Every community in Wyoming seems to have a summer event (or more) that will attract visitors and locals and help to celebrate the resources in the area. Riverton touts the Hot Air Balloon Rally which just celebrated its 41st anniversary. Cody celebrates whitewater kayaking and the Shoshone River with its relatively new Wild West Riverfest. And many towns throughout the state host rodeos. Sophie Nowland speaks with Pat Newlin about the Balloon Rally, Marko Skoric interviews Andy Quick about the Riverfest, and Olivia Goldbach learns more about rodeos as she explores why women bronc riders aren’t more common.
Sophie is a 9-year-old girl who just completed the third grade. She lives in Riverton with her parents, two older sisters, and her little brother. Sophie enjoys playing with her dogs and chickens, being on stage performing, and loves to read about dragons. She wants to be a scientist or an ocean animal veterinarian when she grows up.
After moving to Riverton, WY, from Southern CA, in 1990, I was pleasantly surprised that Riverton had a hot air balloon event. I didn’t know anything about balloons but started crewing for Riverton’s Cloud Kisser and quickly fell in love with ballooning. By 1999 I had earned my private pilot certificate and by 2002 earned my commercial rating. Since then I have trained 6 pilots for Riverton and became the Balloonmeister for the Riverton Rendezvous Balloon Rally held the third weekend in July every summer. July of 2020 was the 40th Riverton Rendezvous Balloon Rally and I completed my 20th year as Balloonmeister.
I thoroughly enjoy going to balloon rallies around the western part of the United States including Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta as well as Leon, Mexico, and sharing my passion for ballooning with others. Meeting and being with other balloon pilots and balloon crews from around the world has been very rewarding. I cherish my ballooning family.
I am a retired special education teacher, married, and have two children and six grand children. Other hobbies include biking, hiking, and kayaking.
Marko Hoff Skoric is a Wyoming native with a hankering for anything outdoors. He has one younger brother and two dogs to spend his days with when not in school or off with friends. In the winter, Marko can be found on the slopes of Sleeping Giant. Otherwise, he likes to bike, fish, ride motorcycles, and kayak on the river. He really likes to fish off his kayak on the lake. If trapped inside Marko practices jiu jitsu and reads historical nonfiction.
I started Gradient Mountain Sports in July of 2004. At the time, I had been kayaking for 7 years and there was no place in the area to get boats and gear, so I rented an old blacksmith’s barn with no plumbing and insulation and put up a sign. I have always enjoyed helping people get equipped to get out and enjoy the water and wanted to ensure that our younger generations were able to do the same. In 2015 we established the Wild West Paddle Club to introduce river sports to our local youth. Our philosophy is that educating kids about the river and how to navigate it will encourage safe use and a collective sense of stewardship of our local rivers. In my spare time I kayak! and SUP board, raft, canoe, fish and camp with my family. I love to cross country and backcountry ski and am a volunteer trail groomer at Pahaska in the winter.
Olivia is going into grade 5 and is 11 years old. She is an active girl who loves to downhill ski in the winter at Sleeping Giant Ski Arena with her dad and mom. She also loves to ride her horse Buffy on trail rides or any activity involving spending time with her horse. Olivia loves art, abstract art, and pressing flowers. Olivia is having fun this spring mountain biking on the great trails we have in Cody. She is excited to go swimming this summer. Rafting and paddleboarding are on her list too. She has a dog, Marty and 3 cats (Snow, Peppy, and Sparky). Certainly an animal lover. She enjoys going to the rodeo in Cody every year and her favorite events to watch are the bareback and saddle bronc riding.
My name is Brittany Miller and I’m from Dillon, MT. I am 28 years old and I have been riding bucking horses for seven years now. I have been on over 300 broncs and my long term goal is to reach 1,000 bucking horses. I write down every bronc I’ve ever been on in a book. I have won over 15 buckles. I also compete on a tv show series called Cowgirls. I have been doing that for three years. I won the 2017 Ride TV Cowgirls Championship and Reserve Champion in 2018. I am a x2 Iron Woman Champion and x2 Texas Ladies Bronc Riding Champion.
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Why do they launch balloons only in the morning?
Is the river here as good as other rivers in other places? Is that why people come here?
Why do you think rodeos are important to communities around the West?
Kids ask why Podcast is a production by Wyoming Public Media and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
SOPHIE NOWLAND: Hi, my name is Sophie Nowland and I live in Riverton, Wyoming and I’m nine years old. What about you, Marko?
