New Sand, Old Rodeo Fun in Montague, California

Posted in: Featured, Rodeo

I recently went to my hometown junior rodeo for the first time in over a decade, and all anyone could talk about was dirt. The Shasta Valley Community Club had improved the local riding arena with store-bought sand, and it was a BIG deal to the residents of Montague, California.

And rightfully so. 15 years ago, we rodeoed in loose dirt or sloppy mud, depending on the weather and whether or not the sprinklers were accidentally left on overnight. The new addition of sand has helped to make the riding surface safer, faster and more attractive. Shiny new green panels have also improved the functionality and appearance of the arena since I’ve been gone.

As I sat in the old wooden bleachers with my dad and two kids, I admired the rodeo ground’s improvements and noted the things that hadn’t changed over the years. 12-year-old kids anxiously gripped the coils of their ropes as their names were called to ride into the arena for their breakaway roping runs. Preteen- and teenaged girls walked their horses around the warm-up pen in slow coordination while talking about boys and barrel racing. Volunteers ran the gate and politely deflected argumentative parents who insisted the gate wasn’t being open and shut in a fair manner for each child.

Volunteer parents set up downed barrels and poles, drove the tractor to rake the arena and took the spectators’ $5 at the gate. I recognized many volunteers as the same dedicated folks who did these tasks when I was a contestant 15 years ago. Many of them had known my parents since before I was born, and they were astounded to see two small children of my own creation trailing along behind me. I was astounded, too, because I thought I had left at least one of them with their grandpa back in the grandstands.

I also recognized the parents that helped their kids reach that stirrup way up there, build a loop just right, and remember to “Look!” “Kick!” and “Sit!” as childhood friends I had competed with all those years ago. How could they be old enough to have kids? Weren’t we still sophomores in high school, hoping someone would pass their driving test so we had wheels to drive to the dunes?


Back in the early 2000s, the Montague Junior Rodeo was a two-day affair. The Saturday evening performance usually went until 10:00 or 11:00 pm, a deliciously late hour for half-grown humans to be riding around on horses with minimal supervision. My friend Erica and I used to ride double on my old bay do-everything horse “Karl” and act like we didn’t want the boys to notice us but hope that they would.

We would go home at a decent hour, though, because parents. Plus, we had to shower off the arena dirt, sleep, feed horses and be ready to ride again the next morning by 10:00 am performance.

These days, the rodeo is a one-day-only event. I’m sure the new format didn’t cramp the kids’ fun, though. Each generation usually manages to have a fun-filled youth, probably because they don’t know any better. The newest generation of rodeo kids in far Northern California are riding and roping their way through a beloved annual event, except they get to shower off brand-new sand when the last bull is rode.

Photo by Stanley Krute.


Posted in: Featured, Rodeo

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

View all posts by Jolyn Young