Second Half Promises Wild Finish
By JOE KUSEK
July 20, 2023
If the second half of the season is anything like the first, buckle up.
It’s going to be a wild ride.
The Mountain Health Co-op Tour makes the turn at full gallop into the second half of the regular season with rodeos in Scobey, Havre and Eureka this week.
No lead is safe and a spot in the coveted top 10 is far from guaranteed.
The top 10 in each event qualify for the Northern Rodeo Association Finals presented by nuWest Builders, Oct. 26-28 at Majestic Valley Arena in Kalispell.
The average lead in the nine disciplines is just $485. The tightest races at the top of the leaderboard are steer wrestling, breakaway roping and saddle bronc riding, where less than $100 separates first and second place.
Breakaway roping is a family affair where reigning champion Celie Salmond of Choteau leads her younger sister Molly by a scant $50. The two are also 1-2 in the all-around cowgirl standings.
But the real standings battles are for the 10thand final berth in the NRA Finals. The average space between 10thand 11th place for nine events is just $102. It’s less than $100 for steer wrestling ($76), breakaway roping ($94), tie-down roping ($50), team roping heading ($19), team roping heeling ($19) and bull riding ($25).
A fifth-place rodeo finish could make the difference in competing at the NRA and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association premier event or staying home in late October.
While some strong leaders have emerged in the first half – Chad Turner of East Helena and Helena’s Gavin Beattie have leads of more than $1,200 in the team roping heading and heeling standings -- all the events promise wild scrambles to the top.
Balance has been the trademark of the Mountain Health Co-op Tour this summer.
Through the first 14 rodeos, there have been 13 different winners in team roping. Tie-down roping, barrel racing and breakaway roping have featured 11 different winners while there have been 10 in steer wrestling. Bull riding boasts nine, while there have been eight each in bareback and saddle bronc riding.
Bolstered by increased entries, cowboys and cowgirls from seven different states and 78 Montana different communities have taken home almost $300,000 already with much money to come to stuff into their jeans.
Mountain Health Co-op Tour rodeos have handed out a whopping 121 checks of $700 or more and 38 checks that paid $1,000 or more. Those four-figure checks can carry a competitor a long way up the standings.
The competitors are as different as their communities. This season has showcased teenagers to grandparents riding, roping and racing.
And every weekend, they must bring their “A” game to the arena. You never know who will be alongside you at the arena fence.
Brittany Sporer (Barnett), of Cody, Wyoming, a former National Finals Rodeo qualifier, won the barrel racing at Harlowton during the Fourth of July run.
Timmy Sparing of Helena, who competed in the NFR in Las Vegas last December, stayed home to win the East Helena steer wrestling.
Also winning at Harlowton, was roper Dustin Bird of Cut Bank. Bird, a four-time NFR qualifier, won the team roping with partner Ike Folsom. Bird, now competing closer to home, won the heading title a year ago and has won NRA championship saddles, tie-down roping, team roping and the all-around cowboy.
Former NFR qualifier Rayna Rice of Sidney competed in the barrel racing at Culbertson earlier in the season.
There are still a lot of roads to be traveled, a lot of money to be won.
All trying to reach the same destination: The NRA Finals presented by nuWest Builders.
Buckle up. This is going to be fun.
Three Forks was the only rodeo on the schedule, making it a must-enter event. It did not disappoint with a bevy of top performances. Payton Fitzpatrick of Polson turned in an 86-point bull ride while Pray’s Gayleen Malone won the barrel racing for a second weekend in a row to ascend to the top of the standings. Fitzpatrick’s bull ride is the second-highest score of the summer.
Only .27 seconds separated the top eight barrel racers while one second separated the top six tie-down ropers and top 10 breakaway ropers.
The Mountain Health Co-op Tour stretches across the state of Montana this week.
It starts in Scobey with a 6:30 p.m. performance on July 20, along with the Great Northern Ram Rodeo in Havre on July 20 and 21 with 7 p.m. shows. Competitors will finish in Eureka with 8 p.m. performances on July 21 and 22.