HAINES — Colt Martin’s pedigree as a horseman goes back at least six generations. He and his father tame wild, uncontrollable horses for a living on their property in Grant County. Theoretically, Colt’s first rodeo, the Haines Stampede on Thursday, should be a walk in the park.
Colt wears a dark brown Stetson, a pair of dark sunglasses that hide his blue eyes, a purple shirt tucked into his blue jeans, light brown chaps and boots with five-pointed spurs. At age 21, he’s got the makings of a beard sprouting on his chin.
His demeanor is calm. For Colt, the rodeo is just another day of breaking horses. Simpler even, because when he breaks a horse he rides them “until they stop bucking.”
Here, all he has to do is last eight seconds.
“If he falls off, we’ll yell at him. Tell him he’s doing it wrong,” says Colt’s father, Bryan Martin, a bearded stocky man in aviators, a black hat, and a light blue striped shirt.
It’s a little more complicated than that, of course. For one thing the event Colt is competing in, is the ranch bronc riding.
In the traditional Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association saddle bronc, a specialized saddle is used. The PRCA got rid of the big horn in the middle, and the saddle sits higher on the horse’s back. A ranch bronc saddle is just a regular, working day saddle.
The horses are different too.
“Saddle bronc horses are a big stout jump-and-kick horse,” said Glen Shelley, a stock subcontractor who raises ranch horses.
“A ranch bronc will come out and he’ll go crazy. He’ll buck over here. He’ll rear in the air. He’ll run backwards. It’s exciting!” Shelley said.
The trade-off is that Colt can use both hands to maintain balance — as opposed to just the one hand he would get in saddle bronc riding. One hand latches onto a rope attached to the reins but the other hand grabs hold of a few straps tied onto the horn of the ranch saddle.
Colt has been breaking horses for about three years. When he was 16 he cracked his skull car surfing — not that he remembers the event.
What he does remember is waking up in his bed, unable to hear out of his left ear, and with his head pounding. He spent ten days in the hospital, getting over what he originally thought was just a “really bad headache.” He decided to take things slow for a while. He moved to Bend to work construction.
Three years ago Colt came home to Prairie City. He found his passion in riding horses. He started riding, and he got better and better at it, so he decided to enter the rodeo.
In the chute Thursday at Haines, Colt preps the chestnut brown horse he’ll be riding. He leans on the wooden fencing and places the saddle onto the horse’s back. His father climbs across the pen to help with the straps. Colt guides a long, hooked wire through the slats of the fence so he can reach the straps underneath the horse. He ties a piece of twine onto the rope attached to the horse’s reins to mark where his hand will go.
Colt climbs into the pen and sits on the horse. A rodeo hand tells him to lean back and tuck his chin. As Colt leans back the horse moves around and knocks into the walls of the pen. It’s nothing violent, but it’s enough to wake Colt up to the fact that he’s on a horse that will do everything it can to get him off. His eyes widen.
“Lift on the reins, don’t pull on it,” the rodeo hand says as he raises Colt’s arm. “Now look under here and don’t look anywhere else,” the hand says as he points to the space in between the horse’s neck and the rope. “And go for it!”
The gate swings open and the horse dives down real low to the ground and rears its hind legs toward the sky. Colt’s hat is thrown into the air. The horse zigzags in between its bucking motion before making a 90-degree turn and heading toward the stands. When it reaches the edge of the arena it kicks back and makes another 90-degree turn in the opposite direction.
The horn blares and Colt dives into a cloud of dust below.
He did it.
He went eight seconds and earned a score of 78.
Colt climbs back over the fence, still giddy from the adrenaline.
“My first rodeo,” he says, grinning.
He grabs a beer at the beer garden (he deserves it). He says he’d like to ride horses in the rodeo professionally. To do that he says he needs to get a PRCA card and start going to those events. But that probably won’t happen until next year.
In the meantime Colt will head for his second rodeo, this one in La Pine.