NILE: Radiant Rodeo offers fun for volunteers, special needs individuals
for Tri-State Livestock News
The Northern International Livestock Exposition is well known for its dedication to preserving the western way of life through the week-long stock show, rodeo and tradeshow. This October, the NILE is adding another event to the agenda sharing that way of life with a new audience.
“We’re calling it the Radiant Rodeo,” says McCall Linke, equine and communications director for the NILE. “It’s going to be a rodeo and stock show for special needs kids 18 years old and under with disabilities, either cognitive or physical. We’re calling it that because it’s like brightening people’s days, like a smile that shines. That’s what this rodeo is all about.”
The Radiant Rodeo will also feature stock show type events such as a sheep and goat showing station and a station with corn and beans for a tactile experience. In addition, the rodeo will have stick horse barrel racing, face painting with the rodeo clowns, a station with a horse for kids to pet and brush and a bucking machine for the brave participants.
“At the NILE, we just want to bring stock show and rodeo to everybody,” Linke says. “It all goes back to agriculture, which is our main heart string that keeps us all going and we want to share that with everybody.”
Years ago, while interning at a stock show in Nebraska, Linke helped with a similar rodeo and she says the event was an experience that she will never forget, and one that has helped fuel her fire for putting on such an event at the NILE.
“It’s amazing because everyone that I’ve talked to who has ever attended or volunteered at one of those types of events says the same thing,” she says. “It truly gives you goose bumps.”
Radiant Rodeo is not the first of its kind, but it is only the second such rodeo in the state of Montana; the other being held at Great Falls’ Big Sky Rodeo in August.
“We kind of picked their brains up in Great Falls about what to expect and what to do,” Linke says. “They’ve been great and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Committee chair for the Exceptional Rodeo in Great Falls, Lindsey Kunkel, says that their special needs rodeo has grown every year for the past five years.
“We’ve always kept it around 60 participants, but we actually have been getting a lot more volunteers and a lot more sponsors on board as well,” Kunkel says. “It’s a really heartwarming event that a lot of people love to get involved in, including some of the rodeo stars like Ike Sankey and Jeff Marn who have helped every year. Sometimes we get other rodeo competitors to help if they have time to stick around. Usually, they are a little hesitant, but after they get involved they love it and you can’t stop them from coming back.”
One volunteer, Alaini Lorash, says that the Exceptional Rodeo is one of her favorite events to help with throughout the summer while traveling to rodeos with Sankey Pro Rodeo as their flag carrier.
“It’s an opportunity to be really humbled to be honest,” she says. “These athletes don’t see their disabilities, they don’t see the struggles they go through. They are just excited to have a taste of what we get to be a part of on a day-to-day basis. Things we might come to see as redundant and tiring, they give a whole new perspective and appreciation for. And the atmosphere here, it’s second to none. It warms your soul.”
While participants climb aboard bucking machines, race around the barrel pattern, throw ropes at steer heads on straw bales or visit with rodeo stars and ask questions about the sport, there is laughter, cheering and smiles all around.
“It’s so refreshing to see such a supportive group. Everybody is a winner here,” Lorash says. “It’s not that everybody gets a participation award, it’s that literally the whole crowd cheers for them and everybody does the best they can, no matter their ability or disability. The support network is incredible and I wish more people would embody the spirit that these athletes have. I think the world would honestly be a much better place if that were the case.”
The participants help with the grand entry for the rodeo that night and ride around the arena in the horse-drawn wagon during the rodeo.
“It’s happy, it’s fun, it’s a lighthearted event,” Kunkel says. “I’m so excited that there will be another event like this in Montana.”
Two years ago, Linke attended the Exceptional Rodeo to begin the NILE’s planning for their Radiant Rodeo.
“Since then, we’ve talked on the phone and I’ve sent her many emails explaining what we’ve done with our event,” Kunkel says. “I’ve given her our layout and rundown, and she’s really just ran with it and I know she will do a great job.”
Years of preparation will finally come to fruition on Wednesday, October 19 from 3 – 5 p.m. in the Expo Center show ring. Interested participants are encouraged to contact McCall Linke at 406-256-2495 or firstname.lastname@example.org for registration.
“We want to bring the stock show and rodeo to everyone in Billings, everyone in Yellowstone County and everyone in Montana,” Linke says. “The Radiant Rodeo is just one more outlet for that, and we’re hoping the outcome is putting smiles on faces.”