Rodeo has been an integral part of the fall NILE Stock Show and Rodeo since it began in 1968. Originating from skills needed to raise cattle on the ranches and ranges of the West, rodeo truly epitomizes the western lifestyle and helps the NILE with its mission of embracing and preserving the western way of life.
Each year the NILE includes three days of professional rodeo. Cowboys from across the United States and Canada come to Billings the third week of October to compete inside at First Interstate Arena. The NILE rodeo features all of the PRCA-sanctioned events which are broken down into timed events and rough stock events – each with its own unique origin, rules, and champions.
Most rodeos like the NILE kick off their performance with bareback riding. This event features a cowboy trying to ride a bucking horse for eight seconds with only one hand holding onto a “riggin,” which is basically a handle attached to a narrow piece of padded leather buckled tightly to the horse right behind its front legs.
Steer wrestling usually comes next – a timed event where a mounted cowboy chases down a steer, slides off his horse onto the running animal and then digs in his heels to stop the animal and “wrestle” it to the ground. Next up is the team roping event. Team roping includes two cowboys – one who ropes the animal around the horns (the header) and one who ropes the steer’s two hind feet (heeler). The team that can do this in the fastest time – usually under six seconds – wins! Tie-down calf roping is another timed event where a single mounted cowboy chases down a calf, ropes it, gets off his horse, and ties three of the calf’s legs together. The calf must stay tied for six seconds. The roping skills used in both team roping and tie-down roping are still used today on ranches across the West to catch and immobilize cattle for doctoring purposes.
Another event with deep roots in ranching is saddle bronc riding. Many ranches still use horses extensively for moving cattle from pasture to pasture. Horses must learn to accept a saddle and rider on their backs and young horses often buck when first saddled and ridden because it is unfamiliar to them. Cowboys must learn to hang on and ride during the bucking in order to gentle and tame the horse. This skill of riding young horses that bucked led to competitions to see who could ride the longest and not get thrown off and eventually led to today’s saddle bronc event where cowboys use a modified saddle and must ride with only one rein and one hand for eight seconds. They are scored by two judges who rank the horse for how hard it bucks and the cowboy’s skill and form in riding.
Cowboys are not the only athletes to compete in rodeo. Women’s barrel racing has become an extremely popular rodeo event. This timed event features a very skilled rider on a highly trained horse running a specific cloverleaf pattern around three barrels placed in a triangle in the arena. The speed, tight turns, and riding skills make this event exciting to watch. Another women’s event becoming popular and making its way into many professional rodeos is breakaway roping, where the cowgirl on a horse who can rope a calf in the fastest time wins.
Usually, the final event of the rodeo is bull riding. Bulls for this event are bred specifically for the sport of rodeo and love to buck! Bull riders have only a rope, wrapped around the girth of the bull and then around their own hand to hold onto. They must stay on the bucking spinning animal for eight seconds without touching the bull or grabbing the rope with their other hand. Rides are scored a maximum of 100 points with half of the points based on how hard the bull bucks and half on how well the cowboy rides. They must ride the whole eight seconds to get a score and qualify for the trophy buckle!
The NILE includes all of these events and is known not only for its top-quality cowboys but also for the toughest bulls and broncs provided by the best stock contractors in the western region. This matchup between champion cowboys and great stock is paired with popular bullfighters and clowns to provide a high-energy and entertaining evening for the whole family. Each night we bring a special theme to the arena to benefit local organizations. Unique to the NILE is our High School Showcase which allows the top two cowboys and cowgirls from Montana’s High School Rodeo Association to compete right alongside the pros in each event! Our “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” night benefits local breast cancer research and treatment programs and on Patriot Night we recognize veterans and first responders who have given back to their country and community.
We would love to welcome you to the NILE ProRodeo in October! Check back for details on dates, prices and events for 2023!
Saddle Bronc Riding
The future of rodeo is bright! Top high school rodeo contestants from around the state are highlighted this performance. The top two high school rodeo athletes in each event run with the professionals.
Two young athletes per event (and two teams in team roping) are invited to match their skills against some of PRCA’s best. These student-athletes are chosen from the Montana High School Rodeo Association and consist of the two leaders in each event after the Fall season.
Though several high school events are not in the PRCA, the standard seven events are featured this performance: bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
All fans and contestants are encouraged to wear pink during the ProRodeo for Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night presented by St. Vincent’s Health Care; working together to live in a world without breast cancer.
The NILE will donate $1 for every rodeo ticket purchased while other businesses will be donating money towards the Eva Project.
Per St. Vincent Health Care, the Eva Project provides free mammograms to women over age 40 that are uninsured or under-insured. The Eva Project was created by a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 48 years old with no family history. Through early detection, Eva’s cancer was diagnosed and successfully treated. Eva wanted to make sure that every woman would be able to receive her screening mammogram.
The Wrangler Patriot Night is a night to honor and remember our service men, women, and their families who have all sacrificed for us. Local law enforcement and military service members join us on the arena dirt for our National Anthem. Help us thank them on this special night by wearing red, white, and blue.