair has hosted the event, and the second where the rodeo has been split over two nights.
Ranch Rodeos of North Dakota is largely organized by Lynn Asheim, himself a seasoned horseman who grew up on a farm in Mohall. "It's not like a conventional rodeo," he explained. "We emulate what we do out in the pasture," from play branding and loading trailers to team mugging, which consists of a team roping, downing, and tying three legs of the cattle.
"I used to rodeo" as a pick up man, which in the parlance means one of the cowboys that handle bulls and stallions after events. But one of the things Asheim noticed about professional rodeos during his time in them was the prohibitive expense involved in competing.
He and his wife are both active in the 4-H, a non-profit youth organization whose motto is "to make the best better." A father of three, Asheim likes the group because he feels its activities get parents more involved than youth sports might. Through their contacts in the club, in 2004 Asheim was able to find others interested in holding competitions.
After doing a bit of research, he came across the sort of rodeo that might better accommodate a wider variety of participants, based in Rapid City, S.D. He called its organizers, took a look for himself, and perused their rules. The experience sold him on the idea.
"I put together a group of guys," Asheim explained, drawing up some rules and events. Essentially a number of separately committeed rodeos, what they hoped to do was to standardize the events and rules, to cut down on disqualifications and to streamline events. It was not long before he began getting calls from county fairs and communities interested in hosting a rodeo.
"I think county fairs are the grandest thing in North Dakota," he said, noting that the fair in Beulah is one of his favorite venues.
"We try to get some local teams from town," and there are always plenty of teams from out of town keen to participate. The four-person teams' entry fees are $160 per rodeo, with the top four placing teams getting a 40-30-20-10 percent split of the award pool, which is largely drawn from the admission sales and any additional donations.
The events are mugging, mock branding, wild cow milking, trailer leading and the trailer relay, the latter two involving the swift loading of a livestock trailer. Contending teams begin mounted, chasing down, roping, and dismounting to complete whichever task the event hinges upon. "We do them all as humanely as possible," he noted, with rules disqualifying sloppy or potentially harmful catches.
"I like the mugging" in particular, he said. "Someone always gets kicked in the stomach," which he adds is funnier when it happens to somebody else.
"We have a rule: no bleeding." Be that as it may, they do keep medical personnel on hand in the event of an emergency. So far, Asheim said there has been "only one time ever" where an ambulance was necessary.
One of the popular events for the crowd which is a real nerve-wracker for the contestants is the trailer relay. "There are so many things that can go wrong," he explained. Fortunately, Wednesday night nothing did, and despite a few cowboys taking somersaults and tumbles there were no injuries.
Really, it is all about the fun of the lifestyle. "It's mostly ranchers, farmers," hobbyists and the like, he explained. "It gives them something to do" when they aren't out working. Asheim recounted a Towner rancher telling him to what extent he enjoyed the rodeo. The night before, "'I can't even sleep, I'm so excited,'" Asheim quoted him as saying.
There will be another rodeo tonight, the same place at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for juniors aged 7 to 12, and free for the under-6. Asheim said that an all-girl team hailing from the Berthold-Stanley area will be competing as well, adding that they show "a lot of determination" and are quite exciting to watch in action.