Honoring a Montana Rodeo Legend

by Hannah Gill

Although it had been over thirty years since the bareback rider stepped aboard a bucking horse, Montana rodeo legend Larry Peabody said an all too familiar feeling returned when he stepped on stage on August 3.  Peabody was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs where he offered an acceptance speech.

“It was about like getting on one of those horses that you kind of dread, I guess,” the now full-time rancher, part-time rodeo judge and real estate agent, said.

But just like his many bareback rides over the years, Peabody made it through his speech and survived to tell the tale.

Peabody grew up the son of a livestock inspector for the state of Montana near Bozeman.  Horses were always coming and going with Peabody and his brother breaking and riding most of them.  It was during the 4-H rodeo in Whitehall that he recalls the first time he ever got on a calf with the help of neighbor and friend, Bob Burkhart.  After that, Peabody said the “bug for rodeo” just grew.  The first bareback horse he recalls getting on was at the Little Britches rodeo in Billings, Montana.  The horse ran off and Peabody made it to the whistle.

“The first bull I got on, I was probably 14 and I didn’t weigh a hundred pounds, but the bull I had was a big old Santa Gertrudis bull, my feet went down about half of his sides.  I got so scared I didn’t know what I was doing, wanted to go home I guess,” he said.

But he didn’t stop there.  From Little Britches rodeos, to high school and college rodeos, amateur rodeos and eventually rodeoing professionally, Peabody didn’t quit until he quite literally reached the pinnacle of his career – becoming a world champion.

Earning that title in rodeo is never a sure deal he said.  Peabody’s described his first trip to the National Finals Rodeo in 1981 as “being decent.”  He set a high score record of 89 on Dreamboat Annie of Growney Brothers Rodeo.

“She was probably more famous than me,” he said of the horse.

His second finals, “wasn’t that great.”  His third finals in 1983 ended with Peabody splitting the average.  In 1984, his fourth and final year, the pieces fell into place.

“I had to win so much in the last round,” he said.  The first four rounds of the 10-day rodeo, he didn’t place.  “It took the second half of the NFR for me to get caught up with the other two guys who were ahead of me.”

He climbed aboard Mesquite Rodeo’s Bojangles and won the tenth round, clutching the world champion title by 2,000 dollars.  Although Bojangles will always be special to Peabody after that win, he said it is impossible to name a favorite bronc because it takes all kinds to be able to win.  And at the time, they were all considered a favorite if the trip left him with a win.

“When I first got started there was great horses that I got on,” he said.  At a college rodeo at the University of Wyoming, he drew Necklace, a four-time bareback horse of the year in the 60’s and 70’s.  “She was ancient then, but she still bucked very good.”

Peabody went to Sheridan College in Sheridan, Wyoming for one semester, then was recruited to Dawson Community College (DCC) in Glendive, Montana where he rodeoed and pursued a degree in agriculture.  The first year that Peabody qualified for the NFR, he won the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Bareback Championship, helping the DCC rodeo team win a national championship.

From 1980 through 1982, and again in 1984, he was the PRCA’s Montana Circuit Bareback Champion.  In 1982, he won the Montana Circuit All Around title, but it wasn’t always a walk in the park.  There were many wrecks along the way, and a few moments where he told himself that he would rodeo until certain funds ran out, then if he wasn’t winning, he would quit.  But rodeo being the drug that it is, he kept going.

“I had my permit in 1977 and 1978 was my first year with a card,” Peabody said, adding that 1978 and 1979 weren’t good years for him.  “Then towards the end of July, first of August in 1980 I went to Colorado Springs, that was my first major rodeo where I won the long round, the short round and the average.  I had about three to four thousand dollars, and from there on, it just got better and better.”

After he clenched the title of world champion bareback rider, Peabody began to slow down on his rodeoing.  Although he still entered in some rodeos up until the early 1990’s, he said after he accomplished his goal he wanted to return home and ranch, so he did.


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