Stirling Ranch Rodeo draws hundreds to Fort Pierre

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Farm Forum

Remembering the Highmore rancher who battled cancer is a rodeo that harks back to how it began on ranches before becoming a professional sport.

The Stirling Family Memorial Ranch Rodeo brought 400 or more people to the Stanley County Fairgrounds on Sept. 19 in Fort Pierre to watch young and old compete in the day-long event.

It was a good turnout, helped by a sunny day, organizers said.

One count was that 325 people signed up at a main table for a chance to win prizes. But there were more there, with 21 four-person teams in the main events, plus several for young children, a hundred or more working the pens and chutes. The dinner of barbecue fed about 500, Sandy Sivertsen, one of six children of Nancy and Dick Stirling who ranched near Highmore.

In 1997, Dick Stirling died from cancer and his children and Nancy decided to hold an annual ranch rodeo to help other families facing cancer.

This year marked the 18th Stirling ranch rodeo and Nancy Stirling-Neuhauser was there, riding into the arena on the front seat of a covered wagon, followed by her children and her grandchildren and great grand children.

At least 50 members of the Stirling family, including three-week-old twin girls, great-grandchildren of Nancy Stirling-Neuhauser, were there, many taking part in events in the arena or the chutes and the announcing booth.

Counting up receipts Sept. 20, Sandy (Stirling) Sivertsen said already four people whose names were submitted to the family as people battling cancer have been sent checks and many more are expected to be sent checks from the rodeo’s returns.

“As a family, we decided we had been blessed and as a result, we want to bless other cancer warriors,” Sivertsen said

There was “mutton-busting” for kids, some so small their dad held them on the back of the running woolly bronc and wild pony rides for teams of three ages 10 to 14.

Brett Stirling was a judge for the rodeo. He and his family ranch northwest of Chamberlain, near Reliance, South Dakota.

Ranch rodeo is different than most competitive rodeos, including the professional events seen on TV, Stirling said.

“We kind of try to duplicate what we do on the ranch every day, but put it in a competitive setting. We kind of go back to just like it is out in the pasture.”

One event, for example, is called pair-sorting, he said.

“In the spring time, when the cow has had her calf, you try to cut her and her calf out to put them in a different pasture. It’s cleaner and cuts down on disease. So you have to sort the cow with her special calf and put them someplace else.”

Unlike out on the ranch, there is a one-minute limit for each team.

The teams also compete in “range doctoring.”

It’s a lot like team roping, with one member roping the head, the other the heels, of a steer.

“But then a team member has to get off and pretend like they are doctoring that animal,” Stirling said.

Because often on the ranch, there’s no time to get a vet and trailing an animal in miles to a vet might hurt its health more than help it, so it’s done out on the range, he said.

The bronc riding has a similarly practical bent.

Instead of doing fancy spurring and holding on only with one hand, the main goal of a rider in a ranch rodeo saddle bronc event is just staying put.

“On the ranch, you might be 10 miles from the house, so it might be a long walk home,” Stirling said. “It’s not how much you can ‘mark’ him (with spurs), you just stay on. You can hang on with both hands, whatever you gotta do to be able to stay on.”

There also are “trailer relay,” and a stray gather” events, as well as “wild cow milking” and “calf-branding.”

Ranch rodeo includes more females, with each team required to have a woman or a member under age 16.

In fact, the top hand award for the rodeo went to Tanegai Zilverberg of Pierre.