Mild spring weather, snow-capped peaks, and hundreds of hooves pounding dusty roads—these are the sights and sounds of Memorial Day weekend in Gardiner, Montana, where the annual Hell’s A-Roarin’ Horse Drive takes place each year.
“Since 1982 we have driven our horses through town and up to our ranch,” explains Susan Johnson, co-owner of Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters along with her husband Warren. “We first did it because we didn't own a horse trailer. A semi would drop them at the rodeo grounds, and this was the only way to get them home. Folks in town always enjoyed watching.”
Since then, Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters kicks off the summer season by driving the herd to their summer location in Jardine, Montana, 9 miles north of Gardiner. The drive begins at the Gardiner Rodeo Grounds and continues up the Jardine Road until it reaches the Hell’s A-Roarin’ Ranch. A barbeque dinner, raffle and auction, dancing, and live music round out the annual event.
In 2013, thanks to its popularity and ability to bring the community together, the Drive became a way to raise funds for nonprofit organizations in the Gardiner area. Past proceeds have benefitted the Gardiner Food Pantry, Park County Sheriff’s K-9 unit, and the Gardiner Rodeo. This year proceeds will be used to purchase an Action Trackchair for a disabled Montana Veteran.
“Each year a committee of five votes on a cause to raise money for,” says Johnson. “When we decided last year to buy a Track Chair for a disabled veteran, we had overwhelming support. So, we decided from now on, this is what the Horse Drive will stand for—veterans and first responders.”
This year’s Horse Drive will take place on Saturday, May 25. Spectators will have the opportunity to view the horses at the Gardiner Rodeo Grounds from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. At 1 p.m., the horses will leave the rodeo grounds and the outfitters will drive all 300 animals through Scott Street in downtown Gardiner. The fun doesn’t stop there, Johnson says.
“The venue this year is under big tents at the Jardine Rodeo Grounds. We have the Fall River boys, playing first, then Adrian Buckaroogirl, then Wylie and the Wild West will play for the dance. In the meantime, we have a woman bronc rider, an art auction with over 60 pieces of original art and amazing raffle prizes!”
A celebration of the town’s western heritage and connection to the land, the Horse Drive perfectly embodies Gardiner’s generosity and sense of community. And thanks to the event’s unique quality, the Drive has begun attracting spectators from far beyond the Gardiner area.
“Each year, the event gets bigger and bigger,” Johnson says. “Folks from all over the country are stepping up to make a veterans life more livable. This is all about folks caring for those that fight for our country and make us safer!”
Tickets for this year’s Drive will be sold at the gate and are $25 for adults and $20 for kids 16 and under. Learn more at www.hellsaroarinhorsedrive.com.
Photos courtesy of Jean Modesette.