Lincoln County may not be prime rodeo country, yet every year the Libby Incredi-Bull Bull Ride draws in competitors from far and wide -- so many there is a waiting list -- while maintaining the organizer’s goal of having an affordable event for the community.
Cameron Ruhter started as one of the five members at the heart of the annual bull ride about eight years ago, he said. At that time, board chairman Brett Bronson was trying to keep the bull ride going all by himself.
“People get drug into it,” Ruhter said. Included in that number is Ruhter’s wife, Amber. And, about three years ago, he also “drug” friend Rex Munsel in as well.
Ashley Perkins rounds out the five-member committee that keeps the ride alive with 100 or more hours of preparation topped off with a night of keeping things running smoothly.
Ultimately, it is “something fun to do,” Cameron Ruhter said.
“I enjoy every bit of it,” Munsel said.
For someone like Bronson for whom rodeo has been a constant part of his life, the bull ride is a way to keep involved in that, Ruhter said.
Ruhter said that the committee has it “down to a science” at this point, and it helps to have a close team of people they know they can count on working together.
The event depends on ticket sales and sponsors, Ruhter said. Yet, the committee works hard to keep the ticket prices reasonable.
“The whole point of it is to give the community something to come watch,” he said.
They also have a gun raffle, but Ruhter said they only sell 300 tickets at $5 each, which keeps the odds of winning reasonably high for each ticket. On the final gun, they raffle it off the night of the rodeo regardless if they have sold all the tickets.
Ruhter said that if they ever saw more demand, they could always get another raffle, but since even with just 300 tickets they make more than the cost of the rifle back, they see no reason to try to sell more tickets per gun.
Like everything else about the rodeo, it’s about doing something fun for the community, he said.
Some of the sponsors are dependable to come back and lend a hand year after year, he said. Others they have to work hard to get, Ruhter said.
Without less of a rural character than other areas of Montana, rodeo isn’t a draw that comes naturally for Lincoln County, Munsel said. Yet, they have seen the interest in the community grow over the years.
So far, the community support has been enough to keep the event going, even with around $30,000 in expenses each year, Ruhter said. They are even able to do a $1,000 scholarship while still having enough left over for to get things set up and running next year.
“We haven’t gone broke yet,” he said.
Libby has one of the best paying bull rides in the state, offering a pot that comes to around $7,000, Ruhter said. The money available for winning and coordination by the committee with the organizers of the bull ride that takes place the night before in Bonners Ferry helps to bring in a lot of talent.
Between the two events, there can be $16,000 or more up for grabs, he said.
In fact, there is a waiting list each year, with riders who are on standby in case one of the others can’t make it or gets injured before the event. This year, the ride had 32 contestants and six on standby.
The Libby bull ride is also known for the stock they bring in, Bronson said. High-demand bulls on the Professional Bull Riding circuit have been featured in Libby.
Having the better riders and better stock ensures a better show for the community, Ruhter said. The ride grows by putting on a good show that people talk about and want to come back to next year.
“We’d like to do more different things,” Ruhter said. But, the committee has to balance any growth against the level of interest from the community.
While a better show creates more draw, they also don’t want to overstretch too much and find themselves struggling to put the next year’s ride together financially.
Amber Ruhter said they have talked about mutton busting for the younger crowd or wild horse races.
Yet, each additional thing would add a couple thousand dollars to the cost of putting the event on, Cameron Ruhter said. With costs close enough that one night of bad weather could make it very tight to have the next year’s event, the committee doesn’t want to put everything at risk by adding too much.
The committee isn’t looking to expand. Five members seems about right for the work they have to do each year.
Yet, they expressed general gratitude for the additional volunteers who are there the night of the ride, taking tickets and serving food.
“I’ve been very happy with the people that have come on board to help,” Bronson said.