Thrill of the Rodeo
There are few things that epitomize the wild and the romantic West like the cowboy. They represent the hard work, integrity and independence. Even growing up in the West, the notion of the cowboy enthralled and intrigued me.
In Wind River Country, cowboys (and girls) haven’t been relegated to history - and neither have the values they, as a symbol of the West represent. Here those wearing boots and hats aren’t doing it for show.
There is no better place to see the toughness of Wind River Country’s modern cowboys and cowgirls in action, than by attending a rodeo.
No matter how many rodeos I attend, there is always the thrill in the churning dust and the flailing hooves of the animals and the impressive athleticism and sheer bravery of the competitors.
Rodeo is a sport unlike any other. If you don’t win, you don’t get paid. And to claim a prize you need stamina, balance, agility and true western determination and grit.
One thing I love about rodeo is it’s a sport anyone can appreciate. Even if you aren’t as enamored with the romantic vision of the West as some of us, the dedication and fortitude needed to compete in rodeo is something anyone can admire. My friends who are fans of more traditional team sports can’t tear their eyes away from someone atop an animal bucking and almost flying through the air. The other thing I love about rodeo is that in Wind River Country you can take it in almost any time of the year and in every corner of the county.
The Lander Pioneer Days Rodeo has been a Fourth of July tradition since 1893, making it the oldest paid rodeo in the world. If you’ve never seen it, you must watch the Indian Relay Races. It’s a mixture of agility, showmanship and simple courage, as American Indian riders from different teams leap onto their bareback horses racing around the first leg of a large racetrack. At the end of the first lap the rider jumps off the still moving horse and vaults atop a second horse for another lap, races around the track, then repeats this on yet a third horse. The competition is fierce between Native American teams and the crowd can get frenzied cheering on their favorite team. The winner takes all.
The Fremont County Fair held in Riverton at the end of July and in early August brings in competitors from all over Wyoming, Texas, Colorado and Montana. You’ll see some of the best at this rodeo, which has the county’s only Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
There’s rodeo action every Friday night in Dubois from June to August. It’s smaller than the Lander Pioneer Days event, but very family and kid-friendly. There’s an authentic feel to it with locals and area ranchers competing and honing their skills.
See the Country
Just picture it: you’re gently swaying to your horse’s rhythmic walk as it picks its way up the trail, past a shimmering stream, under the flashing light of quivering aspens, and across a flower-filled meadow. Or perhaps your dream includes participating in a cattle drive—just change the scenery and you’re there.
Wind River Country’s horse vacations are suitable for all riding abilities and most ages. Your hosts have mastered the art of matching horses to riders so that you’ll be challenged in a way that is fun, rather than scary. And horses can cover a lot of territory in one day, allowing you to explore a lot more country than you could do on foot.
If you are only passing through and don’t have time for a dude or guest ranch stay, some outfitters offer day rides to give you a taste of the western experience. It’s a great way to see the country and to participate in an enduring part of the area’s culture.
Live like a Cowboy
There is something invigorating and transformative about being in Wind River Country. Perhaps it is the fresh mountain air, but suddenly I am convinced I, too, am a true cowgirl. Then I remember- I’m not.
But that’s OK. There are plenty of places in Wind River Country to help me live out the fantasy or even to teach me some skills to make it a reality.
There are an abundance of dude and guest ranches in Wind River Country and they provide the perfect place to immerse yourself in the Western lifestyle.
Small ranches, many family-owned and in operation for generations, personalize your stay. Working cattle ranches give you a peek into the life of real cowboys and cowgirls. Some ranches hold team cattle sortings, or even host their own rodeos giving you a front-row seat to the distinctly Western sport.
There are ranches that cater to families and offer barbecues, swimming and games like horseshoes and volleyball and even a chance to sleep in a teepee!
Explore the vast trails and big country on overnight pack trips offered by some ranches. Or hone your skills in horse training clinics. Many have structured lessons to learn how to ride, or, if you are already a seasoned rider, improve your horsemanship.
There are always other activities if you had your fill of riding for the day. Hike nearby trails, or simply explore the ranch where you are staying. Fish private streams or go with your seasoned host, who might just show you a few of his or her favorite spots near the ranch. Go wildlife watching and learn about the area’s plants and geology - some of the ranches have their own naturalist on staff.
Ride the range and feel like a rugged cowboy - until you get a little sore in the saddle, then spend the afternoon fishing or swimming or simply staring out at the impressive scenery.