By Lilly Platts
Across the country, people are gearing up to kick off summer with Memorial Day events. In Gardiner, the Hells-a-Roarin’ Horse Drive will bring people from across the U.S. and overseas together to support the small town and raise money for veterans. Over the last five years, the event has raised approximately $100,000 for various causes.
The annual Hells-a-Roarin’ Horse Drive started as a practical way to move Warren and Susan Johnson’s horses from winter to summer pasture each spring. When the Johnsons purchased Hells-a-Roarin’ Outfitters in 1982, they didn’t have a trailer to haul horses to headquarters for the summer.
“I started the horse drive in 1982 because I never had a trailer to haul my horses home. So, I ran them through Gardiner with a 9-year-old boy – a few detours, but we got them home. As time went on it became bigger and bigger. Pretty soon it was the event that kicked the summer season off in Gardiner,” Warren said.
Seven years ago, seeing the annual task continually garner local attention, the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce approached the Johnsons about the possibility of turning the annual move into a fundraiser. The Johnsons agreed to work with the Chamber and began organizing the yearly event together. The first fundraisers supported local causes such as the Montana Raptor Conservation Center and the Montana Food Bank. Last year, the team decided to support a larger cause by raising funds for disabled veterans.
“Someone asked about getting track chairs for veterans and we ended up raising close to $50,000,” Susan explained.
Turning the annual event into a larger fundraiser for veterans spurred more support from not only the state, but across the nation.
“It’s a good cause. Now that we’ve opened it up to veterans and first responders, we have hunters and clients who donate to it and they spread it to their friends. I think it’s because everyone is so behind our veterans,” Susan said of the event’s growing success.
She explained that the event also has support from people who don’t attend. Businesses from across the nation have sent money and donated auction items. The 2019 auction items range from high-end western art to 50 straws of semen for the Angus bull GAR Predestined D14U.
This year’s event, held Saturday, May 25, will be jam-packed with music, food, fundraising opportunities, and more. There will be a horse viewing at the Gardiner Fairgrounds at noon, followed by the horse drive at 1:00 p.m. Montana female bronc rider, Brittany Miller, will ride a bronc at the fairgrounds to kick off the party. The Fall River Boys will provide entertainment as auction items are set out for viewing. At 5:00 p.m., Adrian Buckaroogirl will perform before items and art are auctioned off to raise money for veterans. Montana favorites, Wiley and the Wild West, will close the night out with a dance. Around 1,000 people are expected to attend this year.
“It brings in a substantial amount of money to the local community through rooms and meals, and what we buy to put on such an event,” Warren said. “It’s an established way of life we lead and being horseback chasing 250-plus horses is still as thrilling today as it was when I was a kid. I truly hope it never ends.”BACK