Sanction Shmanction

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OR: I’ve Been Putting on a Ranch Rodeo for Ten Years So I Feel Qualified to Address This

© Tami Blake

Cowboys are a prideful, independent, and competitive bunch, so it’s no wonder they resist organization into any sort of cohesive statewide or national association.

I like working cowboys as much as the next gal. I was raised by ‘em and among ‘em and I’m married to one now, and maybe that’s why I’m not afraid to pop the whip and try to line these guys out.  Here’s the history:

When I founded the Custer Ranch Rodeo back in 2007, there was no association to “sanction” with — sanction meaning the Custer Ranch Rodeo would pay a fee to be associated with the larger ranch rodeo, then send its winning team to compete at the larger ranch rodeo — other than the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) in Texas. That first year, I wasn’t interested in sanctioning anyway… only in surviving my own event.

Less than a year later, the annual Northern International Livestock Exposition in Billings started making plans to host a “finals” ranch rodeo in October. I thought it was a great idea, and spoke with then-NILE manager Justin Mills many times as he set up the structure for the NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals.  I believe the vision we shared was that ranch rodeos from all across Montana would sanction with the NILE, sending their top teams to Billings each October so that the best of the best could compete and so that one team could be named the statewide champ… year-long bragging rights included. In turn, the NILE sanctioned with the WRCA out of Texas… so that the NILE champ could advance to the prestigious finals in Amarillo.

The NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals ran into trouble right out the gate. Many of the ranch rodeos in Montana — established or newly minted — have refused to sanction with the NILE for various reasons that mostly stump me.  Some folks carry old grudges against the NILE (as in:  Remember that one time in the 3-year-old futurity at the NILE when I didn’t win but I should have?  I’m taking my ball and never going back there).  Other committees were turned off by the NILE reps that visited meetings across the state trying to convince ranch rodeos to sanction.  Still others were repulsed by the NILE ranch rodeo rules, actually WRCA rules which the NILE had to follow under its sanction with the WRCA.  Admittedly, the WRCA rules are very “Texas.”  For one thing, Montana cowboys aren’t real inclined to jump off a perfectly good horse and wrestle a wild cow, as Texas cowboys apparently are.  For another, the WRCA sets forth some pretty ridiculous guidelines for what qualifies a true “working ranch”… and even requires pay stubs as proof of a cowboy’s status.  The WRCA tries hard to make all the ranch rodeos under its large umbrella follow its events and its rules, which the NILE did for several years.  Many Montana ranch rodeos simply refused to do what a bunch of Texans wanted them to do and so snubbed the NILE.  From the beginning, I told the NILE that I wouldn’t follow NILE or WRCA rules OR events, but was happy to sanction otherwise, and it’s always worked out for me.  I continue to sanction Custer with the NILE to this day, because I continue to believe in that original vision for a Montana championship… and because I’m apt to dance with the one who brung me.

In the meantime… the folks from Eastern Montana who refused to participate in the NILE decided to create their own sanctioned finals ranch rodeo.  All of a sudden it seemed like every two-horse town in Eastern Montana was hosting a ranch rodeo as part of a series that culminated (continues to culminate, actually) in one big Eastern Montana finals in the early fall.

Things got even more complicated this spring when a few folks recently disgruntled with the NILE and a few folks recently disgruntled with the Eastern Montana series joined together and decided by golly to create their own regional ranch rodeo finals. This new finals with which one may sanction her ranch rodeo is set for late August or early September in Forsyth.  Last I knew, this newest series did not yet have a name… but I have heard it suggested on the cow trail that it call itself the Elite Ranch Rodeo Association, which I think has a real ring to it.  Ha!  I did, in the end, sanction Custer with this Elite bunch because an old friend made it easy for me to do so, and I did it to show support to him, but still I wonder: What good is another Sanction That Leads To Nowhere doing for any of us? Isn’t it just creating more competition in an already-groaning pool of sponsors?

