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  • Melina Bricker, Routt County CSU Extension

The Heart of South Routt Sits in a Saddle: The Soroco Ranch Rodeo

The Soroco Ranch Rodeo returns the Sunday after the Fourth of July.

There is something incredible about a kid raised ranching. Not Yellowstone performative ranching, where the wrong saddles for the job are overlooked to enjoy the next new dramatic turn of events, but the kind of ranching that makes kids stronger. Smarter. Tougher, but with incredible compassion--you eat after the animals do. You doctor them when they're injured, you ride out and find them after flooding, and you stay out there calving until it’s done because it’s needed. A kid that grows up ranching is an adult that understands what it means to be needed like that, and to fulfill a role with sacrifice--time, money, heart--all of it. It’s a warrior lifestyle, without question. A warrior is trained up by their mentors, pushed physically, disciplined in their thoughts and actions, and devoted to a mission greater than themselves. To me, ranchers are warriors, with a mission of ensuring their communities are fed, healthy, and self-sufficient. The Soroco Ranch Rodeo is a tradition that takes a moment just after the 4th of July festivities to celebrate that warrior lifestyle, and all the skill and joy that comes with being a part of that community.

My husband Ty grew up caretaking ranches all over Colorado with his family, and outfitted with his father in Silverton seven days a week every summer starting around eight or nine years old. He’s also been on numerous combat deployments--so he knows a thing or two about warrior lifestyles--but he equates ranching with strength building more than anything. We often talk about how we can create strong, resilient kids, and the conversation recently turned to mending fences. “If you’re out there with your pops, and you get cut up fixing fences, you don’t stop and cry about it; you aren’t going anywhere. There’s work to do. That stuff prepares you for life--you learn you can handle some pain, and that translates to the playground at school, sports in high school, rodeo, work, everything. Ranch kids get that,” he says.

He’s right. But most folks aren’t ranchers these days. Most of us drive to work, or work at home, and think about weather as it relates to recreation or being able to get places--not about digging out calves in late spring snow, or hoping the flooding is enough to take out crop- devouring grasshoppers. This culture is more and more difficult to really appreciate and interact with, because if it weren’t for ranch tours and necessary online marketing for local ag products, a lot of us would forget where our food comes from. Where our community leaders come from.

I’m a researcher and educator, which makes me chronically and happily curious about everything. The Soroco Ranch Rodeo has been swirling in my mind as it approaches in just a few weeks, and I had to learn more following my first attendance last year. So I went to the source…if you don’t know Tiffany Gates, you might be real, real new to Routt County, because she is the one who quietly and expertly manages almost every educational aspect of Soroco students, formally and informally. She’s also a rancher, and between that, her family, Soroco Elementary, 4-H, FFA, and the PTO…she has every right to be tired. But she’s not. She’s a force. She loves the long-standing tradition of the Ranch Rodeo, founded in 1993, and remembers going as a spectator in middle and high school.

“This event really embraces the South Routt community and pays tribute to the American Rancher and working cowboys that feed the rest of the world day in and day out, three times per day, while supporting the school district,” she says. It’s a fantastic display of that collaboration--held at the Egeria Park Roping Club, then the Kevin McCoy memorial Arena in Bond, and now back in Toponas at the Egeria Park Roping Club Arena, it’s put on by Friends of Soroco PTO, Soroco FFA Alumni & Booster Club, and South Routt community members volunteering their time and materials to contribute to events and a big local cook-off. Historically, teachers in the school district would bring pies or desserts, and everyone backs up their trucks to take in the show tailgate style. “We do most of the traditional ranch rodeo events--no rough stock like a PRCA Rodeo, but the events are meant to showcase what working cowboys do every day to make the ranch function and get their jobs done!” Tiffany says. She describes why

this is so important for folks to see, too. “Just like the nation, Routt County ranchers are faced with trials and tribulations…in a county where land values are increasing and extremely expensive, it’s hard for people to stay in ranching or especially buy into it in our county. The average age of the American Rancher is 57 years old. Thankfully there are some family operations that have been around for generations and they do it because they love it, not because they make a lot of money off of it.”

Sarajane Snowden echoes this as a long-time local rancher, describing the heritage South Routt embodies. “Some traditions reflected in the Ranch Rodeo are things that have been a part of the ranching culture across the west since the beginning. For example, branding and doctoring cattle has always been important. Those are both events in the Soroco Ranch Rodeo. Working cattle on horseback has always been a part of the west, especially in areas such as South Routt with so many high mountain cattle pastures,” she states. She also loves and participates in the annual cook-off. “Cooking for your workers has always been a big part of the ranching communities! And I think the cook-off does a good job showcasing how families can put a large meal together and bring it to a remote location and serve it hot.” The cook-off is voted on with dollars--folks walk around and get their fill, and stuff their dollars in the cook’s jar they like best. It’s a fabulous way to actually put your money where your mouth is, and proceeds go right to the school. A silent auction, roping events, and a coveted belt buckle generate support financially and socially, and remind everyone what it was like to be connected outside and in person. An overarching feeling of childhood joy permeates the afternoon of the rodeo. Kids run around playing, pulling ribbons off bolting calves, laughing at toddlers chasing rabbits, and there’s a sense that every person there believes this kind of life is absolutely, unequivocally worth preserving. But it’s hard to preserve something you don’t interact with--which makes this day so important.

This communal sharing of work, skills, lifestyles, values, and food are vital in providing a picture of what it means to be in agriculture, still the backbone of the United States. “As producers,” Tiffany says, “it’s our responsibility to be an ‘AG-vocate’ for our industry and educate the public on where their food comes from, how it is produced and what benefits it has for your health and family.”

My role in Extension is about rural education and programming, specifically for families. My kids also go to South Routt, so my worlds of work and personal life often intermingle and enrich each other in unexpected and remarkable ways. Joining the PTO has been one of the most educational experiences I’ve ever had--it’s where I have had the honor of meeting the people who make South Routt the incredible place it is. These are the parents who volunteer, the schools that manage impossible tasks, the community leaders who run clubs and programming outside of the school year, and woven throughout all of this, you find their hearts-- sitting expertly in a saddle, never asking for a spotlight. But we do get a chance to rub shoulders and share food, laughter, and admiration for th eir horsemanship and ranching skills--at the Soroco Ranch Rodeo, first Sunday after Independence Day.

Melina Bricker is the Family and Consumer Science Specialist for CSU Extension of Routt County.

Top Photo Caption: Tiffany Gates on horseback on their South Routt Ranch. (Melina Bricker/Courtesy)


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