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Harding County Ranch Family Carries On The Rodeo Tradition
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Horses
The Routier family on their Harding County ranch. Riley and Jessica with their children: Braden, 15; Payton, 13; Rayna, 6; Rose, 6; and Charlie, 5.
Lura Roti / SDPB

Throughout the summer months, rodeo is a sport many South Dakota ranch families participate in.

For the Routier family, the sport of rodeo is as much a part of daily ranch life as raising cattle. And it makes sense, explains Riley Routier a sixth generation Harding County rancher.

[Riley] “Everything is just tied together, everything we do with horses and cows they work together. We rope during branding and calving, … the horses are how we get things done. So, they just go hand-in-hand.”

Riley adds through rodeo, their children learn a lot about life.

[Riley & Jessica] “It teaches them a lot of great skills and lifelong skills. There is a lot of responsibility, you have to take care of horses, you have to deal with people, driving, so much stuff it teaches at a young age so many responsibilities. It’s a family sport and you meet so many people. Everything is good about it.”

Parents Riley and Jessica grew up competing in rodeo. The couple actually met because a collegiate rodeo scholarship brought Jessica to South Dakota from her family’s Wisconsin farm, where she grew up training horses with her mom.

Today, she is a professional barrel racer who has competed at the National Finals Rodeo three years in a row now. The mom of five says she enjoys sharing her passion for rodeo with their children.

[Riley&Jessica] “We do everything together. It works out well most of the time. Sometimes its better if one kid practices in the morning and the other in the afternoon. For the most part it teaches them to work together and cheer each other on. They may not do it out loud, but I’m hoping they do it quietly.”

And the family raises and trains their own rodeo horses.

[Riley & Jessica] “I love seeing a baby born and then seeing it take our kid to a rodeo and do well on it. It is a really big feeling of accomplishment when you get to see your kid compete on your other four-legged kid….you know the horse so well too, by the time they are grown up you know what they are thinking and every move they will make. And the fact that our kids do multiple different events, you may think you are breeding and raising a horse to be a barrel horse, and they might just not be a barrel horse, but they could still be a rope horse, or a goat tying horse or a trick riding horse or whatever. So, there are a lot of diff options for them to excel and lead a happy life.”

One such horse is Grumpy, 15-year-old Braden Routier was riding Grumpy when he qualified to compete in team roping at the 2021 South Dakota High School Rodeo Finals.  During the finals, Braden also competed in cutting and calf roping

[Braden & Payton] “It teaches you to work for what you want and if you work hard for something there will be a reward.”

And for the Routier kids, rodeo is about more than winning explains, 13-year-old Payton Routier.

[Payton & Braden] “It means a lot to know you are carrying on the tradition and they are there to help you with everything.”

This summer Payton competed in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying and breakaway roping. She is also a trick rider.