I guess I have two bones to gnaw on here:

1     For one thing, I grow weary of creating awesome prize packages for the teams that win the ranch rodeo I organize.  I have worked hard for the last decade of my life to gather up sponsors each year (which is not a job for the faint of heart, but that’s another blog for another time), and I faithfully order great prizes for the winning teams, and I always pay our sanctioning fee so our first place team can go to the NILE and compete in front of a huge crowd in a wonderful indoor facility in an event which my young family and I look forward to attending each fall because it’s easy for us to get there.  Yes, I want to make sure that the contestants who come to Custer have a good time and are treated fairly and keep coming back both for fun and for good prizes.  But honestly, as a ranch rodeo organizer, you eventually figure out that these contestants are not your flesh-and-blood children and you don’t have to kill yourself trying to make sure they have every opportunity when they leave your nest.  You know what I mean?  It’s like this:

You won my ranch rodeo?  Awesome!  Please ride your horse right up to the front here so we can award you with riches beyond measure. Stirrups and conches and jackets and cash, oh my!  A trip to Amarillo!  A trip to Winnemucca!  You’ll have such fun!  Oh, don’t worry about me, I have no interest in beautiful things like buckles and bits… you just git yourself on to the next ranch rodeo so I can get on with cleaning the outhouses around here and picking up trash, and — oh yeah — then I have a zillion thank-you notes I need to get started on…

2     In my opinion, all these regional finals would be fine and dandy if they led to something.  Okay, you’re a big fish in Eastern Montana… but now where do you advance to?  Shouldn’t this all be organized in a cohesive pattern of increasing difficulty for the best teams — or does my mind just work funny?  I think that Montana needs a Montana State Championship Ranch Rodeo, and I believe the original intent that so many folks missed was that the NILE would be that.  Somebody — the NILE, or the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, or this new Elite deal, or maybe me (if I can ever get all these kids raised and all these branding crews fed) — needs to organize a Montana State Championship Ranch Rodeo.  Oh, sure, the whole deal will have to be handled with kid gloves because there will be a lot of dealing with fragile egos.  A thorough dignitary will have to travel to visit with every ranch rodeo committee in the state, sweet-talking the committee members into participating and winning back lost souls.  Then an advisory board with a representative from every participating ranch rodeo will have to come up with some rules that everyone can sort of agree on (even here in Montana, rules across the state vary greatly and everyone thinks their own are the best).  Finally, the State Championship will have to be really attractive so that cowboys and cowgirls will want to come to it.  I’m talking about low entry fees and generous payouts here.  It’s all very simple.  All we need is a $50,000 sponsor.  We just need to get started!

In an ideal world, which of course I know we’re not living in, the Montana Champion Ranch Rodeo Team would then advance to a National Finals Ranch Rodeo.  The top two, three, even four teams from each state (ranch rodeo in New York, anyone?) could meet at a big indoor arena somewhere and compete for national bragging rights each year.  Again, all it would take would be somebody picking a central location, setting a date, and doing a lot of talking to committees and sponsors across the country. I think I will get on this just as soon as I get to the bottom of the laundry pile.

Is there a possibility that a ranch rodeo in existence could become the National Finals Ranch Rodeo? Maybe the WRCA in Texas?  Hmmm… I’m not sure; those Texans are pretty persnickety about their rules.  But what about the fledgling Western States Ranch Rodeo Association, which holds yet another “finals” in Winnemucca, Nevada each fall?

You know, I have been thisclose to sanctioning Custer with the WSRRA a couple times, but something always holds me back.  Just this year, the NILE has dropped its WRCA (Amarillo) sanction and picked up a WSRRA (Winnemucca) sanction instead, which in my opinion was a step backwards for the NILE for this reason:  anybody and their dog can sanction with the WSRRA.  Custer, Hardin, Ingomar, Forsyth… any and all Podunk ranch rodeos are apparently qualified to sanction directly with the WSRRA.  You could win Custer and go straight to Winnemucca.  OR you could win Custer, go to the NILE and win it, and qualify for Winnemucca in that way.  Jeepers!  Ranch rodeo is like an oilfield town that grew crazy fast and now has roads going every which way and is badly in need of some infrastructure.  We need an engineer here, people!

Here’s my suspicion with the WSRRA:  they’re making money off of sanctioning fees, and that’s why they take so many sanctioned ranch rodeos.  What’s more, they require membership fees from the actual contestants on top of sanctioning fees from the ranch rodeo.  And if a first place team from a ranch rodeo doesn’t want to go to the finals in Winnemucca (because admittedly, the WSRRA finals are in early November, right in the  middle of weaning, and that’s a terrible time of year for a Montana cowboy to be leaving the state), then the second place team can go, or the third place team, and so on.  So going to Winnemucca actually becomes representative of nothing, other than that you participated in some ranch rodeo somewhere at some point and can now say, with some amount of smugness, “Yeah, I qualified for Winnemucca.” Maybe they’re just trying to be the biggest ranch rodeo in the country (side note of interest:  sometimes Winnemucca claims to be the World Finals Ranch Rodeo, which seems a little presumptuous to me.  I mean, is the top ranch rodeo team from Afghanistan invited?  What about Brazil?  Sweden?).

