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Local bronc rider's photo appears in national magazine

RONAN – Chris Mutchler recently found himself in an unexpected place, and his first thought was: “Holy cow! Look at that!”

During the early morning hours of Sunday, Feb. 11, he ran into Ronan Harvest Foods with his father, Les, and quickly went past the cash registers toward the back of the store.

As the fourth generation in his family to grow up in Ronan, Mutchler has been to the grocery store hundreds of times. He knew exactly where he was going. 

He walked past the chips and stood in front of the magazine shelves. His eyes scanned several publications until he found the glossy February/March issue of “Cowboys and Indians.” The latest western movie was featured on the cover with three famous actors. Mutchler flipped to page 114. He later said: “Boom, there I was coming out of the chute on the page.”  

He looked down at the photo and saw himself sitting on an 1,800-pound bronc at the Polson rodeo grounds during the Mission Mountain Rodeo on June 23, 2017. His head was tucked down under a cowboy hat. The dark horse he sat on was reared up in the photo with its mane spread wildly upward like the long hair of someone on a rollercoaster ride. 

Mutchler had a tight hold on the rein fastened to the horse. His other hand was in the air, as is the custom in saddle bronc riding. His cowboy boots were planted horizontally in the stirrups above the horse’s shoulder. 

A rodeo handler can be seen in the photo standing on one of the chute’s rails behind Mutchler’s head, pulling up the slack on the flank strap. Another guy is leaning over the fence to push the horse in the direction of the arena.

The black and white photo won first place in the magazine’s annual photo contest for 2018. Brad Stamm was the photographer.

“I was part of Norm Clasen’s Western Photography workshop around Polson last June,” Stamm states in a letter. “The highlight of the week long workshop was the rodeo on Friday night.”

Workshop photographers were given unusual access to the back areas of the rodeo and behind the chute. “It was a wonderful chance to get really amazing photographs with a different angle,” he said.

Stamm’s image was judged along with 1,300 entries from different photographers. “I was really pleased when my picture was the Grand Prize winner,” he said. He was so thrilled when he found out that he won that he wanted to share the excitement. He rolled up a copy of the cover of the magazine and the winning photograph and sent them to Mutchler in a tube. 

Mutchler hadn’t known about the photography workshop. He was so focused on the bronc that he didn’t notice the photographer hanging on the chute. 

On Saturday, Feb. 10, Mutchler got home late in the evening and saw the tube sticking out of his mailbox. He was shocked when he saw the photo inside. 

Seeing the photo reminded him of what happened after it was taken. The horse reared up so far that it put Mutchler into a horizontal position with the sky so that the only thing he could see was daylight. Within a second, the horse planted his feet inside the rodeo arena, and Mutchler went over the top of the horse’s head.   

“I wish I could say that I won that rodeo, but the power of that bronc was unreal,” he said. “I’ll never forget that ride.” When he found out that there was a photo of him on that powerful horse, he was thrilled. “The photo is like icing on a cake,” he said. 

Mutchler has always loved rodeo. Two years ago, when he was 22, he was sitting on a fence watching a rodeo with his friends. When the bronc riding started, he said he wanted to try that someday like he had said many times before. 

The sport felt raw and maybe a little primal. He saw it as a way to try and become one with the horse - balancing with its twists and turns. 

He felt like it was a sport where you have to give your all and try your best to avoid the worst. He also liked that it was a sport with a purpose. He imagined cowboys throwing their saddles on a horse in the old west to eventually teach the animal to work with them to get a herd of cows moved across the prairie. 

It occurred to him on that day when he was watching the rodeo that he better get started in the sport or he might never do it. He ended up borrowing some gear, listening to instructions from friends, and eventually getting on his first bronc at the Fourth of July rodeo in Arlee in 2016. From there, he got bucked off a few more broncs and even knocked out once after being kicked by a horse. He woke up in the dirt with an emergency medical team standing around him. “That ride didn’t go so well,” he said.

After some thought about the dangers of the sport, he decided to get back on and ended up completing his first 8 second ride in Hot Springs in 2017. He had another good ride at the Pioneer Days Rodeo, but his boot came out of the stirrup, so he was disqualified. 

During the week that he found his photo in the magazine, he was getting ready to go work in North Dakota to make money so he can participate in more rodeos this summer.  

He showed those two magazines he bought to so many people that they started to get tore up, so he went back to the store and bought two more. He plans to frame the magazine cover and the winning photo. 

“This has been very cool and humbling,” he said. He added that it was neat that the Polson rodeo grounds were featured in a magazine that is distributed all over the United States. 

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