Their boots were caked in dirt. Their jeans had rips, not from being fashionably designed, but from hard going.
That’s what practice has been like the last couple of months, indoors at Trapper Arena for Northwest College as snow and ice layered the neighborhood.
Rodeo is the strangest of college sports because it has a crazy long intermission.
Northwest competes at Montana State this weekend, for the first time in six months. Yet it is the same season as it was Oct. 1 when timeout was called for winter.
Every other sport on the calendar runs straight through once the ball is kicked off or tipped off except for maybe Christmas-New Year’s vacation.
For a guy like Caleb McMillan, who is leading the Big Sky Region men’s All-Around standings, the wait for the next rodeo was long.
“It’s always too long, whether it’s a week, a month or a year,” he said. “I was ready since about a week after the last one.”
For McMillan of Soap Lake, Wash., this break was less intermission than interruption. He was placing well in five events and hopes to capture region titles.
“Oh yeah, I’m ready to roll,” McMillan said.
The Trappers concluded the first semester second in the eight-team region behind Montana State. Last year, even farther behind, they dominated the spring and won the crown on their way to the College National Finals Rodeo.
When this season unfolded, coach Del Nose said he thought he had the personnel for another big run.
During the break, Nose arranged for some to attend special rodeo schools.
Bareback rider Orrin Ouska, ninth in his event, pushed on a riding machine that simulates bareback horses’ ups and downs. Not his own, he hastily added. Unlike a reasonably priced treadmill, bucking machines are in a higher-price range.
“They’re very expensive,” Ouska said. “Maybe $10,000.”
Nose feels good about the team’s potential.
The men, that is. Ranked fourth going into the spring, the women’s squad suffered some attrition, though remaining cowgirls believe they will be better.
“I perfected some things in the breakaway clinic,” said Brooke Winward of Preston, Idaho, sitting fifth in that event. “I’m pretty psyched.”
Scout Yochum of Lewiston, Idaho, said she wishes the Trappers had another home rodeo, but it’s one per year around the league.
Despite lousy weather, Yochum was able to work on her speciality indoors.
“We have a lot of goats to be tied,” she said.
The men are loaded. Bubba Boots of St. Anthony, Idaho, loomed over McMillan’s shoulder in third in the all-around.
Calvin Shaffer, Marc Dorendorft and Jake Davis, Ouska, Jake Griffel, Dawson Cvancara and Matt Williams are all regular scorers.
Nobody’s looking forward to the resumption of the next phase of the season more than Kyle Smith. Smith, of Big Timber, Mont. He had a first-rate Cody Nite Rodeo bareback summer, signed up for Northwest at the last minute before school started, then realized an injury was a broken wrist and couldn’t compete.
“I thought I just sprained it,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve entered a rodeo.”