One of the questions I get asked the most is “Which rodeo is your favorite?”
Longtime rodeo personality Leon Coffee gave one of the best answers to that question as I was listening in on an interview. Coffee has entertained fans across the country including and is one of the most well -known barrelman in the industry.
“Oh man,” he said. “That’s like asking which one of your children is your favorite.”
That is so true for me. This past year, I’ve worked at rodeos from Florida to Washington. And, all of them lead to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). There are rodeos that are still on my bucket list. I now have a pretty standard schedule and these rodeos have a special place in my heart. I’m going to share that with you and let you know where I still want to go.
After 30 years of being involved, I am still a rodeo fan. I rarely get to sit and watch a whole rodeo, but I sure get to see snippets of every performance I’m at and I love that. While the regular season starts in October, I am finishing up the year and getting ready for the WNFR. My rodeo season really starts in January at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in Denver, Colo.
I’ve been managing the media at the National Western’s rodeo for over 30 years, so this event and I have a long history. It’s always fun to see fresh faces there anticipating the new year. Denver’s contestants also have the opportunity to ski in the Annual Cowboy Downhill to raise money for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund held in conjunction with the National Western at Steamboat Springs. I’ve never been to the Downhill, but you can be assured it is on my bucket list.
There are other things that set Denver’s rodeo apart from other stock shows. They have their carload cattle show in the stockyards and probably the biggest variety of livestock in the show ring. From draft horses and mules to yaks and longhorns, rabbits and chickens, they have it all. It gives livestock producers opportunities while entertaining and educating an urban crowd.
From Denver, I head to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, another place I absolutely love. This one has tradition and history that is unsurpassed. The legendary white bucking chutes with the big red diamonds are recognizable in bucking stock photos through the ages. Like Denver, Fort Worth has a huge livestock show. Their horse show is unsurpassed and we often see timed-event contestants making their way from the Quarter Horse competition over to the rodeo. I love the grand entry at Fort Worth. It is the traditional serpentine ride that includes committee members, dignitaries, riding groups, contestants and more. It is always a highlight for me to see the legendary Neal Gay horseback, gracious and smiling and welcoming the fans. The Gay family and their Rafter G Rodeo Company have been long-time partners at Fort Worth.
The San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo is not only the highest-paying regular season rodeo’s it is among the contestant’s favorites as evidenced by their earning the title of PRCA Large Indoor Rodeo of the year 11 consecutive times. With great rodeo performances followed by musical entertainment, it’s easy to understand why this event is so popular. What really makes this stock show and rodeo so special are the 6,000 volunteers and the money they have raised to help the youth of Texas. To date, this organization has donated more than $171.4 million in scholarships, grants, and endowments for kids — and that’s just one of many reasons I look forward to being there every February.
After these three big events, I’m ready to spend a little time in Paradise – Texas that is. March is a good time for me to recharge my batteries. This year I was also getting ready for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) and got to mark a trip to Florida off of my bucket list. There are such a variety of things to do around Kissimmee where the rodeo is held and it was so good to see so many contestants making a family vacation out of their qualification. Next year, the money from the RNCFR will count towards an NFR qualification, so this rodeo could be a game changer for a circuit contestant.
My next event is the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) held in June. Casper, Wyo., has been the home of the CNFR since 1999 and it’s so wonderful to see a community embrace an event like this one does. The CNFR is a stepping stone for many future PRCA and WPRA contestants. It is the only level of rodeo that has coaches. It is where rodeo and education come together and while the CNFR is all about the rodeo, getting there means advancing one’s education is important as well.
After the CNFR, I head to Nevada for the Reno Rodeo. It is the traditional start of the busy summer rodeo season and winning a pair of championship spurs from Reno is one of the most prestigious awards in any contestant’s trophy case. Reno’s rodeo is also the first one I have each new year that is outdoors. Beautiful sunsets provide a backdrop for the nightly rodeo action.
After a flight back to Denver, I get a couple of days before I head to the biggest one-header in the PRCA. The Cody Stampede over the Fourth-of-July is a major stop during Cowboy Christmas. As the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Cody, Wyo., is a tourism mecca. They host the Cody Night Rodeo from June 1 – Aug. 31 with breaks for PRCA events. The Cody Stampede sees all of the contestants competing just once, so they take chances and go for it every time. And, with the tourism, it’s a great opportunity to showcase rodeo to new fans.