MARKO SKORIC: I’m Marko Skoric. I’m 13 and I live in Cody, Wyoming. What about you, Olivia?
OLIVIA GOLDBACH: Hi, my name is Olivia Goldbach and I live in Cody, Wyoming. Sophie, what are you going to talk about today?
SOPHIE: I’m talking about the Riverton, Wyoming Balloon rally. What about you Marko?
MARKO: I’ll be talking about Wild West Paddle Club and the Wild West River Fest and what it’s about. What about you, Olivia?
OLIVIA: I’ll be talking about why you don’t see any women bronc riders. Sophie, why are you interested in the hot air balloon rally?
SOPHIE: I like flying more than balloons itself because flying is like a dragon. And I like dragons. Also, it’s really fun because we get to watch people set up all these hot air balloon. We watch them take off. Why are you interested in paddle fest, Marko?
MARKO: I’m interested in the paddle fest because I tried it one time and I really enjoyed it and just wanted to learn more about it. What about you, Olivia? Why are you interested in female bronc riding?
OLIVIA: Because we don’t see that many females riding broncs in the rodeo, and I wanted to know why.
SOPHIE: Today, I am talking with Pat Newlin. Who is one of the coordinators in the Riverton Balloon rally. She is also a hot air balloon pilot and knows a lot about hot air balloons. What was the farthest place someone came to fly in the rally?
PAT NEWLIN: Well, this doesn’t happen very often. But back in 1999, when I was just a student pilot, there was a gentleman that came from England. And he was our celebrity speaker, because he had just flown around the world on a hot air balloon. But mostly, we have people from the western part of the United States.
SOPHIE: So is there a limit about the most balloons that can participate?
PAT: Well, we launch from the soccer field up at the college and it’s not a huge spot. So that is sort of our limiting factor– the space that we have to put up balloons. But last year we had 30, and I think we’re going to have about that many this year too. And right now we actually have a little bit of a waiting list.
SOPHIE: What is the craziest balloon to participate?
PAT: We’ve had some really cool special shapes. Um, maybe one of the craziest ones was a heart shaped balloon. Just about anything, anything you can think of, they probably could make a hot air balloon out of it. We’ve had an owl shaped balloon. We’ve had Humpty Dumpty shaped balloon. We’ve had we’d have a beaver head shaped balloon in the past here in Riverton.
SOPHIE: Can different shapes go more or less than others?
PAT: So special shapes need to find usually a bigger area to land. So if they’re flying and they see a nice big field, they might grab it and it may not seem like their flight is as long as the smaller balloons because a smaller balloon might be able to fit in a tighter spot. So I I think are special shapes, they take more fuel, they take more manpower to set up and put away.
SOPHIE: Are there multiple balloon festivals?
PAT: You know what, there are balloon festivals everywhere. And there’s not that many in Wyoming. There have some that have already come and gone. Riverton has been the longest. We’ve had 40 balloon rallies already in Riverton and this one coming up this year is the 41st. So it started way back in 1981. Way before you were born, right?
SOPHIE: Yeah. I was born in 2012.
PAT: Oh, wow. So we got a lot of good community support here. So that’s really good to keep a balloon rally going.
SOPHIE: Why do they launch balloons only in the morning?
PAT: Well, that is another reason to do with weather and the temperature of the day. In in the winter, we actually can go different times of the day because it stays cold all day. But in the summer, when we have our rally here in Riverton, it gets warm really fast. So the calmest and coolest part of the day for the summer is the first thing at sunrise. Because remember, you gotta be hotter inside that balloon than the outside air and if it’s already way hot outside air, then you got to keep it that much hotter inside. A lot of a lot of science and weather related things with hot air balloons. So have you ever been in a balloon yet Sophie?
SOPHIE: Yeah, I’ve only been in one. But it was only tied to the ground.
PAT: They call it a tether. A tethered balloon.
SOPHIE: Why does Riverton have the festival instead of other towns in Wyoming?
PAT: We’ve lasted like I said. We’ve got a lot of support from the community to have our balloon rally. So we were just lucky because we have the support. It takes a lot of financial support. So we get grants from our city, rec grants and that helps us put on our rally. And some people don’t have that kind of support in their city.
