The Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo started Thursday at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds with a huge fireball, courtesy of Montezuma County Commissioner and local fireworks enthusiast Keenan Ertel.
And then the fireworks started in the arena.
Spectators trickled in Thursday as the sun set and cowboys laced up their chaps. The fairgrounds grandstands were nearly full by the time the first bucking broncos hurtled out of the gates for a night of traditional rodeo events such as bull riding, saddle bronc riding and barrel racing. It was family night at the rodeo, and kids got their moment in the spotlight, competing in mutton bustin’ and stick horse racing.
It was a good opening-night crowd, rodeo chairman Bentley Colbert said, and there are a lot of good contestants still to come.”
Friday’s theme was Military Appreciation Night, and Saturday’s was “Tough Enough To Wear Pink,” aimed at breast cancer awareness. All the rodeo committee members, and most of the athletes, wore pink shirts throughout the night. T-shirts and other memorabilia with the slogan, provided by Wrangler’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink collection, were also sold on the fairgrounds, with proceeds going to Southwest Memorial Hospital.
Friday and Saturday nights featured “slack,” in which extra contestants who didn’t make the cut performed after the official rodeo schedule was over for the night, Colbert said.
Kelsie Winslow, 2017 Miss Rodeo Colorado, visited the rodeo for the first time.
“I love it,” Winslow said. “The rodeo committee is so hard-working, and I loved the crowd.”
Winslow is from Pierce, Colorado, a small town northeast of Fort Collins. The bull riding and saddle bronc events were her favorites on Thursday, she said. On Thursday she predicted there would be two more nights of excitement.
“It’s gonna be a great time,” Winslow said. “This is a great rodeo.”
Friday night focuses on the familyEarly Friday evening, kids lined up for the mutton busting event. Ellee Lloyd, 5, and her brother Casen, 3, took on stoic expressions as dad Jeremy Lloyd fitted them with stout helmets with face guards.
“They’re a little nervous, but have done it before on the ranch,” Jeremy Lloyd said.
Ellee took an iron grip on her sheep as it sprinted through the arena, holding on for the longest time and taking the win.
“I’m tickled to death,” said her grandfather Dave Lloyd. “It’s good to see the next generation carry on the tradition.”
The grandstands filled up quickly with people of all ages, many of them happily munching on huge servings of nachos and fries, or brisket sandwiches.
Decked out in Western wear, the 21-and-up crowd clutched beers, and held tight onto their dates, while cheering on cowboys riding bucking horses and angry bulls.
The crowd gasped as one rider got a prolonged stomping under a bull, and when the dust cleared, the cowboy got up, momentarily staggered then walked away holding a broken nose.
“Bull riding is my favorite,” said Mikayla Hassinger, of Hollywood, California, who’s visiting her parents in Dolores. “I grew up here, and it’s a breath of fresh air to be back.”
Bernadette Cuthair, of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, sat up close in the stands with her extended family to enjoy the event. Her 94-year-old father, Ira Cuthair, watched the roping event intently, and said rodeos were always part of his life.
“I’m an old rodeo cowboy, and used to calf rope. I’ve won a buckle or two,” he says.
Bernadette Cuthair said the Ute Mountain rodeo name symbolizes a “community spirit where we all come together, see old friends and watch the excitement.”
Announcer Jody Carper and rodeo clown John Harrison bantered with the crowd and told jokes poking fun at pop singer Justin Beiber, the Kardashians, people from Oklahoma and Hillary Clinton. When he asked who was here from out of the country, several hands went up from people who are traveling from Australia, Holland, Italy, Mexico and Guatemala.
In the hospitality tent contestants were served up plates of local food from Jimmer’s Backcountry BBQ, Pepperhead Restaurant and Pippo’s Cafe.
Finishing up his meal, roper Brett Tonozzi got ready to compete.
“It’s a good rodeo, good added money, good stock and a good committee,” he said. “Go fast is my plan, then onto the next rodeo in Cañon City.”
Saturday night’s grand finaleAbout 20 floats paraded down Main Street on Saturday afternoon, including a Montezuma-Cortez High School band and baton twirlers twirl in time to the marching band. Miniature horses march with their bigger cousins from the rodeo, many of them bearing pink ribbons or dyed manes to reflect the Saturday show’s theme, “Are You Tough Enough To Wear Pink?” Miss Ute Mountain Ute Tehya Ketchum threw candy to spectators along the parade route, and rodeo Queen Tegan Duncan rode along too, waving to the crowd and inviting to attend the rodeo finale on Saturday night.
By Saturday, rodeo committee treasurer Chuck Forth estimated about 4,800 tickets to the rodeo had been sold. He said he was pleased with the turnout, and attributed it to some of the star cowboys who competed over the weekend, like champion bull rider Ty Wallace.
“We’ve got some fantastic cowboys out there,” Forth said. “We were able to increase our purse this year, and that always draws more riders.”
Whether it was because of the exciting competition, the carnival rides, the constant joking between Carper and Harrison or just the excuse to drink a beer with friends on a warm summer night, it was clear by the end of Saturday’s show that most people had a good time at the rodeo.
After the last bull ride, Carper asked the crowd, “Did you enjoy the 87th Ute Mountain PRCA Roundup Rodeo?”
His last few words were drowned out with an explosion of cheers from the bleachers.
Journal reporters Jacob Klopfenstein, Jim Mimiaga and Stephanie Alderton contributed to this story.