Billings Barrel Racer Bella Fossum Driven to Succeed
By JOE KUSEK
July 21, 2021
Bella Fossum is giving new definition to the phrase “driven to succeed.”
The 20-year-old Billings cowgirl has been traversing Montana’s highways and byways this summer, roping and racing on the Mountain Health Co-op Northern Rodeo Association Tour.
She has left no road untraveled competing at rodeos across the Big Sky State.
And Fossum has found success at almost every place she has parked her truck and trailer.
“I’ve been pretty dang lucky this season,” said the friendly Fossum.
She and her horses, Speed and Jetta May, have traveled more than 5,500 miles since the NRA/Northern Women’s Rodeo Association season started in early June at Conrad.
Her itinerary includes two, sometimes three rodeos in a weekend.
Fossum made a critical move in the standings last weekend, posting big performances at Scobey, Havre and Three Forks.
She swept the breakaway roping and barrel racing at Scobey, was second in barrel racing and third in breakaway roping at Havre and finished by winning the barrel racing at Three Fork, just three-hundredths of a second ahead of Gayleen Malone from Pray.
Fossum put 1,027 miles on her truck for a season-changing $2,563.
The money won vaulted her to first place in both the all-around cowgirl and barrel racing standings, where she jumped from sixth to first. Fossum is also third in the breakaway roping standings.
“What it means is that it is probably a turning point in the season for me,” she said of the three rodeos. “My goal for the NRA was to stay high in the standings and give myself the best chance I could going into the NRA Finals.
“I knew I had two really good horses. There are so many good rodeos and there is such amazing competition. The NRA is definitely a different ballgame than high school and college rodeo.
“I’m pretty blessed to be able to compete with all these great girls.”
The Shepherd High School graduate is a junior at Montana State University, majoring in business and English. Fossum wants to attend law school in her future.
“You always look at the facts. The facts don’t lie,” she said her interest in law.
The facts show a schedule that would make a long-haul trucker think twice. After opening with a barrel racing win in Conrad, she followed with second-place finishes at Culbertson and Culbertson. She has also cashed checks in Opheim, Gardiner and Big Timber.
Fossum drives by herself, “Depends how far,” occasionally taking along friends or accompanied by her mother Molly.
“I usually handle most of the driving,” she said. “When I’m by myself, I listen to team roping podcasts. And I control the music”
Sometimes, her father Shawn will take the wheel if needed. “That’s when I sleep,” Fossum said with a laugh. Her father is a former NRA team roper.
“I try to stop and water the horses and feed them every four hours. The horses are the most important thing to me.”
Her longest journey this summer is when she competed at Polson, Big Timber and Opheim, a round-trip distance of 1,416 miles.
She rides Speed, a 12-year-old sorrel gelding in barrel racing and uses Jetta May, a 13-year-old bay mare in breakaway roping.
Fossum was forced to rest Speed for a time this summer.
“We started the season well then Speed had some health problems,” she said. “It was nothing big. But we noticed he was just not being himself.”
After being looked at by their veterinarian, the family rested Speed, returning the horse to competition at Scobey.
“This weekend did surprise me,” Fossum said. “After having a few weeks off, you start to question yourself. We needed to have a good weekend. We wanted to use Scobey to build our confidence. He did well and the last two day, we let him roll.”
Fossum has been involved with rodeo most of her life. Family friends remember a young girl intently watching rodeo videos on the television.
She was the Montana high school pole bending champion in 2018 and the all-around cowgirl champion in 2019.
“I’ve definitely been interested in barrel racing my whole life,” said Fossum. “I love to watch everyone compete. And I’ve definitely been to a lot of clinics.”
Her work ethic matches her willingness to go the distance.
“Oh yeah, I’ve never had to be told to go to practice,” she said.
Fossum is mapping out the rest of her summer driving schedule.
“This is my last summer before law school testing. I want to make the most of it,” she said. “I just want to stay consistent. I would really like to stay at the top and keep the momentum going. And keep adding to my totals, too.
“I am having so much fun.”
Ironically, she is not competing at Eureka this weekend.
“We’re going to visit family in Idaho,” said Fossum. “At least my pickup with get a rest.”
Fossum wasn’t the only competitor making big moves in the standings.
There was plenty of movement with the Red Eye Daze Rodeo in Deer Lodge becoming a major player in determining the 2021 season.
Deer Lodge is the only three-performance rodeo, with a long-go and short-go, on the Mountain Health Co-Op Tour schedule.
A happy eight competitors left with more than, $1,100 stuffed in their pockets.
Caden Camp of Belgrade and Cut Bank’s Alicia Bird were the big winners. Camp swept the tie-down roping for $1,597 while Bird did the same in barrel racing for $1,530. Bird’s two runs were just .07 seconds apart.
The money won also lifted Ian Austiguy of Dillon and Wolf Creek’s Sam Levine to the top of the heading and heeling standings for team roping while Helena’s Logan Beattie put himself atop the steer wrestling standings.
The Scobey team roping was a family affair with father-son duo Bill and Ben Ayre of Glendive placing first, followed by Russ and Roan Burrow, a father and son out of Miles City. Sister and brother Jade and Tate Benson were third at their hometown rodeo.
Kain Stroh of Dickinson, North Dakota won the saddle bronc at Havre for his third win in a row.
The Mountain Health Co-op Tour continues at Eureka, July 23-24.
The season jumps into August with events at Dodson (Aug. 5), Superior (Aug. 6-7) and Townsend (Aug. 6-7).