SOPHIE: My favorite thing about interviewing with Pat Newlin was that I got to meet a hot air balloon pilot. The thing that I learned that I wasn’t interested in was that the outside air has to be lower than the inside hotness. The hot air balloon rally is important to Riverton because many people come to Riverton to spend money and that is good for the community. I don’t have an interest in flying a balloon in the balloon rally because I’m scared of heights.
MARKO: Today I’m talking to Andy Quick the owner of Gradient Mountain Sports and the President of Wild West Riverfest and Wild West Paddle Club. When did this Wild West Paddle Club and Fest start? And what was the original intention of it?
ANDY QUICK: Oh, the original intention of river fest was to bring attention to the fact that we have this great resource that runs through our town– The Shoshone River– and connect that to our community. A lot of times people are unaware of all the different parts of the river all the great access to the river that we have in in Wyoming- such a dry state- to be able to live in such close proximity to a river is really kind of a special treat. And we wanted to bring attention to that. And as whitewater kayakers, we were also looking to get more people interested in the sport. So that was kind of the intent of the river festival and the paddle club because I like paddling with people but old people are a drag so I like paddling with kids.
MARKO: Okay. Do you think it will continue to get larger and have more events?
ANDY: I hope so. We’ve got three main events for Riverfest now. We have the the slalom for whitewater kayaks, and we have a canyon boater cross race, which is really fun for people to watch. But it’s kind of down deep in the canyon. And then the next day we have a downriver race, which is a little more inclusive to all abilities and different types of craft. And we have a concert too. I think that remains to be seen if it’s going to happen this year. But we have other ideas for races too. We just need, like a bigger army of volunteers to help us.
MARKO: What do you want or think that you can do to make this festival better?
ANDY: Well, again, we have some cool ideas about some races that we want to do. It would be great to have a more sophisticated timing system. And it would be great to have a lot more participants, including some kids that are comfortable enough to be in the slalom race, and even in the Boater Cross up in the canyon. And then just to make it a big community event that we get a lot of buy in from, from all across the community and not just a couple dozen boaters that live in this town.
MARKO: Yeah, so is the river here as good as other rivers in other places? Is that why people come here?
ANDY: It is. We have a section of river that runs through town that’s dam controlled, so our season is really long. And so we can, like people will have already been kayaking now. And it’s too early in other places for much kayaking, because the rivers aren’t running high enough yet. So and then it runs clear into the fall. So people come in the shoulder seasons a lot just to kayak and raft, and fishing is really good here too, in that same river.
MARKO: What is your favorite part of the fest?
ANDY: The very end is typically my favorite part. No, actually I love, I love all the events. I love the slalom the most that’s kind of where I have sort of been most passionate about that event. But I really just like seeing the “stoke”, everybody shows up and everybody’s really thrilled to to have fun. And I don’t have to be the center of attention.
MARKO: Why do you enjoy teaching and helping kids and adults with this fest?
ANDY: Well, so I enjoy the kids with our paddle club, which is kind of a summer long activity to help kids like ages 10 to 18, learn the basics of whitewater kayaking, and I like to see kids that return year after year and get their skills dialed in. And I just think learning a sport is like that, that’s it’s not an instant gratification, but it’s kind of a long process. I just really think that’s important. And it connects you to a natural resource. Like our river. You might come back later and say, you know, I have an interest in protecting it because it’s something that was important to me. How have you liked it when you were in paddle club?
MARKO: I enjoyed it a lot. It’s scary definitely the first time. But you get used to it more. Definitely try not to flip over as much as you can. At least I do. And it was fun and I got better every day I feel like. And the fest was fun.
ANDY: Good. Are you gonna do it again this year?
MARKO: Yeah, I hope so.
MARKO: I learned from Andy that one of the intentions of this was to help local businesses with tourists coming in and just making it a fun experience for people from not Cody, WY. Yeah, I have been more connected to the river because of paddle club. I really enjoyed this and I think more kids should do it because it’s definitely good experience. I do think I’ll continue paddling with Wild West River Fest.
OLIVIA: Today I’m talking with Brittany Miller, who is a bronc rider who lives in Billings, Montana. Why did you choose to ride rough stock?
BRITTANY MILLER: So I didn’t ride my first bronc until I was a junior in college. So I’d already been in college for three years. And I would “start” a lot of horses for class. I saw a women’s ranch bronc riding in Idaho, and that was my very first one. I figured it’s no different than riding horses at home. Except at a rodeo, I can win money, you know if I stay on something that bucks. And the horses that I ride at home, sometimes they buck and I would never get bucked off. So I figured oh cool I can make some money. And so after that very first rodeo, I was hooked. I loved it. I won my very first rodeo. And so then I just decided that that’s what I was going to do is ride ranch broncs. And it just kind of took off after that.
