June 30, 1975 12:00 PM

While Dad was running the country, Steve Ford, the President’s 19-year-old son, was winning the West. No mere dude, the wiry, easygoing Steve, who will enter Utah State this fall, has spent the last few months as a ranchhand in Montana. But when he said he wanted to try rodeo school, his parents first disapproved, then reluctantly gave in. “It’s just something he’s got to get out of his system,” Mrs. Betty Ford sighed. Steve enrolled with nine-time world rodeo champion Casey Tibbs at his ranch outside San Diego.

On his first day Steve confined himself to a few lessons on a mechanical bucking machine. But the next day he began to feel his oats, bulldogging a steer and joining a 32-mile trail ride along a former Pony Express route. Before bedtime the gang ate buffalo ribs, drank beer and listened to Western actor Slim Pickens recite dirty cowboy poetry. Then Steve, riding a 9-year-old Appaloosa mare alongside another actor, Ross Martin, helped herd 40 steers back to Casey’s spread. (“No matter how rough it got,” Martin said, “there wasn’t a peep out of him. He hung in like a young tiger.”) Observed Tibbs, “He has good balance and knew how to handle the horse when chasing a steer through heavy brush.”

Finally Steve faced his biggest test—bronco-busting. “I’ve got to go sometime,” he said as he left the chute, and go he did, in five seconds. Still, his grit earned him a John Wayne-like salute from Slim Pickens: “The kid rides real good.”

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