JOSEPH — It all started with a dare.
Katie Brown didn’t think she was much of a cowgirl, but the Naples, Idaho, native has never been one to pass up a chance for an adrenaline rush.
“We went out to the rodeo one night and I was making a joke about some of the riders like, ‘Come on guys you can do better than that,’” she said. “My friends asked me if I thought I could do better.”
Almost two years later, Brown is making her way on the rodeo circuit riding ranch broncs and picking it up quickly for someone who had little previous rodeo experience other than training horses. She will make a little history on June 18 at the Chief Joseph Days Arena in Joseph when she climbs into the saddle and becomes the first woman to take part in the ranch broncs event at the 17th annual Mountain High Broncs and Bulls event.
Like any beginner, there have been some bumps and bruises along the way, but the thrill of the ride is in line with Brown’s earlier attempts to feed her adrenaline need in motocross and snowboarding.
“(Ranch bronc riding) the first time was a high I had never felt before,” she said. “I got on this horse, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, and, of course, the first ride wasn’t very long. The horse came out and started bucking and I hit the ground, but I wanted to do it again.”
She was hooked from that moment in an event that uses a standard, working-ranch saddle where riders are allowed to hold onto the saddle horn or strap with their hand not holding the hack rein. Each cowboy and cowgirl is looking for an eight-second ride with a purse of at least $5,000 up for grabs this week.
Brown, 24, is still looking for her first win but knows it takes time, adhering to the rodeo belief it takes 100 rides before a cowboy or cowgirl truly finds their seat. She hopes to find success in ranch bronc riding and then transition to bareback.
Brown rides with Western States Ranch Rodeo Association, which Mountain High Broncs and Bulls is a part of. She is often making history at events she goes to becoming the first woman to compete with the men. It is not the reason she started riding, but her presence has inspired young girls while also helping her find direction in life.
Brown said one of the biggest adjustments for her has been coming to the realization that she is now a role model for women and girls at each rodeo she participates in. She has had to learn how to focus on her ride while balancing the desires of others to talk to her and maybe follow in her footsteps in years to come.
“It certainly changes the name of the game a little bit because you have people looking at you and watching you, so I have to be the role model people will talk good about,” she said.
Brown seems to have found better balance by getting in the saddle, but it has not always been the case after losing her mother at 17 when she took her own life after battling alcoholism.
Brown said when she began on the rodeo circuit she gravitated a little too much into the drinking and partying scene. It impacted her performance, and with the added attention she was getting it became clear if she continued on the same path she may encounter similar problems her mother struggled with.
“I have had to make changes to be that good role model and it has been a positive change for me,” she said. “I was the oldest of my siblings and it was very challenging to be the strong one and the role model I needed to be. But rodeo helped me cope with it and find some positive influences.”
It is something she hopes she can pass on to others in rodeo and life.
“When I retire from riding broncs I would love to transition into being a coach because we need more women in the roughstock industry,” said Brown, who typically competes in two rodeos each weekend.
For the third straight year, there is no admission fee for the event and director Lee Daggett is expecting a jam-packed show while hoping for temperatures less than the 97 degrees that greeted spectators a year ago.
This year’s events include wild horse racing, ranch bronc riding and bull riding. Young fans also get a chance at the sheep challenge where ribbons are tied to sheep and any children able to grab them collects $20. New this year is miniature pony riding with eight participants 14 and younger who will ride bareback, saddleback or ranch bronc. The highest score will win a silver buckle.
Tri-State Rodeo Co., led by Bonnie Rasmussen and Debbie Scott, are providing the roughstock. Tuffy Gessling is the barrel man who has been the entertainer at the ranch rodeo national finals the past five years. Bull Demers will handle announcing duties.