Taking care of their own | TSLN.com

Taking care of their own

Nicole Michaels
for Tri-State Livestock News

Most cowboys don't lack heart.

But when a serious cardiac condition sent Wyoming's Chris Hatch to the doctor, it could have been career-ending.

First, there was the debilitating condition itself, and then there was the daunting prospect of paying for care on a cowboy's wages.

Hatch, 32, says he had felt ill for awhile, but like a lot of uninsured or underinsured people, he put off going to the doctor until he couldn't put it off anymore.

"My heart would race and I almost blacked out at work a couple of times," Hatch says. "A couple of surgeries fixed that."

A rainy morning recently found Hatch slogging around in a muddy feedlot operated by the Dryhead Ranch in Lovell, Wyoming.

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He had just come off the Pryor Mountains after weaning.

Hatch is feeling well these days. Well enough to help others.

He's a member of a ranch rodeo team that competes under the name Cowboy Relief. The team, based in the Big Horn Basin of northern Wyoming, fundraises and networks around events and even produces a few of its own.

As a non-profit, it has raised about $30,000 over three years.

What the members of Cowboy Relief take in goes to pay the major medical bills of people just like them – working cowboys and cowgirls.

Hatch was the first recipient a few years back. Now he is paying it forward.

"It feels pretty good," Hatch says.

The night of Oct. 14 at the NILE ranch rodeo finals in Billings could not have gone much better for the team of five competitors.

Sponsored by the Hooks Ranch and competing in coal black shirts and rose pink scarves, the three-man, two-woman team took away the championship with a consistent showing.

A gelding Hatch trained also won top horse.

Not far from the Metra Park where it took home all those accolades, the non-profit is producing a fundraising rodeo Nov. 7.

Entries are being accepted through this week for the event at the Miller Horse Palace in Laurel.

Ranch rodeos are closer to actual ranch life than pro rodeos, says Christen Grant, non-profit secretary and heeler and wild cow milker for the team.

"In ranch rodeo, you get to showcase your horsemanship and the actual working skills of you and your horse," Grant says.

In and out of the arena, livestock can be docile or flighty. Horses can be honest or trashy.

Members of Cowboy Relief have worked and played together a lot, building a good working knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"We all have our faults," Sky Grant says. "Put us together, and each others' good qualities outweigh the faults. Then we become a team."

These are not weekend warriors: Each team member has a real ranch job and understands from the inside out how quickly an injury or an illness can sideline someone.

Christen Grant, 29, of Powell, Wyoming, helps husband Sky Grant, 30, who trains and sells horses and stock dogs. They keep a few cows, cowboy for other outfits and Sky Grant was recently made a brand inspector. He headed for the team at the NILE.

Hatch is the team sorter. Tyler Sherman, 23, is bronc rider. He and girlfriend Hannah Woehlecke, 25, manage the Hooks Ranch in Thermopolis, running pairs on a national forest lease near Shell, and calving on the home ranch.

The Hooks Ranch also has property in Saratoga and outside Reed Point, Montana.

Sherman trains dogs and colts with Woehlecke and says he likes being the team bronc rider. "It's a huge adrenaline rush for me and very addicting."

Woehlecke is a fifth generation cowgirl from Arizona. She has cowboyed in five states, and says the job is pretty much the same everywhere, which goes a long way toward building the kind of camaraderie it takes to want to help one another.

"Being a cowboy, a cowgirl, is what I have always been," she says. "It's my passion."

The cowboy culture, known for its egalitarian values all the way back to the 1800s, still welcomes newcomers who seek it out but are not born to it.

You just have to want it enough.

Christen Grant, a Cody native, met her husband Sky at the Cody Nite Rodeo where he was riding bulls.

"Sky has done this all of his life," she says. "He taught me everything I know."

How many working American cowboys draw a check every year? That's a question that has eluded such organizations as the Working Ranch Cowboys Association and even the U.S. Census Bureau.

Some estimates are as many as 50,000.

Cowboy Relief hopes to keep its share in the saddle.

"There has been so much support from the community," Christen Grant says. "And it's growing all the time."

The 2015 recipient for relief has not yet been selected.

Past recipients include a cowboy with a brain tumor and one with a critical rattlesnake bite.

The organization depends on sponsors who donate prizes, bucking horses, cattle and other livestock for events.

Cowboy Relief hopes to have ten bronc riders and 80 roping teams next month in Laurel. Goat tying is always popular with family and kids.

The non-profit has a committee to help administrate and distribute funds.

Hatch now has a good health care plan through his wife's employer, Halliburton.

Laurel Hatch could be seen at the NILE, cheering him on and videotaping the win.

2015 Official NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals Results

The Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE) Stock Show hosted the NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals Wednesday, October 14.

Overall placings:

1: Hooks Ranch/Cowboy Relief–34 points

2: Bootheel 7 Livestock–33 points

3: Neshum/Rodeske–*32 points

4: Nelson–*32 points

5: Harrington/Kortum–25 points

6: Salveson–23 points

7: Abel/Fink– *21 points

8: Cross H–*21 points

9: Reid–18 points

10: Circle B–17 points

11: Dryhead–10 points

12: Maxwell/Butte–8 points

*ties broken by best team branding score

Bootheel 7 Livestock will represent the NILE in Amarillo, TX in the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) because the Hooks Ranch is not qualified per WRCA standards.

Event Winners:

Bronc Riding–Salveson Ranch, Ted Brown

Team Trailering–Abel Ranch/Fink Quarter Horses

Team Branding–Harrington/Kortum Ranches

Team Doctoring–Reid Ranch

Wild Cow Milking–Salveson Ranch

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