Breckenridge Rodeo kicks off in high gear |

Breckenridge Rodeo kicks off in high gear

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
Summit Daily/Janice Kurbjun

The grandstand was full, and an hour into the Breckenridge Rodeo, spectators were still buying their tickets.

It was standing room only at the second half of the tourist town’s inaugural rodeo, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned event, and there are still four more weekends to go. It mostly attracted out-of-state spectators, but some Coloradans were in the crowd, and other than a smattering of people, Saturday’s and Sunday’s crowds were completely different.

“It was a huge success. We were not planning on nearly that many people,” promoter Brad Bays said.

The rodeo isn’t just something to add to the tourist’s calendar, though. It’s also a chance for professional cowboys and cowgirls to land qualifying times for the national competition in Las Vegas. They can win some cash, which can be short for competitors after a summer of travel to various competitions. The national competition pays out more than $5 million, while the Breckenridge rodeo puts together entry fees and additional money from the promoter. This weekend’s payout was nearly $14,000. Winnings would be nearly $6,000 less if Bays hadn’t tossed in the extra money to bring higher-caliber athletes to the arena.

The setting and temperatures of the High Country help attract contestants, and the nearby rodeo lineup is also attractive.

“Beaver Creek is on Thursday, Steamboat is on Friday. Breckenridge is Saturday and Sunday. You couldn’t ask for a better schedule than that,” Bays said.

Typically, the latter half of summer is winding down, Breckenridge Rodeo stock contractor Jerry Honeycutt said. Athletes are worn out from a whirlwind of early summer competition, which means smaller rodeos see fewer contestants.

Breckenridge has been lucky, though. Bays and Honeycutt expect a full slate of events each weekend, with new entertainment each night. This weekend, when the grandstands were full (event organizers are adding 1,000 new seats this week), and more than 100 contestants signed up, Steamboat had to nix its bareback and bull riding events for lack of participation.

“It’s a feather in Breckenridge’s cap to still have enough cowboys to compete,” Honeycutt said.

“I was impressed at the caliber of contestants,” Bays added. “Everyone competed real strong. It was the same caliber at some of the larger pro rodeos in the West. … A lot of people don’t realize that because they don’t go to many rodeos.”

In bareback riding, David Streweler from Golden won the prize on Ragged Edge, a horse that’s got more to him than meets the eye. He’s 28 years old and still bucks as hard as a young beast.

In team roping, Calvin Brevik from Durango teamed with Kory Bramwell from Chromo, Colo., to get out of the barrier quickly after the steer started running, tying its horns and legs in 4.9 seconds.

In rodeo, it’s about the luck of the draw luck, Honeycutt said, and in steer wrestling, Theo Federer from Cheyenne drew well to win the event. He dropped off his racing horse to dig his feet into the arena sand, braking at the same time he turned the beast to its side. Federer tends to win a lot of money each season, Honeycutt said.

Saddle Bronc Riding saw Australia’s Tim Hammond as its champion this weekend. It’s different than bareback riding because, though both horses buck, the bronc riders must know how to use their equipment. It may not be as physically demanding as gripping and going the way bareback riders do, but it takes more skill, Honeycutt said. Like knowing how much rein to give the horse.

“There aren’t that many (bareback) riders because it’s so demanding on your body,” Honeycutt said. “You put your hand in the rig and the horse jerks on it. Rodeo got started because someone had a horse they can’t break. One ranch thinks they have the best cowboy around, and cowboys would ride the rankest horses.”

In tie-down roping, potentially the most all-around event in rodeo, Oklahoma’s Ryan Bothum took the prize with a smooth, fast transition from roping to wrestling the calf to the ground to tying off the last loop in the rope.

“You’ve got to be a cowboy, ride a horse, be able to rope and handle your cattle,” Honeycutt said. “It’s an original rodeo event. They used to have to rope a calf in the field, tie him down and doctor him.”

Craig’s Wendy McKee finished ahead of her strong competition field, including cowgirls who have gone to finals in the event. Meanwhile, bull riding took the final spotlight, where adrenaline-junkie cowboys hop on the back of a bull and hold on for dear life.

It can mean life or death, too, Honeycutt said. Bulls are mean, and unlike horses – which just want the cowboy off their back – bulls will buck and then turn to attack.

Australia’s Roy Dunn took the prize in the event known for its brutishness.

“What you need in bull riding is a lot of guts,” Honeycutt said. “Bull riders are probably the toughest, but also probably the dumbest. Who would want to tie themselves on the back of a mean bull? Bull riding is an extreme sport. It’s dangerous. More bull riders get hurt than anybody.”

The Breckenridge rodeo may not be the biggest out there, but it’s among the most attractive for the lesser-known athletes. The contestants from Australia opted to stay for another day of competition rather than attend another rodeo in a different town on Sunday.

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