Gold buckles and wild horses and spurs that rattle: Miles City remembers Orin Muri with Permit Challenge
I love gold buckles and wild horses and
Spurs that rattle when my boots hit the ground
It’s those eight-second chances and cowgirl glances
It’s the blood and the glory, baby, that’s why we ride
-That’s Why We Ride, by Casey Donahew
If all the contestants at the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale Orin Muri PRCA Permit Challenge showed up in pearl-snap shirts and black Wranglers, Orin Muri would be smiling his big, shit-eatin’ grin.
Orin was 18 when he died in a car accident just over two years ago, April 29, 2020. If he hadn’t, he’d be in the arena, and in the running for the title at the event that now carries his name, says Craig Miller, organizer of the Orin Muri PRCA Permit Challenge, and Orin’s friend and coach.
The PRCA-sanctioned permit challenge offers 20 of the top PRCA permit-holders (contestants who haven’t won $1,000 in PRCA rodeos) the chance to compete for one of two entries into the big money bronc match on Sunday, against the top bronc riders in the country.
The permit challenge has a two-fold purpose–to allow young bronc riders to get on some good horses, and compete at a high level, while providing plenty of bronc riders for Saturday’s futurity and sale, said Miller.
Orin would have been in the middle of all of it, with that “shit-eatin'” grin, as his mom, Beth Muri–and about everyone else–describes it. “Everybody knew his smile. It would crack anyone up, and make you smile.”
That wasn’t his only signature, though. He liked classic country music, though one of his favorite songs was “That’s Why We Ride,” by Casey Donahew. Orin’s thrift-store pearl-snap shirts and black Wranglers, the tan chaps his dad built for him, his determination, and ability sit down and visit with anyone were Orin’s trademarks.
“He was an old soul,” Beth said. “Everyone that met him said he was an old soul. He would sit and talk to anyone for hours.”
All Orin wanted out of life was to be able to ranch and ride broncs. “He loved livestock and ranching,” his dad, Dax, said. “Even on miserable days he’d be saddled up and go out to check heifers, so somebody else didn’t have to. He was the sixth generation of my family to own cattle in Montana.”
Orin knew most of his friends all his life, and they became like family. “His buddies will send me Snapchats of videos they have of him, and every one they send, he’s talking about bronc riding,” Dax said. “I asked, “Is that all he talked about?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, pretty much.’ He was danged sure determined. He knew what he wanted.”
He wanted to ride broncs starting when he was 15, before a lot of people thought he was physically ready, Dax said. “We were your typical parents. We were trying to deter him. He was pretty skinny. But it was apparent to a few of the guys that were helping him, that we could be there and help and support him, or he’d do it without us. It was in his blood.”
Beth said, “We knew when he got hammered by broncs four or five times in one day and he was still all smiles, that there was no sense in trying to talk him out of it.”
Dax remembers one time when Orin was practicing on some of Craig Miller’s horses, and there was one horse that was bucking him off about the second jump every time. Orin kept asking to re-load that horse, because he was determined to ride it.
One of Orin’s most prized possessions was the Judd Bilbrey memorial belt buckle he won at a match ride in Broadus, Montana. “He really liked Judd, and he was the most proud of that buckle. If he was wearing a buckle, he was wearing that buckle. He died wearing it,” Dax said.
His other prized possession was his 16.5-inch Dave Dahl bronc saddle–generally accepted to be the best of the best, by professional bronc riders. “He bought it himself, and packed it everywhere he went,” Dax said. “He called Dave Dahl and had him build him one. Dave was kinda dragging his feet, wondering who was this kid. But Orin was pretty persistent. When it finally showed up, he had that sucker out on the floor, grinning ear to ear.”
Orin called one of his best friends and traveling partners, Liam Pauley, to come see his saddle that day. “It was like Christmas,” Liam said. “He was pretty proud of it.”
Liam and Orin traveled together a lot, often in Orin’s grandpa’s silver Mercury Marquis, with a big trunk, and bungee cords across the headliner to hold their cowboy hats.
Liam said, “We were good for each other, but terrible for each other. I was always the kind of kid that rammed and jammed at 100 miles per hour everywhere I went. Orin was always cool, calm, collected. He cooled me down and I sped him up. It worked out perfect.”
Orin was the one rounding his traveling partners up after the rodeo, to make sure they didn’t miss the next one, Dax said.
But it was Orin who left his jeans on the fence at Choteau, Montana.
“A shower, to us, was dry shampoo,” Liam said, about being on the road to rodeos. “There was a pretty nice creek right behind the rodeo grounds, so we washed our clothes in the creek, and Orin left his pants–black Wranglers–on the fence to dry, and he forgot them.”
At every town they went to, the two, often traveling with their buddy, Gavin Nelson, would go to the sketchiest thrift stores they could find, in search of $2 pearl snap shirts.
Though they loved being on the rodeo road, they put in the work to get there.
Liam credits Barney Brehmer and Wally Badgett with making them do the boring, repetitive foundation work that set them up for success in the big-time arena. “Barney used to make us get on horses bareback. We kinda cussed him at the time, but thanked him when we showed up at the rodeo and were better off than a lot of kids.”
The boys often practiced at Miles City Community College, coordinating the broncs and the pickup men by themselves. Liam remembers one time when a head horse had stood tied to the fence during team roping practice just before they bucked broncs, and pawed a 2-foot by 2-foot hard-packed spot. Orin walked by and said, “I’d sure hate to land in that spot.”
Sure enough, when Orin got on a bronc, he came around and somehow ended up landing in exactly that spot, Liam said. “Knocked him out, colder’n’ a wedge. His dad finally got him to wake up and said, ‘Orin, do you know what you’re doing?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah, I’m riding bucking horses at the college.'”
For all the memories his family and friends cherish, they regret all the memories he didn’t get a chance to make.
Orin had a girlfriend, Jenna Gibson, from Jordan, Montana. His dad knew he was serious about her when Orin asked him to come in from the ranch to meet her. Beth knew it was serious when he pressed his jeans to meet her parents. “He was never too worried about his appearance, but that day he was,” Beth said.
Orin’s younger sister, Tailey, was lost her freshman year of high school, because her big brother was supposed to be there for his senior year, to argue with and harass her, and to offer some guidance.
Orin’s parents wonder if he might have been diagnosed with narcolepsy, if he’d lived longer, like some other members of the family. They wonder if that might have explained why it appears he fell asleep behind the wheel 10 miles from town, at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday in April. “We never worried about the horses,” Dax said, “It was always the travel.”
And they all wonder if he might someday have traded his Judd Bilbrey belt buckle for one that said World Champion.
“He was going to win the world in bronc riding,” Dax said. “With him it wasn’t really a dream, it was just what he was going to do.”
Orin always worked hard, and rode pretty well, but Dax said the last few weeks before he died, everything just clicked. “Every horse he got on, he rode like he should. I think God was giving him that, before it was time for him to go home.”
This year at Miles City, Liam is planning to be in the arena, on a Dave Dahl saddle of his own, wearing his pearl snap shirt and black Wranglers, honoring Orin Muri by doing what he loved best.
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