The first night of the annual Ute Mountain Roundup was filled with contests for all ages, plenty of clown banter and a memorable tribute to fallen heroes.
The rodeo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds is now in its 89th year. This year, the first night on Thursday also happened to fall on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, making it a fitting evening to celebrate Military Appreciation Night.
The night’s announcer Jody Carpenter included military personnel in his opening prayer, in addition to asking for the safety of riders and livestock alike.
“All those men and women that are fighting for our freedom, in countries abroad, we ask that you put them all in your loving hands and bring them home safe to us,” he said.
The first night saw a sizable turnout, with cars backed up down U.S. Highway 160 to get into the fairgrounds for the rodeo and carnival. According to informal surveys conducted by the night’s master of ceremonies, the rodeogoers filling the stands included a smattering of foreigners, many repeat attendees and even a few Californians.
The night kicked off with stick horse races, as youngsters gearing up for the big leagues “rode” around Miss Rodeo Colorado standing in the center of the arena.
Following stick horse races, the announcers recognized Military Appreciation Night with the sounding of taps, a rendition of the National Anthem, a color guard presentation, and a special ceremony honoring Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay, the 33-year-old Green Beret from Cortez who died in combat in Afghanistan in March.
Lindsay’s family rode into the arena on a horse-drawn carriage, and a riderless horse was brought in to honor the man. A riderless horse traditionally signifies a fallen soldier.
“Tonight, we use the riderless horse to pay tribute to a great soldier,” Carpenter said.
The competitions all took place at the fairgrounds’ main arena and drew competitors of all ages – from tykes clinging to sheep during the mutton bustin’ event to more experienced rodeo riders on the broncs and bulls. Most of the participants heralded from the Four Corners states, but a handful from Wyoming, Washington and Montana made their way to the arena too.
The event’s emcees – rodeo announcer Jody Carpenter and daredevil clown Troy Lerwill – guided the crowd through the night with banter, filling the gaps between contests with jokes about moonshine and Lerwill’s many marriages.
Banter evolved into a skit involving Lerwill and a series of motorcycle escapades around the arena, and their commentary grew more colorful with the final bullfighting and riding contests.
“That one lasted as long as Kim Kardashian’s first marriage,” Carpenter said of one bull ride, while another bull was “hotter than a jalapeño pepper.”
The night wrapped up a little before 10 p.m. – or 21½ hours before the next series of competitions, in the words of Carpenter.
The rodeo continues Friday and Saturday nights, with Friday’s theme being a “Salute to First Responders” and Saturday’s a celebration of “Rodeo Heritage Night.” Each night, the rodeo will feature bareback bronc riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, breakaway roping, and bull riding.