Yeehaw! Ride ‘em cowboy! While I’ve yet to hear someone actually yell that in the stands at the Brent Romick arena in Steamboat Springs, crowds are no less excited to see cowboys and cowgirls compete in tricks, races, and the skills of the Western rancher. In Colorado, we step away from the Pro Bull Riders arena tours that sell out Madison Square Garden and hew closely to our communal ranching roots. Rocky Mountain rodeos give us tenderfoots a glimpse into ranching life – from past ranchers who settled the valleys to our current ranching friends we meet at the grocery store deli counter. In a time where ranchers can be the local bank president or sell bath soaps to Anthropologie, heading to the weekly rodeo is a chance for us all to celebrate our common heritage.
The Rockies rodeos are all about being a part of the local community, no matter what your residency status. When you show up, it’s not about getting your spot and making a bet on flashiest cowboy or cowgirl. Instead, we greet our neighbors when they take our tickets and in the stands. You might have a table on the grounds for your son to sell cowpies on the “muffin plot” with his local Cub Scout pack, or send a drink to the local country musicians who play throughout the Western Barbecue. Speaking of which, rodeo barbecue dinner is something to plan on! Rather than get involved in the Texas – Kansas City barbecue battle, Western Barbecue emphasizes something rare these days: sitting down together with family. Like all of the cowboys who would head to the ranch house for a big sit-down meal at the end of the day, the rodeos out west encourage folks to sit down on the long picnic tables outside of the arena. Western hospitality means that a stranger is always welcome at the dinner table.
The events at Rocky Mountain rodeos are typical of most: bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, and of course, barrel racing. To inspire all generations though, kids are invited to join in the competition regardless of rider status. The Calf Scramble is a topsy turvy race in which children ages 6-12 try to catch a calf with a ribbon on its tail. The winner gets their own belt buckle – a trophy of pride for these young riders-to-be! The correlating Ram Scramble sends the cuteness into overdrive. For children under age 6 who want to be just like their older siblings, the Ram Scramble follows the same concept with a smaller and gentler sheep. And for aspiring cowgirls under twelve, the girls have the opportunity to compete in the PeeWee and Junior Barrel Races. The whole crowd cheers when a six-year-old successfully corrals her horse in the cloverleaf pattern, and last year, the stands went wild for a Junior whose fastest times was only .29 seconds behind a professional cowgirl!
Rodeo animal welfare is a huge concern between cowboys and fans alike. Like the cowboy code that always puts the horse’s needs before the rider’s, the pro rodeo does the same. Although some events may be startling to a greenhorn spectator, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has over 60 rules in place to ensure excellent animal welfare. You can trust that the cowboys and cowgirls in the ring always put their animals needs first – and I’ve even see a couple of cowboys disqualify themselves from an event in concern for a calf. He certainly got a standing ovation for demonstrating respect for his animals – whether they’re mounted or lassoed! Western cowboys had a code long before Gene Autry popularized them. From warm hospitality to the primacy of the horse, the Code of the West, so to speak, shows up in its best ways at the local Rocky Mountain rodeo. Saddle up!