What, exactly, is the goal here?  I can discern from the posters that the WSRRA claims to be “wilder than the rest.”  Okay…

Maybe they’re trying to be the richest ranch rodeo in the country; I see that they’ve got some prestigious national sponsors backing them.  Great!  They’ve got the support; now I challenge them to use it responsibly and serve the common good here by organizing themselves into a NATIONAL finals.  I could get behind that.  If the WSRRA truly wants to be the richest and biggest in the nation, fine, but why not lend some cohesiveness to it?  Help the states get organized and take the top few teams from every state?  Because making a sanctioning fee off of every single ranch rodeo in a five-state area is a little shameful in my opinion.

One more thing and then my rant is over:  I am also perplexed by the huge amounts of money added to WSRRA-sanctioned ranch bronc rides. Where does that money even come from? Is there real gold backing that money up?  I joke, but honestly, people.  Ridiculous amounts of added money elsewhere make it difficult if not impossible for me to attract bronc riders to our own small event.  I don’t understand:  why would you get on a bronc for a chance at a lot of money if you wouldn’t get on a bronc otherwise?  Why does it all have to be about money, money, money?

Yes indeedy doo, one of these days when I get the dishes done and the kids are all sleeping through the night, I’m going to make some real strides toward straightening all these cowboys out.  Because I need another job that doesn’t pay like I need a hole in the head.  Maybe if I’m bored when the kids are grown and if things still aren’t straightened out by then, I’ll try my hand at organizing a Montana State Championship Ranch Rodeo and a National Finals Ranch Rodeo.  If you run a ranch rodeo in Montana or any other state, consider this your official invitation to be on the committee. Here’s a warning for you, though: I run my ranch rodeo less as a committee and more as a dictatorship.  I’m not much one for working with committees. I find that committees do a lot of talking, not much deciding, and a whole lot of coming up with ideas that make more work for me.  It’s true, folks: the only reason I’m still in charge at Custer is because I set it up as a corporation, and I am the president and sole shareholder (not that there are any shares to hold).  I can’t be kicked out.  I knew it from the start; I’m just too independent to play well with others.

I am a cowgirl, after all.

© Tami Blake

2016 poster

7 thoughts on “Sanction Shmanction

  1. I’ve also thought along these lines Tami. Not a lot of structure going on there. FYI you’re rodeo is by far my favorite one in the state to have both participated in and been a spectator at. The rules are true to the real life work and the judges are consistent. I trust the family is well and everyone is smiling on account of the abundant green grass and water.


    1. Thanks for saying so Tucker — it means a lot. We would love to have you back some year! We are very well at the Blake house and hope you and your bride are as well. We’re headed to the LO to brand tomorrow!


  2. From :
    To :
    Tami Blake

    Tami, I am Sorry to see that you feel this way about the WSRRA, for six years we have struggled to put together a ranch rodeo association for everyone to compete in, it has been a real challenge to make a ” Perfect System ” that will make everyone happy. We have and will continue to evolve as the association grows, however growth comes as a double edged sword. The problem with growth is the age old problem, when it’s to small to be big , and to big to be small.

    As we grow more and more rodeos want to be sanctioned, and it’s very hard to not let them in, we have kept the rules for sanctioning as simple, and as easy for producers as possible, to allow as many people the chance to compete as possible. The winning team at the Finals last year won over $14,000 in cash and prizes, not to mention other payouts and awards.

    The sanctioning fees that are charged to producers are $200, the WRCA charges $500 we choose not to punish the producers by charging that much, as far as membership fees go we charge $40, $25 goes to the association and $15 goes to the rodeo news, as our Official newsletter of the association each member receives 20 issues for the $15 fee. As the association grows we are expanding into Canada this year, and that is good for the sport, and I guess that makes the WSRRA a International Association.

    I would like to explain the reason for the added $$$ in the Bronc riding that you talked about, the event producers have seen the growth of the sport, and as we evolve to the next level they want to be part of the growth, they add the $$$$ to make their rodeo’s bigger, it’s their choice, and we support them with added points for their events. The added $$$$ has come because of one reason, the Bronc Riders themselves, they are setting the stage for the producers to get involved, and the producers are listening to them.

    The WSRRA will be changing going forward, and to address your statement about the ” State Championship” we have been working on that for the last 3 years, when implemented we will have State Finals and the top teams from every State and Canada will compete at the finals. One last point I would like to make, as far as the ” Sponsorship’s ” that you mentioned, they are tough to get and even harder to keep, we struggle to make them happy and have them return for the next season.

