Head to the rodeo this week for a taste of the old west
By Dawne Belloise
Voted in the top 101 western events in the entire nation by Cowboy Magazine, Cattlemen’s Days is the oldest Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo, founded in 1900. This summer, it celebrates 118 years of honoring the Western heritage of ranching life.
There’s the traditional bull and bronco riding, barrel racing, roping and all the events that reflect the hard-working ranchers from pioneer times to the modern cowboys and cowgirls. The livestock events of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4H have been going on since last week and continue through this weekend, with the main rodeo events this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 12-14 starting at 7 p.m., along with the highly anticipated carnival for kids of all ages that runs all afternoon and evening.
Thursday’s rodeo on July 12 is the Tough Enough to Wear Pink (TETWP) event, which is the number one PRCA TETWP rodeo in the country. Cowboys, cowgirls and the Cattlemen’s Days committee have taken up the very serious cause of raising money for breast cancer awareness, education, breast screenings and support. Several years ago the Cattlemen’s Days committee met in Las Vegas with Wrangler, which asked if they would help get the breast cancer awareness project “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” off the ground. The committee didn’t miss a beat and plowed right into the project full force.
Today, the Cattlemen’s Days event is ranked as the number one breast cancer fund raising rodeo in the industry. All the funds raised by Cattlemen’s Days TETWP stays local to provide mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies, and help support breast cancer survivors and families with their expenses. The Pink Rodeo is Thursday, July 12 and starts at 7 p.m. and absolutely everyone wears pink—crowd and cowboys alike.
Last year, Cattlemen’s Days saw the addition of “Patriotic Friday,” where everyone is encouraged to wear red, white and blue to support veterans.
Saturday night’s “Ranchland Legacy” brings awareness to the efforts of conservation easements to protect and preserve ranchland and its heritage.
Each rodeo is generously sponsored by a business and Thursday’s TETWP rodeo sponsor is Dos Rios Golf Club; Friday’s sponsoring business is Sportsman’s Liquor; and Saturday’s sponsor is Griggs Go Orthopedics.
Saturday morning features the Cattlemen’s Days parade, where horses, cowboys and cowgirls, along with floats, kids and a bevy of businesses, organizations and, of course, politicians get to strut their stuff down Gunnison’s Main Street starting at 10 a.m. sharp.
The Gunnison rodeo began in the late 1800s as a means for local ranchers and cowboys to celebrate the rare moment of free time somewhere between calving and haying. Cattlemen’s Days went through a few different names like Pioneer Days and the unsavory sounding Helldorado before settling on its current moniker.
According to the Cattlemen’s Days website (cattlemensdays.com), between 1913 and 1928, the rodeo and race events moved to the campus of Colorado Normal School, now Western State Colorado University, using the school’s track and stands. The celebration moved back downtown from 1929 to 1936. When the Cattlemen’s Days Association was created, it built facilities at the current site.
Now in its 118th year, the rodeo still has cowboys getting bucked off broncos and bulls, and cowgirls still barrel race. The events and rodeos are shinier, the carnival bigger and better and its professional caliber has bucked leaps and bounds since its inception.
Since it’s part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), all the competing cowboys and cowgirls must have a PRCA card. To get the PRCA card you basically have to start riding in high school to have enough rides under your belt to qualify. Some of the top bull riders in the world have thrown their hats into the rodeo ring throughout the years and this year is no exception since Cattlemen’s Days rodeos are well known with an incredible reputation throughout the PRCA world.
Also, the stock plays an enormous part in the cowboy competitor’s success because both the rider and the animal are scored. The cowboy hopes to draw a ride that is determined enough to hurl him to the moon should that cowpoke let go of the rope. They’re scored by the way they ride and the way the animal performs. Stace Smith returns with his top-notch stock. Smith is the stock contractor who brings in the wild ride of all the rough stock. He’s won National Finals Stock Contractor of the Year award for 11 years and has been with Cattlemen’s Days Rodeo for that long as well. His animals are essentially trained to buck with a singular focus: “Get the cowboy off my back.”
Kevin Coblentz, president of Cattlemen’s Days board, is excited about this year’s events and celebrities, like award-winning announcer Andy Stewart, who’s been top announcer of the year five times. Also adding to the excitement is rodeo clown and trick rider John Harrison, a five-time nominee for PRCA Specialty Act of the Year. Coblentz says Harrison will put on quite a show this year for the crowd while helping to protect the cowboys from the danger of stomping bulls and charging broncs.
There are two types of events: rough stock events, which include saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding; and the timed events of barrel racing, steer roping, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and team roping, which reflect the ranching way of life—things cowboys have to deal with every day.
There are new additions to the fairgrounds as well, with three new VIP booths, which will seat a dozen of your closest friends for a party with a view. Coblentz is most excited about the Saturday night after-party that cranks up right after the rodeo around 9 p.m. with music by Ken Stonecipher and the Wooden Nickel Band at Garlic Mike’s. Once a long-time local favorite watering hole and dance bar, for one night only, Garlic Mike’s will be transformed back into the Ramble Inn. The event is being hailed as the Ramble Revival.
Coblentz swears, “The Wooden Nickel Band is as good of a dance band as I’ve ever heard. They play a little bit of new but mostly dance hall covers, Nashville, George Strait, Texas two-step music, Tennessee waltz, and Southern rock. So, if you like top-level rodeo and a small-town feel, Cattlemen’s Days is where you need to be. We’ve got the best of the best right here in Gunnison.”
Whether this is your first rodeo or your 118th, city slicker or local, Cattlemen’s Days and the three PRCA rodeos, events and carnival make up an American heritage to savor and enjoy, heralding back to an era of old-fashioned wholesomeness that’s withstood decades of a changing world. Children are still caught up in the wide-eyed exhilaration of watching real cowboys and livestock while sporting rainbow-stained sticky fingers and mouths. The carnival is still a wonder to excited kids who will challenge chili dogs, hamburgers, fried dough and cotton candy in vertical, spinning, gravity-defying rides. Catch a breath of the real Western spirit and celebrate Gunnison’s ranching heritage.
For more information and a schedule of events and locations, git yerself to cattlemensdays.com. Rodeos, livestock shows and many of the events take place at Fred R. Field Western Heritage Center. Tickets can be purchased at the door.