For more than six decades, boys and young men have been helped through the services of McCrossan Boys’ Ranch, just outside of Sioux Falls. The ranch gives troubled boys another opportunity to rise above obstacles in their lives. One of the largest fundraisers for the non-profit facility is an annual rodeo—in South Dakota, where rodeo is the state sport, staff and residents work to show the large crowd a good time.
With each scraping of a shovel on the concrete floor of the horse barn at McCrossan Boys Ranch, another lesson is learned. Several teen boys wield the shovels behind any of about a dozen horses, relaxing in their stalls. And there are more animals where those came from—with a large herd of horses roaming the ranch and waiting its turn to be rode, or cleaned, or shoed or fed. Watching over the work, putting the foreman’s cap on top of the others he wears, is McCrossan veteran staffer, Troy Geis.
Geis says, “I started as a camp counselor 28 years ago—I ran Independent Living, then marketing—and I suppose I took over equine stuff 15 years ago.”
One of the boys serving and being served at McCrossan is Asher—like every other resident of the ranch, he gets his turn at taking care of the animals. Where other teens might roll their eyes at the thought of chores—Asher looks at it as quality time.
The young man says, “It’s kinda like, it’s my own thing. When I’m out there with the horses, it’s my thing, you know—I don’t need nobody else around me, it’s something I can do, and it makes me feel more independent.”
The McCrossan Rodeo is more than just a traditional sporting event; there’s a lot going on to keep spectators interested and entertained. The warm-up act is a group of ladies called the Dakota Thunder Drill team.
Eight ladies in purple shirts are riding around the arena—the horses wear purple wrap on their lower legs; and, the backside of each animal is covered in purple glitter. One of the most enthusiastic members of the drill team is Carol Shade; she lives in nearby Hartford, and spent her working life as a teacher in Sioux Falls.
“I started riding when I was 40," Shade says, "and I did trail rides and stuff, and our coach, Stacy, asked me—she knew I could handle a horse and wanted to get involved; do more than just trail ride.”
The Dakota Thunder drill team puts the glittery horses through several paces—none of them are being paid to be here; the women are taking part to be closer to the horses, and their friends.
Troy Geis guides a team of horses and a bright green wagon down a gravel road, into the ring, for the grand entry. The green on the wagon is significant as the school color for McCrossan, which does sponsor a couple varsity sports. Their team nickname, of course, is Wranglers. As Geis does the wrangling toward the fence, he’s helped by a number of residents, who know their roles for the evening and help provide a seamless beginning to the show.
Geis says, “We try to attach most of the—any of our lessons to becoming a young man—we teach them responsibility; we teach a lot of relationship stuff with them. We want our kids to treat their horses well, and we want our kids to develop relationships with horses and that kind of stuff.”
Much of the crowd encircling the north side of the ring got there early—McCrossan development director Christy Menning says her staff is expecting about three thousand visitors for the rodeo.
“It’s so fun to see all the different type of people who come out here. Our aim is to be family-friendly. That’s why we make sure our rodeos are clean—they’re for kids of all ages. You don’t have to be a professional bull rider to watch it or anything like that," says Menning.
25 competitors in the barrel racing competition have been on the ranch all day—they qualified earlier in the day to take part in the final round. The object, in case you’re new to South Dakota, is not to outrun a barrel; the rider goes through a course that consists of a triangular pattern of barrels. If one of the barrels gets knocked over during a run, the cowboy or cowgirl has wasted 18 seconds of his or her life; the run doesn’t count, and the time isn’t recorded.
That did not happen to Cassidi Winter , from Edgerton, Minnesota. She made it around the course in just over 17 seconds; that’s a very good time for the course. Winter is quick to give credit where she believes it’s due.
Winter pets her horse and says, “This horse right here—Nacho. I just got him three months ago, and he just gave me the ride of my life.”
Winter’s good run wasn’t quite good enough to win the event—First Place money went to Dori Hollenbeck of Winner. It took a few seconds, but she eventually could tell a successful run was happening.
Hollenbeck says, “Coming out of the gate you can’t—but during the run, you can usually feel they’re gonna clock. Which means, they’re gonna have, like, a winning money run.”
The Barrel Racing is followed by Mutton Busting—it gives young kids a taste of the competition by letting them try to stay on a fully grown sheep. McCrossan equine expert Troy Geis says there’s a lot of anticipation, for the crowd and participants, for the final event.
Geis points out, “We have our bull riders now—they’re working to get into the finals, also these guys have been trying all summer long to get into the NBRT finals; and so, the pressure’s on.”
As part of the National Bull Riders Tour, the pressure builds up to a couple of attempts to stay on a bull for eight seconds.
Even experienced herdsmen know to get out of the way as soon as the trailer opens. A group of bulls makes its way down a wooden ramp into the arena. Imagine a three thousand pound, leather container of unadulterated, unapologetic, professional mean—and you have a rodeo bull.
For one of the residents of McCrossan Boys Ranch, 18-year-old Caleb, it’s his favorite part of the night. He’d love to be out there.
Caleb says his favorites include, “Bull riding and saddle bronc—I’ve wanted to for a long time but my mom says it’s too dangerous.”
A long day of work ends for the participants, residents and McCrossan staff as the sun goes down. The ranch’s development director, Christy Menning, can have a little downtime now, to reflect on her hopes for the evening.
According to Menning, “I hope they get a good glimpse of McCrossan Boys Ranch; I hope they see the boys are just kids here, like everyone else. I hope that they see they’re well-behaved, I hope they see that, these are kids that just need a second chance in life."
And it’s time for the residents who made the whole rodeo run without a hitch settle down in their rooms—one step closer to finding a new way.