I get to stay in Wyoming for the next stop on my tour, Cheyenne Frontier Days, the last full week in July. Known as the “Daddy of ‘em All,” there is nothing like this rodeo. Cattle in the timed events get a 30-foot head start, far longer than seen at other rodeos. It’s fun to see the rough stock contestants on the back of the bucking chutes watching the timed events. There are a lot of wrecks in the steer wrestling here and it gets pretty western. Cheyenne’s rodeo has a long and storied history and a personal one for me. My grandmother told me stories about going to this rodeo as a teenager. This committee, like so many others, works really hard at educating people about our way of life. Their Behind the Chutes tours take thousands of fans into areas not always open to the general public. They explain rodeo, the rules, animal care and give a little history of the “Daddy.”
After Cheyenne, I have a little time off before heading to Caldwell, Idaho, in mid-August for the Caldwell Night Rodeo. Again, this rodeo has character. The arena runs north to south with bleachers on both sides. Years ago, Randy Corley started talking about the people who sat in the east bleachers. Because it was hot and bright there when the sun was going down, he said those people must be pretty “rowdy” to sit there. That stuck and now there is a fun feud between the Rowdies on the east and the Civies on the west. They are rodeo fans that pay attention and get noisy. The stands are very near the arena giving the fans an opportunity to interact with contestants, announcers and the barrelman. Many rodeo contestants have told me there is nothing like taking a victory lap around the arena at Caldwell.
As the rodeo season is winding down, I find myself at the Washington State Fair Rodeo in Puyallup. This is an awesome time to be in the Northwest. I think most of the contestants would agree. Puyallup’s rodeo falls between the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo and the legendary Pendleton (Ore.) Round-up. It is one of a handful of rodeos held in conjunction with a state fair and that assures plenty to do. One thing I always find time for is to go see is the Grange displays. The Grange organization was founded in 1889 to protect the interests of rural Washington. This year 12 local Granges brought in their produce and made artful displays that filled me with wonder – mostly I wonder what vegetable that is. They are required to have a certain number of fruits, vegetables, seeds and grains along with canned goods and dairy products. The variety of agricultural products in this area will never cease to amaze me. Another thing we always look forward to at Puyallup is Fisher’s Famous Scones. They bring them to hospitality, fresh, hot and filled with raspberry jam. The rodeo starts off with a tribute to all branches of the military and seeing those flags horseback is a sight to behold.
Rodeos that I want to go back to include Ellensburg and Pendleton. The Ellensburg Rodeo is in a beautiful location. Members of the Yakama Indian Nation ride down Craig’s Hill and into the arena to kick off the action. They are in full regalia and I get goosebumps when I see that. They also dance in the arena and invite the public to participate.
The Pendleton Round-Up’s grass arena will always set it apart. It’s another big arena that is used by the high school football team after round-up. I know horse’s hooves tear up the grass and I can’t imagine the challenges this presents to those high schoolers. It does make for exciting rodeo action and one of my favorite events here is the barrel race. To give the horses good footing for their turns, the barrels are set on the track around the arena. That makes a long distance between the barrels and it takes an athletic and in-shape horse to earn a check. This year Stevi Hillman won it with two runs that were under 30-seconds each. In fact, she had the fastest time of the rodeo at 29.64. Compare that to the 13.37 arena record in the Thomas and Mack set by Taylor Jacob in 2013.
I’ve been to the Calgary Stampede one time and would love to go back. The atmosphere there and enthusiasm are contagious and there’s not another arena like it in North America. They boast 32 bucking chutes and to say that this arena is big might be an understatement. I had the opportunity to go in 2004 and it is a memory that will last a lifetime. Not only did I enjoy the rodeo, I went to the night show and chuckwagon races and was amazed at how people got behind their favorite teams.
There are several rodeos that are on my bucket list to go to, but one that stands out is the Salinas Rodeo in California. This rodeo is also full of history and tradition. And in the team roping, the header and heeler come out of the same box. I’ve watched it on television and would love to see it in person. I’ve also always wanted to go to Oregon’s Chief Joseph Days.
There are so many great rodeos across this country and many that I’d highly recommend. They include Tucson, Arizona’s La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros; the Dodge City Round-Up in Kansas; and Guymon Oklahoma’s Pioneer Days Rodeo. The Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo in Grover, Colorado, is the only rodeo in the PRCA that you have to drive on a dirt road to get to and I think it’s worth it. There are so many more and I know that I have left some great ones out. To those hard-working committees, I’ll catch you next time.
My season ends with the NFR and again, there is nothing like it. From the host city of Las Vegas to the arena in the Thomas and Mack Center, the electricity and excitement could not be duplicated. Contestants travel thousands of miles to go to rodeos big and small just to get a chance to compete here. I would encourage anyone to go to any rodeo they get a chance to and personally experience their individual character and then make a trip to Las Vegas for our championship event.