    As we go forward we continue to try adding more building blocks for the association, the Woman’s Division was added 3 years ago and is growing with more Ladies wanting to compete. This year we should see around 20 teams at the Finals. In 2015 we started the groundwork for a Youth Scholarship program, along with the WSRRA Cowboy Crisis Fund we will continue to give back all we can to the members of the association.

    I hope you understand although your rodeo choses not to be a sanctioned event, the number of rodeo’s that do is growing, and we will continue to welcome them in, and promote the sport of ranch rodeo. One last thing that I would like to say as a trivia point, the only ranch team to ever win twice at the finals has been a MT team, the Hairpin Ranch, they continue to compete and try to qualify every year for the finals, we are proud to have them.

    Thank You
    Marc Page

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Marc. I would really like to see ranch rodeo in our country get a little more organized, and I think you’re in a position to do it. I would like to see your date change — realize there is probably no good time of year for everybody, but it really is tough for folks from our area to get away in November. Congratulations on your success — I know a lot of people look forward to going to Winnemucca. For now we’ll continue with the NILE sanction and hope that you can help Montana get some state finals going.


  3. Howdy Tami~

    As I looked over your blog and your blog post, I felt as though we could be friends. I mean your are a ranch mom raising a family under the Montana skies, you are a women ranch rodeo producer and you are telling your story, just as I am. The only difference is I am under the Nebraska skies.
    But then I read this post and have to say that I am a little disappointed in your views. You see, I have been producing ranch rodeos, and ranch bronc ridings for 10 years. In 2010, my husband was reading the magazine Working Ranch, and saw an article on the WSRRA. We were so impressed by the association that I called the WSRRA President the next morning to see if they would sanction my ranch rodeo and ranch bronc riding in Bridgeport, Nebraska. We were impressed by the WSRRA for many reasons but the main reason is simply that my husband could compete on a team. You see, we own our own ranch, we don’t have any hired hands unless you count the dogs, horses and kids. He called the neighbors that also don’t have hired hands and they soon had a team. (WRCA says you have to be a hired hand on 1 ranch, in order to compete at their sanctioned rodeos.) They have gone to the WSRRA Finals in Winnemucca 3 years. Is it the wrong time of year? Yes, but tell me when a good time of the year is for all of us in ag? Because you can not make everyone happy. The WSRRA is growing by the day. In fact, I am honored to be a WSRRA representative for it. I believe in it.

    Last year I produced 2 WSRRA ranch rodeos and 14 WSRRA Ranch Bronc Ridings, why? Because I want to keep the western tradition of ranch rodeos alive. I produce ranch rodeos and ranch bronc ridings to give Cowboys/Cowgirls an opportunity to show off their talents that they use everyday. I produce ranch rodeos and ranch bronc ridings to see smiles, to give money and prizes, to hear stories, to meet new neighbors and to give opportunities to those who want it. As for the added money for the WSRRA Ranch Bronc ridings, I can tell you that it is legit. So where does that added money come from? FROM SPONSORS THAT WANT TO PROMOTE the traditions of bronc riding and want to promote their business. As a producer, like you, I understand it takes a lot of time, resources and it sometimes is a thankless job. In order for me to get added monies to the ranch bronc ridings and ranch rodeos, I have to call upon businesses to help me add to the payouts. I produce WSRRA sanctioned events because I believe in the WSRRA values.

    With that being said, I am leaving you an open opportunity to contact me if you have any questions. My books are open, I would be happy to discuss any of my ranch rodeo business with you. My email is or my cell phone number is 308-760-3102.

    Naomi Loomis


    1. Thanks for reading and writing, Naomi. I hope you’ll give me another chance at friendship : ) Your vision statement looks a lot like mine: I certainly agree with keeping Western traditions alive and in giving real working cowboys and cowgirls a chance to show off their art in front of the crowd. We at Custer have always prided ourselves on keeping our rules very authentic and true to what cowboys and cowgirls are doing out in the pasture every day. (I do agree with WSRRA rules more than I do WRCA rules.) Our teams consist of 4 contestants — at least 1 woman or at least 1 man. I put the event on because I take pride in it and because I want to produce a fun day for our friends, the contestants. I certainly know that ranch rodeo is growing all across the country, and if the trend continues, it will be necessary to get some national infrastructure in place to lend some structure to it. (Maybe we see the potential problem in Montana more than you do in Nebraska. Either way, I would be happy to see the WSRRA be part of the solution.) I know for sure that in our area at least, the sponsor base cannot continue to support more and more events. I think every year about trying to convert Custer to run completely without sponsors, but haven’t figured out how to do that yet. If you have any ideas on that, let me know!

      Liked by 1 person

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