Tom Ross: Like a cellphone cowboy |

Tom Ross: Like a cellphone cowboy

Tom Ross

When I spied Whit Gates astride his horse behind the scenes at the ranch rodeo at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena on Sunday, an old Glen Campbell song popped into my head and I couldn’t shake it for the rest of the day.

“Like a cellphone cowboy,

Getting cards and letters

From people I don’t even know,

And offers coming over the phone …”

Of course, Campbell’s classic pop/country Western song was titled “Rhinestone Cowboy,” not “Cellphone Cowboy.” And Gates, who hails from Toponas, is anything but a rhinestone cowboy. However, he did have a bright blue cellphone pressed to his right ear when I spied him, and I found it so symbolic of how technology is trying to change our home on the range. I just had to compose several photographs of him.

Gates was taking part, with a team of South Routt cowboys, in an exhibition of everyday ranch skills that attracted 13 other teams of cowboys to trailer their working horses to Steamboat from as far away as Meeker and Saratoga, Wyo.

A ranch rodeo differs from the typical Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series event in that there is no bucking stock in the arena.

But just in case you figured a ranch rodeo wasn’t a competitive event, consider this — everyone kicks in a $300 entry fee that goes toward a pot for the winners.

Each team enters the arena to confront a motley crew of beeves that includes a couple of horned steers, a 1,500-pound cow and her rapidly growing calf. Each team must successfully herd one of the wayward steers into a pen and close the gate on it, which isn’t nearly as easy as one might think. On more than one occasion Sunday, the steer trotted like a spring lamb into the enclosure, then made a crafty dash for freedom when it caught one of the cowboys looking away.

Failure to coax the steer into the pen on the first attempt pretty much spelled doom for the team that suffered that indignity. Of course, you’ll never see a cowboy frown, let alone pitch a tantrum when things don’t go his way.

Next, the cowboys pursue a series of chores that includes roping and “branding” a calf with white paint; roping and hog-tying a second steer, and roping and milking a really peeved cow in the middle of the arena.

I think what I like about our ranch rodeo is the backstage pass. Admission is free, and as long as you have some sense of how to behave around other peoples’ horses, you can wander freely through the trailers and the warm-up area where cowboys and cowgirls will meet your gaze while you photograph them.

At the ranch rodeo, it isn’t hard to strike up a conversation and learn a little something about working cowboys, their tack and their animals.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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