For the 89th time in its rich and storied history, the Ute Mountain Roundup kicked off with the type memorable moments and family-first atmosphere that have made it one of Cortez’s most popular events.
Among the highlights of the Roundup’s opening night Thursday at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds were a series of close encounters between bulls and cowboys that elicited a mix of gasps and cheers from the large audience.
The first encounters took place in the bull riding event, in which powerful bovines from Honeycutt Rodeo Co. bucked off all but one of the evening’s 11 competitors before the eight-second horn.
The lone cowboy to turn in a qualifying ride was Dugan Black, who climbed upon a bull named Dennis and brought fans to their feet with a ride that netted 85 points and put Black in position to be in top position at the end of the three-night event.
Shortly after the bull riding concluded, Noah Krepps, Ryder Rich and Ely Sharkey entered the arena to compete in American bullfighting, which requires cowboys to avoid a charging Mexican Fighting Bull for 40 seconds.
“(Bullfighting) is a big rush,” said longtime bullfighter Kris Burke, who redirected bulls from downed cowboys on several occasions throughout the night. “There’s not much going through my head out there. You kind of have to have a clear mind to be able to focus on the job. That’s what I love about it you can go out there and forget about everything.”
After Rich opened the evening with a score of 76 points, Krepps entered the arena and deftly avoided his bull for more than 40 seconds before getting blasted by the hard-charging animal as he tried to climb out of the arena.
As the bull crashed into the arena barrier and Krepps flipped feet-first over the fence and landed hard on the arena dirt, fans gasped and fellow cowboys shuttered as it appeared that disaster was imminent. Krepps avoided major injury, however, and as he climbed to his feet and limped toward the arena exit, fans cheered.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate not to be too bad hurt,” Krepps said. “I’ve broke a couple of ribs and a tailbone, a lot of minor stuff like that. I broke my eye socket once. I love what I do, and I take a lot of pride in what I do. I think there’s something inside of me that, no matter what, will keep me coming back.”
In the final bullfight of the evening, two-time defending reserve national champion Eli Sharkey showed why he is one of the best in the business when he opened his fight by leaping over his bull in a manner that seemingly defied gravity.
Asked how one practices such a leap, Sharkey, who scored an evening-best 82 points, sheepishly smiled before an answer that provided insight into how he and his fellow bullfighters hone their crafts.
“We do a lot of praying,” Sharkey said. “We also use a tractor tire; someone rolls a tractor tire at us, and we jump it. Jumping over the front end of a bicycle works well too if a guy rides at you. Just getting in the arena and doing it is the best practice, though. It doesn’t always work out as good as it did tonight.”
While the bull riding and the bullfighting provided the most memorable moments from the Ute Mountain Roundup’s opening night, strong performances in other events did not go unappreciated.
In the bareback riding event, Craig Wisehart of Kersey, Colorado, ruled the evening with a score of 79.50, while Russell Amrenta of Bloomfield, New Mexico, was the fastest cowboy in steer wrestling with a time of 6.2 seconds.
Brandon Webb of Bigg Wells, Texas, and Kollin VonAhn of Blanchard, Oklahoma, turned in the best time in the team roping event (6.6 seconds), Ty Anderson of Las Cruces, New Mexico, was tops in the tie-down roping with a time of 10.1 seconds.
Josh Davidson of Mile City, Montana, and Landon Mecham of Tropic, Utah, were each awarded a score of 78 points in the saddle bronc event, Haley Kienne of Magdalena, New Mexico, registered a time of 2.8 seconds in breakaway roping, and Sarah Kieckhefer of Prescott, Arizona, was fastest in the barrel riding event with a time of 17.65 seconds.
With its opening night of action now in the books, the Ute Mountain Roundup will return for a second night of heart thumping fun when it kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday. The final night of action will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.