The flag is waving, the chute is opening, and the dust is flying. Come with us to some of the summer’s hottest rodeos — first stop, Reno.
Sit in the packed arena stands on any given weekend, turn up Garth Brooks’ 1991 hit single “Rodeo” extolling the “dust and the mud” and the “bulls and the blood,” peruse photographer Andy Anderson’s dramatic Montana series “All the Bucking Horses” — there’s proof everywhere that the sport of rodeo continues to captivate hundreds of thousands of spectators, drawing top competitors from around the country and providing some of the best entertainment on dirt.
To borrow from Garth again, “It’s the ropes and the reins, and the joy and the pain. And they call the thing rodeo.”
The term rodeo comes from the Spanish rodear, meaning “to surround” or “go around.” First used in American English about 1834 to denote a “round up” of cattle, the word and the activity it describes might date from the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors introduced horses and cattle in the Southwest. In the 1800s, American cowboys and Mexican vaqueros working the vast cattle ranches of the region would have riding and roping contests. Their competitive cowboying became a form of entertainment, eventually evolving into the organized professional sport we know today.
It’s thought that the first rodeo took place more than a hundred years ago in Deer Trail, Colorado, during a cowboy feud over who was best at breaking wild horses. The competition became our modern saddle bronc riding event. Today’s most popular events include tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, bareback bronc riding, bull riding, barrel racing, and, of course, saddle bronc riding. In the 21st century, women’s events get stronger and stronger. In addition to barrel racing, breakaway roping has become one of rodeo’s most popular events, and junior bull riding can now be seen along with good old mutton bustin’.
So put on your best pressed Wranglers, boots, and hat and head out for some rodeo action this summer. Here are some of the season’s best.
THE RENO RODEO
June 16 – June 25
The state of Nevada declares it the “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West.” Whatever superlatives apply, the Reno Rodeo delivers 10 days of family fun, and the PRCA-sanctioned event frequently features in USA Today’s Top Ten Reader’s Choice.
More than 140,000 fans attend each year. Now the fourth richest rodeo in the country, the Reno Rodeo comes from humble beginnings. More than a hundred years ago, the Commercial Club — the precursor to the Reno Chamber of Commerce — decided to create a “carnival” of sorts to celebrate the end of World War I and highlight some of the state’s “finest herders of cattle” and “pro-claimers” of horsemanship. The first time out of the chute, the event was dubbed the Nevada Round-Up, with the hope to bring large a large number of visitors and locals alike to see these rodeo events. It worked, and as of the 21st century, the now named Reno Rodeo has brought in over $52 million to the local economy.
Even though the Reno Rodeo is steeped in a century of Western tradition, the city of Reno is a modern destination full of casinos and a vibrant night life. Reno Rodeo general manager George Combs calls the area a great vacation spot, with the rodeo front and center. “Not only are we a Top 5 Rodeo in the country out of 650 rodeos, but our spectators get to see the best that rodeo has to offer, including mutton busting and wild-pony races,” he says. “This year we’re going to be bringing in miniature bull riding for the kids. We have two arenas, and we’ve got events are going on all day in one arena, with highlighted events taking place in the other arena at night.”
“Women’s barrel racing has really become popular,” Combs says, “and after testing women’s breakaway roping — a new sport that has garnered a lot of enthusiasm — we brought it back as a full rodeo event last year, and it was very well-received.”
Roping events go on for four days, then the rodeo wraps up with the final two evenings of the best performances, and Diamonds in the Desert, a high-end horse sale, where horses range in price from $20,000 to $100,000.
Although there are lots of golf courses and casinos in Reno, for Combs, the standout must-visit is beautiful Lake Tahoe, a 45-minute drive from the action and “a treasure for the Reno area.”
The Reno Rodeo, Reno, Nevada, Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, 1350 N. Wells Avenue, Reno, Nevada, 775.329.3877, renorodeo.com
LIVINGSTON ROUNDUP RODEO
July 2 – July 4
Park County Fairgrounds and Parks, 46 View Vista Dr., Livingston, Montana, 406.222.3199, livingstonrounduprodeo.com
PIKES PEAK OR BUST RODEO
Colorado Springs, Colorado
July 13 – July 16
Norris-Penrose Event Center, 1045 Rio Grande St., Colorado Springs, Colorado, 719.635.3547, pikespeakorbust.org
CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS
July 23 – July 31
4610 Carey Ave., Cheyenne, Wyoming, 800.426.5009, cfdrodeo.com
THE DAYS OF ’76
Deadwood, South Dakota
July 25 – 30
18 Seventy-Six Drive, Deadwood, South Dakota, 800.999.1876, daysof76.com
Check out the July issue of C&I, and find out more about these rodeos on our summer calendar.