Ray worked as a farmhand and on threshing crews until the age of 21. In 1955, he worked in the oil field driving truck, operating heavy equipment, doing roustabout work and building roads. In 1991, Ray retired from Amerada Hess at Keene. During his 36 years of oil field employment, he also raised cattle, farmed and rode/broke many horses for friends and neighbors.
Ray’s rodeo career began at a young age, riding cows and work horses on the family farm. When his parents were away, Ray and friends gathered unsuspecting cows, flanked, and rode them. He began his formal rodeo career at age 21, riding bulls and bareback horses. He participated in teams of wild horse racing and wild cow milking as well.
Ray won the ND Amateur Bareback Riding in 1956 and eventually competed in only that event. He rode bareback horses until 1967 and diligently taught and supported his children and many other young cowboys and cowgirls in rodeo events. From 1972 through 1999, Ray judged rodeos for the NDHSRA, the NDRA, the ND Roughrider Association, ranch rodeos, college and youth rodeos. Ray was honored to be selected as a finals’ judge by the contestants, who respected him as a knowledgeable and fair rodeo judge.
Ray made time for community involvement as a charter member of the Badlands Saddle Club and the Watford City Roping Club. He was a member of the 50 Years in the Saddle organization, the Keene Volunteer Fire Dept., served as Vice-President of the McKenzie County Weighing Association, past chairman of the McKenzie County Weed Board, chairman of the Blue Buttes Township, and President of the Long X Wagon Train.
In 2000, Ray received the “Sportsman of the Year” award from the North Dakota Rodeo Association. In presenting the award, Phil Baird stated, “Ray Gilstad is a person whose footsteps are worth following. He is a great human being and cowboy, who emulates the spirit of rodeo.” Ray continued to work with young competitors interested in learning more about the sport and was always available to assist rodeo committees with arena work or behind the scenes.
Ray’s retirement from the oilfield enabled him to enjoy more time as neighbor always ready to lend a hand. Known as a capable, honest, hardworking man, Ray was in demand and counted on when there was “cowboying” to be done. Ray continued to share his love of horses with younger generations by “loaning” retired ranch horses to them for pleasure riding and kids’ rodeo competitions.
Ray Gilstad humbly lived his life as a positive example to his family, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and rodeo competitors. Sadly, Ray’s earthly ride ended on September 6, 2015, when he succumbed to cancer at age 81.