The Western Montana Fair has had its share of bad years, good years and years when it didn’t take place at all. Through it all, the rodeo has persevered as one of the biggest draws.
In charge of leading the fair into its second century is Missoula County Fairgrounds director Todd Garrett.
“We’re all relatively new, so we’re looking for ways to renovate the fair,” Garrett said of him and his staff.
The Murdoch's Ranch Rodeo, started in 2014, is one way Garrett tried to aid community participation in the fair. Consisting of local teams competing in true-to-life ranch events, the Ranch Rodeo was supposed to be a popular addition. But it hasn’t yet found its feet.
“We tried it last year and had a decent turnout. We’re hoping for a little more this year,” Garrett said.
The rodeo is coupled with a free admission night and a street dance on Tuesday to kick off the fair, which Garrett called a “community throwback night.”
The Ranch Rodeo consists of eight teams with five members each, who compete in team branding, sorting and doctoring, ranch bronc riding, trailer loading and wild cow milking.
“Everybody who works on a ranch in this part of the state can do it,” fair administrative aide Tracy Mullennix said.
Wednesday night will now host the Bitterroot Ford Bullorama, which was moved from its usual Thursday night spot to accommodate the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s preferences. The event, part of the PBR Pro Touring division, will give riders a chance at riding bulls provided by Jeff Robinson, who won PBR’s Stock Contractor of the Year four years in a row from 2010 to 2013.
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The Missoula Stampede RAM Rodeo will dominate the rest of the week, with men’s and women’s PRCA contestants set to ride at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The show will feature men’s bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, steer wrestling, team and tie-down roping, and women’s barrel racing. Cowboys will compete for points to place in the PRCA finals.
More than $50,000 in prize money will be awarded at the PBR and PRCA events in Missoula.
Sankey Pro Rodeo has produced the rodeo events at the Western Montana Fair for more than 15 years, Wade Sankey estimated, saying he’d been there every year for as long as he could remember, enjoying the fairgrounds.
“Everything bucks in that arena and Missoula gets a lot of the top contestants in the world,” Sankey said, adding that the arena’s layout keeps the crowd involved and close.
Part of what makes the fair stand apart is the unique crowd, Sankey said.
“The dynamics of the people from Missoula are not your normal rodeo crowd,” Sankey said. “It’s very satisfying to see people who aren’t hardcore fans enjoy rodeo.”
Sankey is a partner with his father Ike, sister Ryan and Robinson, the PBR bull provider. Sankey wanted to thank the fair staff and Missoula for their great relationship over the years.
Admission to the Ranch Rodeo on Tuesday night is $10 and free for children ages 5 and younger. Grandstand seats for the Bullorama and Stampede nights are $16 for adults and $12 for kids ages 5-15. General admission bleacher seats are $12 for all ages and children younger than 5 get in free to all events.