THE LATEST DIRT: Last Chance Stampede works to make arena conditions safe as possible for animal, rodeo athletes

Helena, Mont. – June 20, 2022 – Dirt makes all the difference to a horse at a rodeo, and the Last Chance Stampede is working to make it even safer for the horses and the cowboys and cowgirls who ride them.

Mike Gurnett, chairman for the Stampede, held at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds in Helena, is working with an expert to diagnose the arena conditions so that the horses have the most safe and even playing field on which to run.

The condition of the arena dirt: that it’s not too wet or muddy or too dry, affects the roping and steer wrestling runs, but especially the barrel racing competition. Gurnett and the Stampede staff work to keep the arena conditions the same for every performance, so each competitor has the same chance to win. And with rodeo horses often valued in the six digits, it’s important to keep the ground conditions safe, too.

Gurnett compared it to golf. “If you build a golf course,” he said, “you get experts to do the greens and sand traps. We are having someone look at the composition of the arena and consulting with people who are experts in this (rodeo) world.”

Morgan Grant, Lac La Biche, Alberta, is the expert who has visited the Cool Alley Arena several times, making recommendations on how the arena should be worked. “He’s offered instruction about how much water to add when it’s dry, and how to use the equipment to its optimum efficiency,” Gurnett said.

The two time and back to back Stampede barrel racing champion Dona Kay Rule competes at the 2021 Stampede, aboard her horse, the 2019 WPRA Horse of the Year, Valor. Josh Homer
Courtesy photo

Improved arena conditions will benefit the fans, too. Gurnett’s goal is for a new barrel racing record to be set every year of the Stampede, which requires what barrel racers call “fast ground.”

And that makes it more exciting for the fans, too, he said. “The fans feed off the high performance, and it makes for a better show.”

But the safety of the horses and their riders is most important.

“The horse was born to run, and the more we can make it safe for them to run at their potential, the better off we all are. Why would we not want this to be the best for the horses?”

The Last Chance Stampede and Fair runs July 27-30. The night show, featuring Randy Houser and Jimmie Allen, is July 27 starting at 6:30 pm. Three nights of rodeo (July 28-30) follow. Rodeo performances start at 7:30 pm nightly.

Rodeo tickets range in price from $20-$25 for adults and $5-$23 for children. All tickets for the July 28 performance are general admission. Tickets for the July 29-30 performances are reserved seating.

Tickets can be purchased online at and at the ticket office during business hours.

For more information, visit the website or call 406.457.8516.

–Last Chance Stampede

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