Thursday through Saturday, the Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo thrilled a packed grandstands at the Montezuma County Fairground to see cowboys and cowgirls perform at a high level.
As steers were wrestled and roped, barrels were circled, and bulls were ridden, those in attendance looked on in awe before expressing their satisfaction with loud cheers and broad smiles.
At the end of the three-night event, which was highlighted by the exploits of bulls and the cowboys that rode and fought them, close family bonds in the stands and inside the arena, and a night of record-breaking performances, the 89th rendition of the Ute Mountain Roundup was a rousing success.
Below is some of the major storylines from this year’s Ute Mountain Roundup.
Bullfighters steal the show on opening nightAmong the highlights of the Roundup’s opening night were a series of close encounters between bulls and cowboys that elicited a mix of gasps and cheers from the crowd.
The first set encounters took place in the bull riding event, where a set of 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. “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 rammed by the hard-charging animal as he tried to climb out 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 shuddered. Krepps avoided major injury, however, and as he 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 opened his fight by leaping over his bull in a manner that seemed to defy gravity.
Asked how one practices such a leap, Sharkey, who scored an evening-best 82 points, sheepishly smiled before answering.
“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 excitement on opening night, strong performances in other events did not go unappreciated.
Families come together on Night 2After hundreds of miles on the road and dozens of hours behind the steering wheel, Coleman, Texas natives Brent Arnold and Walt Arnold arrived in Cortez on June 7 to participate in the second night of the Ute Mountain Roundup.
Rodeo men through and through, the father-son duo, who grew up playing football in Texas before becoming steer wrestling stars, decided to attend the Ute Mountain Roundup based on the elder Arnold’s experience in Cortez 36 years ago.
“I came to (the Ute Mountain Roundup) in 1983 when I was on my way to the College National Finals Rodeo,” Brent Arnold said. “It’s just such a great event. You don’t see big crowds like this in a lot of the places that you go and the community is so welcoming.”
Rodeo runs in the bloodAfter concluding his professional rodeo career a decade ago, Brent Arnold shifted his attention to a family life that included his son Walt Arnold. Over the years, he and his son attended numerous rodeos across Texas.
As Walt Arnold grew older, his spry legs and powerful shoulders left little doubt as to his lineage. By the time that Walt Arnold arrived in high school, he was already an accomplished football player, and by the time he graduated from Coleman High School, he had earned All-West Texas honors as a center and defensive end.
Although several colleges offered Walt Arnold the opportunity to compete at the college level, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound player decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in professional rodeo.
Although Walt Arnold’s decision to leave the gridiron was not easy, he noted that tackling Texas running backs was a lot like bringing down 500-pound steers.
“There are a lot of similarities between football and steer wrestling, I think,” Walt Arnold said. “Back when I was playing (football), I remember the announcer said, ‘Man, it looks like he’s throwing down a steer down there.’ I got to transfer my (football skills) to (rodeo), and I think that helped.”
Now a well-known steer wrestler on the college and professional rodeo circuits, Walt Arnold takes pride in following in his father’s footsteps, while the elder Arnold can’t help but beam while talking about his son.
“I drug (Walt Arnold) around to all these rodeos when he was a little kid,” Brent Arnold said. “I’ve rodeoed a long time, and we just enjoy rodeoing. It’s a good way to stay together and spend time with each other. It’s in our blood, I guess.”
Steer wrestling highlights Friday nightAmong the many highlights of what turned out to be a memorable second night at the Ute Mountain Roundup was a series of standout performances by a group of steer wrestlers who showed little fear while competing in one of rodeo’s toughest events.
Those who competed included Keensesburg, Colorado, cowboy Gage Hesse, who broke quickly from the chute and pinned his steer in 6.3 seconds. Moments later, Walt Arnold put his steer on the ground nearly as quickly when he earned a time of 6.5 seconds.
The finest performance of the evening however, came from Coyote Canyon, New Mexico, cowboy Rooster Yazzie, whose name and connection to the Navajo Nation rendered him a fan favorite.
Timing his break out across the barrier, Yazzie bailed from his horse almost immediately and caught his steer by the horns in less than three seconds. The two-time Indian National Finals Rodeo qualifier then slung his steer to the ground to earn an event-best time of 5.7 seconds.
As the crowd roared its approval and Yazzie walked back toward the chutes, the power in his arms and legs was obvious and the toughness necessary to compete in steer wrestling was plain for all to see.
Although no steer wrestlers were injured during the second night of the Ute Mountain Roundup, broken bones and torn ligaments are not uncommon in the event, which tends to attract the strongest and most hard-nosed cowboys.
“I never had any serious injuries, just the usual stuff,” Brent Arnold said, when asked about the dangers associated with steer wrestling. “I had a torn ACL, a separated shoulder, a broken leg, just a few little things. I was fortunate to have stayed pretty healthy. Rodeo keeps you young.”
Families enjoy community atmosphereAs fathers, sons, mothers and daughters competed in the arena, fans enjoyed the festivities from the Montezuma County Fairgrounds arena.
On a night that began with first responders from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, the Montezuma County Fire Department and several other local entities being honored, smiles were aplenty.
Asked about the family-type atmosphere that makes rodeo special, Brent Arnold emphasized that the sport has a tendency to bring individuals together, whether they are watching from the stands or competing in the arena.
“Rodeo is all about family,” Brent Arnold said. “I’ll tell you what, there are guys that I went to college with and rodeoed with, and now their kids are doing the same thing. We see each other at the rodeos, and that’s enjoyable. The sport is a good family type deal, and there’s a lot of camaraderie.”
Arena records fall on final night of rodeoDetermined to conclude the Roundup with a bang, some of the top stars in rodeo came through with record-breaking performances that brought fans to their feet.
The first came in the bareback event when Tonalea, Arizona, cowboy Evan Betony produced an electric performance for a score of 85 points, which broke the arena record.
Betony’s ride was especially impressive given that it bested bareback legend and repeat National Finals qualifier Casey Colletti’s score of 84.50 that came one night earlier and at the time appeared to be more than enough to take top honors at the Roundup.
The second came courtesy of Buckeye, Arizona, cowboy Trey Nahrgrang, who exploded into the arena and threw down a 500-pound steer in 3.4 seconds to break the arena record for steer wrestling.
Many other top-notch performances were produced during the rest of the evening, and by the time that the curtain finally closed on the three-night event, fans and cowboys agreed that this year’s Roundup ranked as one of the most exciting in recent memory.
As a rendition of “God Bless America” serenaded the stands and rodeo announcer Jody Carpenter’s final words echoed into the night, the curtain closed on another spectacular rodeo weekend in Cortez that reminded everyone just how special small-town rodeos can be.