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Along for the ride

Ronan celebrates 100 years at Pioneer Days Rodeo

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The sun was just begining to set on a crisp Saturday night in Ronan. The air carried the smells of autumn, turning leaves and the promise of winter as cowboys, ranchers and audience members alike looked to the stadium’s center. 

Standing in the middle of Ronan’s rodeo grounds, the announcer glanced briefly at his notes, smiled, and seemed to put them aside and speak off-the-cuff rather than from a set speech. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Pioneer Days; this is Montana; this is 100 years of Ronan!”

The crowd erupted in cheers as the “greatest piece of cloth in the world” made its way around the arena, signaling the start of Ronan’s own Pioneer Days Rodeo.

A community staple, the event has a long and storied history of bringing together long-lost friends and family for a weekend of family fun in the late summer months. Audience member John Blixt has never missed a rodeo and looks forward to it every year. This year in particular, he saw friends he’s not seen in more than seven years. 

A former competitor, Blixt said being at the rodeo brought back feelings of nostalgia. 

“I used to ride bulls here starting in ‘94. I rode on and off for 12 years afterwards, and I miss it,” he said. “Being back here with the smell of manure and the dust in your teeth ... it brings back a lot of memories.”

Just as he finishes speaking, the crowd gasps as a young cowboy riding a mini-bull is thrown hard to the dirt. He gets up and waves, but limps out of the arena.

“When we started, we just ran little roping steers. These little bulls they’re riding now are mean and buck hard,” Blixt said.

He credits the valley’s recent showings at state and national rodeos to these bulls.

One such competitor was 14-year-old Tristian O’Neal of Valier. O’Neal has ridden for some time, but says he’ll never get tired of the feeling he gets from riding a bull. 

“The adrenaline rush, heart pumping, everything reacting faster – it makes you feel like you’re on top of the world,” he said.

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