Every year, the cowboy spirit comes alive in eastern Montana at the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale. Thousands of people don their best boots and hats to attend the four-day event.
On a muddy, overcast Sunday, bronc riders and horse breeders corral mares with names like Spider Woman and Lunatic Lucy into gated chutes.
There, they’ll wait for their riders to mount.
They don’t always wait patiently. Some stamp their feet, one slams her head against the wooden boards in front of her.
These are bucking horses. They’re bred to buck, and the instinct is strong.
It finally come time to open the gate into the ring. The rider mounts. He holds tight, a gate opens, and they’re off.
Some of the matches last minutes before the horse throws her rider.
Austin Peterson from Livingston, Montana emerged breathless and covered in mud. He started riding bronc last year, and said he likes the adrenaline of the sport.
“It’s a pretty crazy feeling,” he said. “They got a lot of power.”
Others compete mostly for the chance to win the $35,000 total payout in prize money, like 38-year-old Jeremy Meeks from South Dakota.
“At my age, that’s about all I like about it,” said Meeks. “And the competition, to know that I can still compete with the younger guys, ‘cause I’m getting to be one of the older generation now, still riding bronc.”
He competed at Miles City around 20 years ago, when he first started in the family trade.
Many bronc riders get into it because it’s a family tradition, and the same goes for the supply side.
Matt Burch and his wife Anna, breed bucking horses professionally.
“Anything to do with a horse, my dad wanted something to do with it,” said Burch.
He’s been around bucking horses since he was about 4 years old. He runs Burch Rodeo Company out of Wyoming with his brother and wife. They keep about 750 horses, and travel around the country selling and competing them.
Part of their job is to breed horses, and pedigree is a big deal.
“You’re breeding buck to buck,” said Burch. “In the race horse business, you’re breeding race… fast. I mean, there’s fast fast, and we’re breeding buck buck.”
Anna Burch said it takes a lot of time, feed, land, and effort to raise a horse.
“At the end of the day, we don’t do this to make money,” she said. “We do it because we love it. We love these animals, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Edit 5/30: A previous version of this story was incorrect about the distribution of the total prize money. The total payout of prize money for the events overall was around $35,000.