Stock contractor: Continuing the tradition of family ranching and raising bucking horses
Riverton – Hank and Lori Franzen are founders and owners of Powder River Rodeo, LLC. The pair met in college and competed on the Casper College Rodeo team.
Hank competed in bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling and roping events, and Lori ran barrels, roped and tied goats. To this day, Hank still holds the record for the most all-around titles in one season of collegiate rodeo –13 all-arounds and nine consecutive titles.
Hank was also the 1978 Bull Riding National Intercollegiate Champion. He was successful in professional rodeo, just missing the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in 1978.
After attending Casper College, they were married in 1979. The pair wanted to own and operate a stock contracting firm, so in 1986 Powder River Rodeo, LLC was born.
Starting a business
In their early 20s the couple originally started the rodeo company with a gentleman from Buffalo. The partnership lasted about six months, Lori jokes.
“He wanted in a little bit, but then decided, ‘No, this was too much work,’” she explains.
Powder River Rodeo wasn’t afraid of hard work and started off doing a few amateur rodeos, and then in 1987 bought their stock contractor card with the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA).
“We started very small with a few horses, got our card and had to bring in five new rodeos,” she says.
In 1988, the company qualified to bring stock to the NFR. The company had two horses and one bull selected to compete. Powder River Rodeo has had stock attend ever since.
The Franzens are one of the most recognized and award-winning firms in the PRCA. Their commitment to the sport of rodeo earned them the prestigious PRCA Remuda Award in 2019. The award is given to a stock contracting firm providing the most consistent pen of bucking horses.
The Franzens have been nominated 10 times for the very prestigious PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year award. Many of the top rodeos Powder River Rodeo produces have been selected as award winning rodeos in the PRCA.
The stock contracting firm has been in business for 37 years and is looking forward to continuing the tradition of producing outstanding bucking stock.
Honorable bucking horses
The stock contracting firm has had three world champion bucking horses. Two of the horses were born on the ranch in Riverton, says Lori.
Khadafy Skoal has been selected to compete at the NFR 16 times and has been awarded the PRCA Horse of the Year three times. He is a two-time top NFR bareback horse and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo. in 2012.
“We bought him in May of 1989, and he definitely put us on the map,” Lori shares.
Another notable bucking horse, Miss Congeniality, is a two-time Saddle Bronc Horse of the Year, a top NFR saddle bronc horse and was selected to compete at the NFR 11 times.
“She started winning awards when she was four years old. The first year we bucked her she was selected to compete at the NFR,” she says.
Lori notes they usually buck their four-year-old horses a couple of times and then send them on the road when they are five to six years old. Miss Congeniality was a very unique horse and loved her job, Lori recalls.
“She was very unique – big and kind and contestants loved her, so we bucked her at the NFR as a four-year-old. Her first trip out she was selected as third best NFR top saddle bronc horse,” Lori mentions.
Another notable horse raised on the ranch was Craig at Midnight. He was the 2016 Bareback Horse of the Year, a top NFR bareback horse and selected to compete at the finals eight times throughout his career.
“He was a very amazing horse, and we unfortunately lost Craig last June,” she adds.
Other notable bucking horses include Two Buck Chuck, Knot So Foxy, Look Again, Rich N Fancy, Bet The Ranch, Double Take and Miss Valley – a daughter from World Champ Miss Congeniality and World Champion Painted Valley, among many others.
One thing making the company unique is they raise all of their bucking stock. Every year they breed nearly 60 broodmares. Lori mentions the company hasn’t bought more than four horses in nearly 20 years.
“When we first started the company, we bought a stud named Cut the Cards from Harry Vold,” she says. “He was a son of Custer, which is out of the great Tooke bloodlines. This is where our bloodlines come from.”
To date, the Tooke bloodlines are in three quarters of the bloodlines of the herds in America, she adds. It’s one of the famous genetic foundation bloodlines, founded in Ekalaka, Mont.
Genetics is the key component when deciding if offspring will be a bareback or saddle bronc horse, she says.
“Thirty-seven years in the business and raising our own stock – we know what is successful,” Lori explains. “There are certain mares we know are saddle bronc horses – that’s what they want to do. We have found if it’s in the mother, it’s usually the way the colts are.”
“We start bucking them out when they are three years old with a dummy,” she adds. “We spend a lot of time working with the stock and getting them used to being worked with. For us it’s really important to bring three-year-old horses in, feed them and take them in and out of the chutes. We spend almost two full weeks doing nothing but hanging halters, touching them and playing with them.”
Another important piece of their training is placing a neck rope on the horse’s neck every time they step into the chute.
“From the time they are little to the time they retire, we put a neck rope on every single horse,” she says. “The reason why is you’ll see a colt learn to find comfort in the neck rope, it’s a training tool they find comfort in. It often settles them and they realize they are there to do their job – buck.”
“There are very few people who realize you have to be horsemen to be around bucking horses,” she adds. “You have to understand how a horse thinks and acts.”
Other bucking stock and family involvement
Today, the company runs roughly 400 head of horses in addition to some bucking bulls through their partnership with D&H Cattle of Ardmore, Okla.
“Roughly 15 years ago we struck up a partnership with D&H Cattle,” Lori adds. “We felt our horse program was so elevated and good, we wanted to elevate our whole product by partnering with six-time Professional Bull Riders Stock Contractor of the Year, D&H Cattle. The partnership elevated our bull program to the top and our product as a whole to a level we’ve never seen.”
The Powder River LLC crew consists of Hank and Lori’s daughter Jill Franzen-Loden and their son John Franzen.
“Our biggest accomplishment is our children,” she says. “My two kids have worked in the rodeo business since they were born. Jill was only three years old when we started the business and John was born into the business.”
Both Jill and John were very successful rodeo contestants, which contributes to their success in the rodeo production and stock contracting business.
Lori recalls when her son was four or five years old, he was on his pony taking horses out, and Jill carried flags from a very young age until she was 16 when she started running the music for rodeos.
“They have done nothing but rodeo and be a part of rodeo their whole life,” she says.
She notes both of her kids went to the University of Wyoming on rodeo scholarships, and it was very important for her children to receive a secondary education. Jill with a business degree and John with an ag communications degree.
Today Jill runs her own music business and has been named Music Director of the Year three times in the PRCA, Lori shares.
John is the foreman of the company and takes care of the livestock, rodeo lists and feed program.
Other crew members include Jill’s husband, Brandon Loden, two grandchildren, Kaden and Holden Loden, Craig Roe, Zane Lewis, Jay Shaw and Clint Humble.
“Our company is unique because we have done this on our own,” Lori says. “We didn’t have help – we worked hard our whole lives to build this, and we have now been nominated 10 times for Stock Contractor of the Year, which is very gratifying.”
“It’s not an easy business but it’s very gratifying and a rewarding business,” Lori concludes. “We love the livestock; we love our horses and the people in rodeo. After 37 years in the business, we have rodeos we have done for 30 plus years. Rodeos such as Belle Fouche, S.D. and Plains, Mont. – it’s really rewarding to have such wonderful contacts and people in those places. It’s what we love, what my kids love and I can’t see it being any other way.”
For more information, visit powderriverrodeo.com or Facebook @PowderRiverRodeo.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.