OLIVIA: How many broken bones have you had?
BRITTANY: So I’d never broke a bone until it was two years ago, when I wasn’t riding very many, I fractured the inside of my tibia. So right above my ankle. The doctor said that’s not normally how that bone breaks. And so I had to take three months, so I was in a wheelchair for three months because the day before I broke my ankle, I tore all the ligaments in my other ankle. So I had two legs that I couldn’t walk on. So I was in a wheelchair for three months. And then I got that back on a bronc again after it was healed up. So just one bone.
OLIVIA: Um, is it hard making a name for yourself as a woman rough stock rider?
BRITTANY: It kind of was at first, in the very beginning. They don’t really take you very seriously because they think you’re gonna quit. But the longer I rode, and the harder I tried and the more buckles I won and money I won, then they kind of started to respect me and say, “Hey, this girl is pretty cool. And she really tries her guts out. And you know, she never quits.” And so after they got to know me that became a lot easier.
OLIVIA: Okay, have you ever ridden in a rodeo in Cody?
BRITTANY: I actually have but not at the “nite rodeo”. This was last year, at the graduation, they asked me to ride a bronc for the high school graduation and I ended up winning it. And so they wanted a guy ranch bronc rider and they wanted a girl. And so it was a battle between me and him.
OLVIA: That must have been fun.
BRITTANY: It was cool.
OLIVIA: Why do you think rodeos are important to communities around the west?
BRITTANY: They teach you life skills and about agriculture. And rodeo has a history that goes back to the old west and the cowboys and the ranches would compete with each other to see whose ranchhand was the best bronc rider, whose ranchhand was the fastest roper. So there’s a lot of history and western heritage behind rodeo. And we still celebrate that today. And it’s really cool. So it’s very important to small towns, especially Cody. What makes you interested in women in rodeo?
OLIVIA: Because in our rodeo, we don’t see that many women riding rough stock.
BRITTANY: Yeah, it’s pretty, pretty rare to see ‘em do that. It is starting to become more common, though.
OLIVIA: I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t doubt it. Because there would be a lot of people would see that. And then they would say, oh, maybe I should try.
BRITTANY: Yep, that’s exactly what’s happening. Actually, they see me or some friends of mine that ride and they’re like, “hey, that doesn’t look so hard.” It actually, it’s pretty hard. You got to practice and train for it. But yeah, that’s exactly why women are starting to do it now because they see some other girls do it, and they think hey, I could do that too.
OLIVIA: One of the things that got me interested in the topic was learning about Bonnie McCaroll, who was a female bronc rider in the 1920s. After she died woman weren’t allowed to ride rough stock in rodeos. Do you know her story?
BRITTANY: So the rodeo that Bonnie died at was supposed to be her very last rodeo. Her husband didn’t like it. He wanted her to quit and she goes– well this is Pendleton, all these girls go there before. She said this will be my last rodeo and it was her last rodeo. But so back then, to make it easier for women to ride broncs they would actually tie the stirrups underneath the horse’s belly like a cinch, so your stirrups won’t move or flop around and you might lose your stirrup. And so it was supposed to be easier to ride but because they hobbled the stirrups, your feet we’re actually kind of stuck there. And so if something happened, or if you fell off, or if your foot got stuck in the stirrup, you would get hung up and drug or kicked and that’s exactly what happened to Bonnie. So that’s ultimately caused her her to die was the the gender restriction, probably their stirrups on broncs. The men didn’t do it, but they made the women do it. And so they outlawed women bronc riding and then barrel racing came about and the Rodeo Queen and stuff like that.
OLIVIA: I liked when Britney told me how many bones she broke. Because I thought she would break a lot more than one. I think it was a really bad idea for them to hobble the horse. I think women and men should ride the same. If Bonnie was still alive, I think she would like women riding more broncs, instead of having that legacy that no woman could ride broncs. I think Bonnie would be proud of Brittany and all the other women who ride broncs. I think rodeos are important to the economy, and making entertainment for all the summer tourists and show people sometimes want to drive all the way up to Yellowstone, but sometimes they also want to drive back for the Cody rodeo but they don’t want to. But they want to do both so it is in the night time. I don’t think I would ever want to be in the rodeo because there will be so many people staring.
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