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Indian National Finals Rodeo heads to Vegas via Polson

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The Polson Fairgrounds were filled with horses, horse trailers and campers and firefighters over the weekend. The firefighters were fighting the West Garcon fire, and the horses, horse trailers and campers belonged to contestants in the Flathead River Indian National Finals Tour Rodeo, held Aug. 23-25.

The bucking horses were big and tough, and so were the dogging steers. Ropers, bulldoggers, barrel racers and rough stock riders came to win.

Their families came to provide support, help feed and water horses and, as one little girl said, “Go swimmin’.”

Also new to Polson was a jumbotron in the arena. It provided instant replays and information such as contestant names, times and scores to beat, and even standing in the average, long go and short go. 

A first-ever for Polson, the INFR rodeo was a tour rodeo where contestants could earn money to qualify for the INFR in Las Vegas on Nov. 6-12 at the South Point Casino. 

Pete White, who owns Pistol Creek Rodeo Company with his brother Elmo McDonald, was instrumental in scheduling a tour rodeo on the Flathead Reservation. Pistol Creek was the stock contractor and supplied broncs and bulls for the rodeo, as did other Indian sub-contractors including Black Eagle, Kittsen, CG Bulls, Bird Bulls, Incredi-bul-L, Brash, Tatsey, Conway-Loring and the Blackfeet Tribe.

A tour rodeo, White explained, must add at least $2,000 in prize money to each event. The Flathead River INFR Tour Rodeo was more generous and added $5,000 to each event. INFR cowboys and cowgirls can get to the finals either by competing at tour rodeos or through the region system at smaller circuit rodeos. Polson will be hosting a United Indian Rodeo regional rodeo on Sept. 8 and 9.

The idea for a tour rodeo came when Sheila Matt, principal officer of S&K Gaming and White’s boss at the KwaTaqNuk Resort and Casino, and White were discussing ways to showcase what the resort and the Polson community have to offer. 

“I had this idea of putting on a rodeo,” White said.

Since he and his family had been a part of the INFR for so long, White said the concept of a rodeo in Polson was there, it was just waiting for the right time.

Matt and White have been working on the rodeo since January and are glad to have brought Indian cowboys and cowgirls back to the community. 

The rodeo brought more than 350 contestants and their families to the Polson area. Cameron Bruised Head and Buck Lunak, top bareback riders, barrel racers Donna Small and Julie Lenoir, saddle bronc riders Chazz Racine and Jesse Colliflower, calf ropers Brit Givens and Jay Crawler and bull riders Bradford Heath and Peter Tatsey and many other talented rodeo athletes competed.

“It was a spectacular rodeo,” White said. “Thanks to all the fans for coming.”

He’s already looking forward to next year’s rodeo.


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