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Kelly Murnion has gotten off to a fast start to his season.


June 21, 2023

Kelly Murnion has gotten off to a fast start to his season.

Which is no surprise, he’s always been fast.

In 2016, then a senior at Garfield County High School in Jordan, Murnion was the fastest Class C sprinter in the state.

He swept the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes at the Class C state track and field meet, setting records in the 200 and 400 that stand today.

Now 25 and working on the family ranch 20 miles south of town, Murnion is still fast with his feet.

But instead of staying in his lane, he is kicking up dirt.

Working both ends of the arena, the likable cowboy opened the Mountain Health Co-op Tour by placing in three events at Conrad and doing the same the next week in Culbertson.

At Whoop-Up Trail Days in Conrad, the annual NRA season starter, Murnion placed second in both bareback and bull riding and fifth in tie-down roping.

A week later at Frontier Days in Culbertson, he won the bull riding, tied for second in bareback riding and was second in tie-down roping.

“I don’t know if I’m surprised,” Murnion said of his early-season checks. “I’ve always wanted to be an all-around hand in the NRA.”

But like in all sports, sometimes decisions are not in the hands of the competitor.

A nagging clavicle injury forced him to turn out on his bareback horse in Poplar. He was bucked off his bull. Murnion did not enter Wilsall and Gardiner this past weekend.

“This year, the plan was to enter every (NRA) rodeo and win the year-end titles in bareback, bull riding, tie-down and the all-around,” he said. “I rode five horses at the Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City. It was real painful in Conrad and I had a sharp pain in Culbertson. But I drew a real nice horse, so I rode.”

He plans to rest a bit more and get back on the rodeo road soon.

The Murnion family and the NRA have been synonymous for decades.

Colin Murnion, Kelly’s father, competed in both bareback and bull riding in the NRA, winning the bareback title in 1983 and both championship saddles in 1985. He was a four-time qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo, finishing high as fourth in the PRCA world standings in 1990.

“I never saw my dad ride,” said the son. Colin Murnion retired in 1992. “He’s pretty much my biggest hero in rodeo … I’ve got quite a few heroes in rodeo. It’s in my blood because of him.”

Kelly Murnion finished fourth in the NRA bull riding standings in 2018. Older brother Connor, by one year, won the NRA year-end bull riding title in 2016. He is currently in the top 50 of the PRCA world standings.

“I’ve been in rodeo since I was a kid,” Kelly Murnion said. “I grew up reading the Pro Rodeo Sports News and the NRA publications. I grew up on a ranch. My dad was in rodeo. I have a lot of family members in rodeo.”

Murnion attended Montana Western for three years, initially to play football. He returned to school in 2020 at Oklahoma Panhandle State and earned his degree in industrial technology.

Hanging around the practice pen with members of the rodeo program rekindled his love for the sport.

“We roped calves every day,” said Murnion. “I would be sitting around home watching events, thinking I could do them.”

Riding his 11-year-end bay horse T, he competed at tie-down roping events in Gillette, Wyoming, Broadus and Miles City after returning home from Goodwell, Oklahoma.

There was no hesitation in working both rough stock and timed events.

“I’ve always loved calf roping,” said Murnion. He began riding bulls in eighth grade and got on his first bareback horse at 19.

“You’ve got more chances. You have a tough bareback ride, you take it out on the bull,” Murnion finished with a chuckle. “I just love everything about rodeo.”

And Murnion still harbors championship dreams.

“I want to get healed up,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to win a year-end title. Might as well go for it.”

Last week

Here they come.

With the high school and college rodeo seasons coming to a close, the Mountain Health Co-op Tour is seeing a influx of the next generation of talent.

In a rodeo loaded with veteran competitors, recent high schoolers Mitch Detton of Great Falls and Martinsdale’s Walker Story rode off with the team roping title at Gardiner. The pair edged out former NRA champions Ian Austiguy and Sam Levine with only seven-tenths of a second separating the top four places.

Helena’s Spur Owens, fresh off his season at Miles Community College, swept the bareback titles at Gardiner and Wilsall during the weekend.

Molly Salmond of Choteau made the trip from the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming to Wilsall to win the barrel racing and share first place in breakaway roping with her sister Celie. Celie Salmond is the two-time reigning all-around cowgirl champion. Molly Salmond competed at the CNFR for Montana State University.

Winners at Gardiner: Spur Owens, bareback; Andrew Evjene, saddle bronc; Tanner Theriault, bull riding; Kolby Bignell, steer wrestling; Jack McAllister, tie-down roping; Mitch Detton-Walker Story, team roping; Tammy Jo Carpenter, barrel racing; Nichole Lake, breakaway roping; Sophia Neill, junior barrel racing; Shaylee Broere, junior breakaway roping.

Winners at Wilsall: Spur Owens, bareback; Jason Colclough, saddle bronc; Wacey Schalla, bull riding; Casey Collins, steer wrestling; Quinn McQueary, tie-down roping; Justin Jones-Austin Rath, team roping; Molly Salmond, barrel racing; Molly Salmond and Celie Salmond, breakaway roping; Julia Hoagland, junior barrel racing; Julia Hoagland, junior breakaway roping.

Up next

Three rodeos across three days for Mountain Health Co-op Tour competitors.

Both the Mission Mountain Rodeo in Polson and Big Timber Rodeo are June 23-24. Polson will have 7 p.m. performances each night while Big Timber will go at 7 p.m. on June 23 and at 6 p.m. on June 24.

The Opheim Rodeo is June 25 with a 1 p.m. performance.

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