Hang On, Cowboy

All you need is a horse and a pair of skis to enjoy skijoring, a 100-year old sport.

Skiing and horseback riding. They’re like pickles and peanut butter; don’t knock it until you try it. I was raised on peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, so I never had a choice about that. But last winter in Russia, Montana cowboy Kraig Sweeney told me to hop in a calf sled for a ride.

“Let’s go skijoring,” he said.

Let’s go ski-whatty? Continue reading

David Letterman Eats My Article (Sort Of)

Here’s an excerpt from David Letterman’s interview with Erin Bolster, the Montana wrangler who saved a little boy from a charging bear. (Jump to 8:00 in the video below)

Erin Bolster: “…the bear is still running directly towards us, so I kick Tonk (her horse) and make him run directly toward the bear.”

David Letterman: “You show me the guidebook that tells you this is what to do with a grizzly and I’ll eat it.”

Mr. Letterman, would you like some Tabasco sauce to go with your October 2011 article “Bear Country Horseman”?

Bear Country Horseman

There are valuable lessons for horsemen in the aftermath of a deadly bear attack in Yellowstone National Park.

In July 2010, Kipp Saile of Rockin’ HK Outfitters lead six riders on the Pebble Creek Trail in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park. The trail scissored through the trees, paralleling the creek, and then entered a clearing where Kipp saw an unusual sight: a grizzly sow with three cubs. Kipp knew that grizzlies often give birth to twins – dual offspring are nature’s way of ensuring the species’ survival. Yet, in 18 years of guiding the Yellowstone backcountry, Kipp had never seen or heard of a grizzly with triplets. He took out his cell phone and snapped a picture just as the bear family scampered into the woods. When the coast was clear, Kipp resumed the ride. Continue reading

Comrade Cowboy, Part 2

For seven Montana cowboys working in Russia last winter, a one-hour shift during the peak of calving encapsulated everything they struggled with: the language barrier, the cultural clashes, the terrible weather and the challenge of teaching Russians a lifetime of cowboy knowledge in only 60 days.

Story and photography by Ryan T. Bell

Hell broke loose on schedule at Stevenson Sputnik Ranch. We called it the “witching hour,” every night between 6 and 7 p.m., when a dozen expecting cows dropped their calves at once. To deal with the onslaught, Darrell Stevenson, the boss, assigned two cowboys to ride through the cow herd searching for newborns. They would shuttle them to the calving barn where the rest of us, three Montanans and a crew of Russian villagers, bedded them down in warm hay.

This would be hard work under normal circumstances, but on the night of January 23, 2011, a raging blizzard dumped a foot of snow on top of the two-foot deep blanket already covering the Russian steppes. Any calf born that night didn’t stand a chance if we didn’t get to it fast. Continue reading

2011 AHP Awards

June 18, 2011 – San Diego, California. American Horse Publications announced the winners of the Excellence in Writing Awards. The industry-wide competition recognized the best articles published in 2010. Six of my stories placed in the Personality Profile, Freelance Writer and Personal Column categories. They join my 2007 and 2009 award-winning articles that also appeared in Western Horseman magazine..

1st Place, Personality Profile – “The Raven Within”

2nd Place, Personality Profile – “Joel Nelson: The Horses and the Words

2nd Place, Freelance Journalism – “Up the Andes”

Honorable Mention, Personal Column – “Backcountry Insight”


Comrade Cowboy, Part 1

Montana rancher Darrell Stevenson teams up with two Russian cattlemen to export an entire cow outfit to the Russian steppes. In the first of a three-part series, the author rides along with the Stevenson cowboys to the land of borscht, fallow land and the $75 steak dinner.

By Ryan T. Bell

In the Judith Basin of central Montana nuclear missile silos pockmark the ground like an atomic-age prairie dog town. They were installed in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War with Russia. Of course, the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991 and most of the missiles are now deactivated. But Cold War phobias live-on in the psyche of cowboys that ride herd amidst the sleeping giants of havoc.

That’s why it was shocking for locals to learn that Judith Basin rancher Darrell Stevenson was taking 1,434 cattle, 5 Quarter Horses and a team of cowboys to start a ranch in Russia. Continue reading