Tonganoxie — The rough and rowdy work of a typical ranch cowboy has evolved into a spectator sport and interest is spreading like wildfire across the Midwest.
T.J. Smith, Kansas Parole Officer by day and Tonganoxie rancher by night, recently returned with his team from the first American Ranch Cowboy Assn. Finals in Guthrie, Okla. Smith and team member Jim Snowberg both reside on the 6,400-acre Tailgate Ranch in Tonganoxie. The two other members of the team are Brian Barthow of DeSoto, and Mike Glover of Lathrop, Mo.
The newly formed team received the Hardship Award at the national finals for injuries suffered during the show.
"It's a little more wild and woolly than your usual rodeo," Smith said recently. "This is a very rough sport."
TEAMS ARE required to compete in all five events: team pinning, mugging, branding, pasture roping and wild cow milking. Smith said milking the wild cows was the most dangerous.
"Some of them have never seen a human before, that's the killer," he said. "I got my ribs trashed on that one. I was taken out by an ambulance that day."
Instead of roping calves, rodeo ranchers rope steers.
"But they don't just let the steer out of a chute," Smith said. "You go into the arena and the steer is down at the other end with a bunch of cows. You have to cut the steer out and drop him and rope three legs.
"That's the goal to make it as realistic and as close as to what you'd get out in a pasture. You ride in there on your working ranch horses and you do ranch events."
RANCH RODEOS started in southeast Kansas, and over the last couple years, teams have formed across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska. Smith expects to see ranch rodeo organizations getting off the ground in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona within the next five years.
"I've been a cowboy all my life and this is one part of our heritage that needs to be preserved," he said. "You're going to see this sport really grow. I think this thing is really going to take off."
Kansas ranch rodeos are set up in conjunction with county fairs, Smith said, adding that he hopes to see ranch rodeo competitions at the fairs in Douglas, Leavenworth and Johnson counties next year, and eventually at the American Royal in Kansas City.
Of the 19 teams currently competing in the American Ranch Cowboy circuit, Tailgate Ranch is the farthest north, Smith said. It also was the only first-year team at the finals.
THE TEAM started four rodeos late in the season, but still finished third in the state with a total of 75 points. Each point represents a win over another ranch team.
Smith's love of ranching and rodeoing has extended into other areas of his life. He and his wife, Patti, were married on horseback, and most members of his family compete in a rodeo circuit.
The Smiths also will open Stranger Creek Western Store on U.S. Highway 24-40 between Tonganoxie and Basehor on Nov. 1.