Matt Baumgardner has some interesting things in his hand. Like two screws and a piece of his hip.
The senior at Glacier High School has broken his left hand twice while bull riding. His subsequent operations required screws to put everything back together, but the problem is that not everything was still there. He needed a little more bone, so doctors borrowed it from his hip through a grafting process.
Needless to say, he ties in his right hand now when he jumps on top of a bull. He has no plans to stop jumping on bulls any time soon either.
“I’m big into the adrenaline rush,” Baumgardner said. “I got on my first bull and I was hooked. The first time, you’re either hooked or you’re so scared you never do it again.”
That first time was three years ago. Now Baumgardner is working his way up through the Montana High School Rodeo Association (MHSRA) ranks. Sitting at the top of the ranks is his Flathead Valley High School Rodeo Team teammate Matt Triplett, a junior at Columbia Falls. Triplett is the defending state champion for MHSRA’s bull riding circuit.
Their female teammates might not have any interest in riding bulls, but Stephanie Eisenzimer, a senior at Glacier High School, and Quindee Averill, a senior at Bigfork, also seek the adrenaline rush that comes with their events, namely barrel racing.
“I like the speed,” Eisenzimer said.
The teenagers on the Flathead Valley rodeo team love what they do. Some of them participate in other sports, but this is mostly to keep them busy while they’re not riding horses or bulls. Rodeo is their first love and, for a few, their ticket to college.
Baumgardner, Triplett, Eisenzimer and Averill all plan on continuing with rodeo in college. Baumgardner is eyeing the University of Montana or Montana State University. Averill is looking at Colorado State University or MSU, while Eisenzimer is headed to Sheridan College in Wyoming. Triplett still has another year of high school. Both boys also hope to someday make the professional bull riding circuit.
The four friends work on their skills together, though they also put in long hours individually. On top of that training, they practice once a week with the team during season, which is divided in two periods: one in the fall and the current spring season. Baumgardner and Triplett practice on a bucking machine, as well as a live bull once or twice a week. Triplett’s father provides the bulls. The boys run and lift weights too.
The girls ride nearly every day of the week, year round. For Averill, the daughter of Flathead Lake Lodge owner Doug Averill, rodeo comes naturally. She has been on a horse since she was 3 years old, maybe younger. Her dad was in rodeo and her uncle was an eight-time calf-roping state champion.
“I was raised with the rodeo lifestyle,” Averill said.
Or as Baumgardner said: “She’s a cowgirl.”
For the rest of the spring until the state finals on June 10-14, the team will travel to rodeos every weekend. Triplett is aiming for another state title, while the other three are climbing the point standings as well. Triplett is currently tops in the state in the bull riding standings.
But even when the season’s over, there’s no rest for these four. They participate in open rodeos, where they have the added advantage of winning money. Last winter, Averill won nearly $1,000 in open rodeos. That’s good money for a teenager.
“Yeah, that’s not too bad,” Averill said.
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