GREAT FALLS — The COVID-19 pandemic hit the rodeo world hard, in particular the Montana PRCA. Of a scheduled 38 rodeos last summer, only 12 took place.
“It was really tough on (the stock contractors) last year because they couldn't get to enough rodeos and it takes a lot of feed to get everything to the next winter,” said Montana PRCA president Jack Stensland. “And they need those contracts to keep everything up.”
But those problems are in the rearview. The 2021 season is underway and moving full steam ahead. Five rodeos are already in the books since June started with the lucrative 4th of July run looming this weekend.
“Everybody's going, there was nothing canceled,” Stensland said. “That's the main thing.”There’s some even better news for rodeo fans in Great Falls. After a one year stay in Kalispell, the Montana Circuit Finals are returning to the Four Seasons Arena in January with a few new changes.
Instead of running the traditional Friday to Sunday schedule, the finals will now begin on Thursday and run through Saturday. The finals are also adding a breakaway title, with the event being added at rodeos across the state and at the Wrangler National Finals.
“We're coming back to Great Falls, that’s where we started,” Stensland said. “We added breakaway but with the building and everything else, we’re going to have Friday slack to get through a few rounds. We’re still working on the logistics.”
The Kalispell circuit finals was a success, and drew a good crowd. But the moved was required due to COVID-19 restrictions in Cascade County, and a return to Great Falls was always the goal.
“We are working on a new three-year contract with the Expo Park and the county commissioners,” Stensland said. “We had a meeting with them. They’re fired up. No, we're not going anywhere."
Yes, the last year was hard. But rodeo is back, the fans are back, and the money is back in the communities and the wallets of the contestants. Stensland is excited to never talk about COVID-19 again.
“Everybody got through it and everybody's back,” he said. “From one end of the street to the other, it's going to be a good summer.”
The altered schedule did lead to one new development on the Montana Pro Rodeo circuit. Every Wednesday for 10 weeks, Big Timber will host a weekly PRCA rodeo. Last year the Big Timber series kept many competitors afloat on the circuit standings, and will once again play a large role in ensuring a successful summer season.