BELMONT, Ohio – It was war from the crack of the gate, and there was nothing pretty about it. But the cowboy was determined – this was his battle.
With one hand high in the air and the other wrapped tight in the rope, he kept spurring as the fierce bull bucked with all his might. After the buzzer sounded and the dust had settled, he was victorious and tipped his wide-brimmed hat to his competitor. The cowboy then basked in the glory of an eight-second ride.
What once seemed to be the tradition of rugged Texans and cowboys of the wild west, the lure of rodeo is attracting more and more fans each year. That “cowboy way” is alive and well in Belmont County, Ohio.
Rafter M. Rodeo.
After years of living the rodeo life, Bob and Angie Montag brought the bulls and broncs home to Belmont, Ohio. In the fall of ’94, the Montags created Rafter M. Rodeo Productions holding a two-day rodeo once a year. They now produce a series of more than 10 rodeos a season.
Bob got involved in the industry 18 years ago while he was still in high school. He was running barrels and roping calves, but decided those events just weren’t quite exciting enough for him. He attended rodeo schools in California and Pennsylvania and it soon paid off. Bob was ranked in the top 20 nationally for many years as a bull and bronc rider.
“Riding bulls and broncs did more for me than running barrels and roping calves. I wanted to tackle the big bulls. I saw it as a step up,” said Montag. “I never won that gold buckle, but I was always a contender.”
Rafter M. Rodeo now produces professional rodeos sanctioned by the Mid-States Rodeo Association, American Professional Rodeo Association and North American Bullriding Association and high school rodeos.
The Montags hold two bull riding clinics a year to help beginners get started on the right foot. This year’s clinic featured world champion bull rider Robbie Shriver, 24, of Goldtown, Md.
Shriver told the cowboy wannabes to be aggressive, self-motivating and to believe in themselves. This is the fifth year Shriver has come to Rafter M. Rodeo.
“Rafter M. is a professionally run rodeo. I’ve known Bob for many years now, and the Montags are a class act. They receive a lot of respect and honor because they deserve it,” said Shriver. “I would do anything for them.”
Rafter M. Rodeo has won numerous awards including Mid-States Rodeo Association’s Rodeo of the Year and American Professional Rodeo Association’s Best New Rodeo of the Year and Stock Contractor Runner-up of the Year. Their livestock qualified to compete at the MSRA finals for the past five years and the APRA finals for the last three years. Rafter’s bull Skat Kat won Bucking Bull of the Year in ’99 and Rambo won in 2000.
Rodeo events draw a wide range of spectators, from thrill seekers and extreme sports enthusiasts to those interested in western heritage. Most rodeos feature bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping, saddle bronc riding and cowgirls barrel racing and bull riding.
It’s not just how the contestant performs during an event; the animals are judged as well. The team of rider and animal can score up to 100 points. They are judged on ability to ride, performance of the animal and spurring action of the rider. A top bucking bull or horse can be worth up to $25,000.
“Every ride is a new experience – even if I rode the same bull or bronc 100 times,” said Montag. “The rider has to ready for anything.”
There are others in the ring that have to be ready for anything as well, and they are the bullfighters. Once the cowboy has been bucked off, it is their job to get the bull back through the gate so the rider can get to safety. The job isn’t without its dangers, and often the bullfighters take the brunt of the bull’s fury.
“When I was learning how to be a bullfighter, I was told it wasn’t ‘if’ I was going to get hurt – it was ‘when and how bad,'” said Lee “Chief” Curtin of Greenville, Pa., Rafter M. Rodeo’s rookie bullfighter.
So far, Curtin has been lucky. He said he’s been to the hospital, but always treated and released. He has never spent a night in the hospital with an injury he sustain at the rodeo. Rafter M. Rodeo’s other bullfighter is Scott Gabriel of Columbus.
Montag says prize money and affiliation with rodeo associations are the biggest draws for contestants. When there are often 50 to 100 rodeos scheduled in one week across the United States, cowboys have to choose which rodeo could result in the bigger payoff.
“Sponsors play a big part in how much prize money we can offer. Alltel is our major sponsor this year, and we have done really well working together,” said Montag.
The riders pay $60 to enter, and at the June 9 rodeo in Belmont, the winner took home $3,000.
Way of life.
Bob says although he quit the bull riding circuit three years ago, his romance for the rodeo will always keep him involved. He made a living from riding, and he’s not going to turn his back on a business that has given him so much.
“I always want to be a part of it,” said Montag. “It’s a way of life once it’s there and you don’t know anything else.”
RAFTER M. RODEO 2001 SEASON SCHEDULE
July 6-7 Rodeo, 7:30 p.m., Fairfield County Fairgrounds, Lancaster, Ohio
July 13 Rodeo, 7:30 p.m., Rafter M. Arena, 62669 Ault Road, Belmont, Ohio
July 14 Bullmania, 7:30 p.m., Rafter M. Arena
July 18 Bullmania, 6 p.m., Jamboree in the Hills, Morristown, Ohio
July 31 Bullmania, 7:30 p.m., Marshall County Fair, Moundsville, W.Va.
Aug. 6 Bullmania, 7:30 p.m., Monroe County Fair, Woodsfield, Ohio
Aug. 10 Rodeo, 7:30 p.m., Rafter M. Arena
Aug. 11 Rodeo, 7:30 p.m., Rafter M. Arena
Sept. 29 Bullmania, 7:30 p.m., Rafter M. Arena
Advance ticket prices for all events held at Rafter M. Arena, 62669 Ault Road, Belmont, Ohio, are $8 for adults and $3 for children 4-12. Gate prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children 4-12. For information about Rafter M. Rodeo Productions contact Bob or Angie at 62669 Ault Road, Belmont, Ohio; or call 740-686-2388.
(Reporter Annie Santoro can be reached at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or firstname.lastname@example.org.)