Every May, a small ranching town in eastern Montana comes to life with what is commonly known as the “World Famous” Bucking Horse Sale (“BHS”). That small town is Miles City, Montana (although with a population near 9,000 it is large in comparison to other regional towns) – and it is considered to be one of the meccas for those who aspire to live the dream of a man on horseback riding the range for as far as the eye can see.
The BHS has its roots in frontier culture where, every spring, horses that had roamed the range all winter and were to found to be intractable or otherwise undesirable for ranch work were rounded up and “bucked out” in front of an excited crowd of onlookers and rodeo company buyers. Over the past 50 or more years, the sale has morphed into a sort of party atmosphere where local horses are still brought in, but are more likely to have been bred specifically for the rodeo business.
Both amateur and professional bronc riders are eligible to take part in the bucking of the horses and the animals are auctioned off at the end of the rodeo to the highest bidder. Pari-mutuel horse racing and bull riding events also take place at the Miles City fairgrounds.
While the whole purpose of the BHS is to showcase roughstock and offer them for sale into the rodeo circuit, a whole other venue besides the fairgrounds awaits. In the evening, the main street of Miles City is closed off and the parties begin. Legendary bars such as the Montana and the Range Rider are filled with the next generation of the cowboy culture. Girls in low slung jeans and guys in cowboy hats and Wranglers meander through the town taking part in the festivities. Bands are located on every street corner and you would be hard-pressed not to be swept away with the free spirit of the evenings.
If you’re looking to go, the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is held on the third full weekend of May on an annual basis. The events typically run from Thursday through Sunday. Miles City is located approximately 150 miles east of Billings, the largest metropolitan area in the region with service by major airlines. Lodging is available at local hotels and there are campgrounds in the area. While here, you may also want to check out the historic Miles City Saddlery, some local museums, and the Fort Keogh agricultural research center. Miles City may be off the beaten track, but a visit here during the BHS is well worth it to give you a sense of what it may have been like to be born into the cowboy culture.