July 4th Championship Rodeo Action in Greeley: Colo. barrel racer hangs on for Greeley Stampede buckle
Story and Photos By Lincoln Rogers | Parker, Colo.
Top-ranked cowboys and cowgirls come to the Greeley Stampede every year to challenge for a share of the big rodeo’s nearly $300,000 total purse.
Some of those contestants win by a large margin, while others hang on for a narrow win or even a tie for first place.
In the case of Colorado barrel racer C.J. Vondette, hanging on for a tie in 2014 was a literal experience.
Arriving at the July 4th championship round, Vondette was sitting in third place in the barrel racing event just 0.15 seconds out of first. When it came her turn to run, she had an opportunity to seize the moment aboard her 18-year-old grey horse whose barn name is Grizz. The pair notched the second best time of the round with 17.27-seconds, but they sure made it interesting along the way.
Sprinting fast to the third barrel, Vondette appeared to zig while Grizz zagged and the Colorado cowgirl almost lost her seat at the turn. Both horse and rider recovered quickly through the turn and the duo raced for the timers despite Vondette’s right foot never getting back into the stirrup the rest of the way. As a result, it was understandable Vondette had no idea their run would be so successful.
“I expected it to be like 18 seconds,” she revealed with a laugh when talking about the ride a few days later. “I thought, oh my gosh how embarrassing is this going to be if I fall off in Greeley?”
Discussing the near tumble and how Grizz kept her in the saddle, the humble cowgirl offered more thoughts on the ride.
“When I felt my bands break, I thought, yeah I’m for sure coming off,” added Vondette with more laughter. “That was crazy. He got right back under me to go home. I do not know how that happened.”
Her relief in getting the ride finished well turned into disbelief when they announced her name to come into the arena and pick up a first place buckle.
“I didn’t even know (we had tied for first),” described Vondette. “I had no idea. My sister was telling me, ‘they are calling you in there, you won.’ I told her no, I won second. ‘No really,’ she said. ‘You have to go in there.’ I was shocked.”
Asked about winning a prestigious rodeo like Greeley, her answer revealed the big moment was still sinking in.
“That is crazy, because there are so many girls that make the finals that haven’t won a big rodeo like that,” she said with excitement. “I still can’t really believe it. I’m still shocked.”
Vondette wasn’t the only contestant excited to win the historic rodeo. Iowa bareback rider Tim O’Connell let out a yell inside the arena after the big board flashed an 89-point score for his ride aboard Black Kat. Black Kat is a big and strong horse that has been a consistent high marked ride over the years.
“It’s been a really good horse for a long time,” said O’Connell about Black Kat right after he exited the arena. “I’ve been waiting to (ride her) for a long time. It was a big fight the entire time,” he revealed about the ride itself. “That horse really bucks (and) you can’t make any mistakes on it.”
The 89 points put O’Connell in the lead to stay and made his summer a lot better with the paycheck that came along with the buckle.
“Very excited,” he said when asked how it felt to win Greeley. “It will make my fourth run really happy.”
Another happy competitor was Josh Frost, a 19-year-old bull rider in his first year of competing professionally. He qualified for Greeley’s championship round and was one of only two contestants to make a successful ride in the short go, staying aboard Classic Red to earn 81 points and the win.
“It feels good, it feels really good,” he said while trying to catch his breath behind the chutes after the winning ride. “This whole fourth I’ve been riding good. This is my first year going, I just turned 19. I came up here and made a good ride in the first round and I’ve been riding everything since then. I’m excited.”
Asked about the quality of stock brought in by Beutler and Son Rodeo Company, Frost had big praise.
“They were really good,” he answered. “Beutler has a rank pen of bulls. You can see they didn’t ride very many. Only two were ridden in the short round.”
The people responsible for all the great bucking action inside the Greeley arena year in and year out are those in charge of Beutler and Son Rodeo Co. from Oklahoma. Bennie and Rhett Beutler take pride in bringing big, strong horses and bulls to the pen of any rodeo they help produce, and the results are impressive on the scoreboard and in the high-flying buckoffs that often occur.
This year was no different in Greeley and Rhett Beutler was pleased with the outcome.
“I was tickled as everything,” said the younger Beutler about their horses when the short round was finished and he was beginning to relax beside his pickup truck. “You expect all of them to buck for the type of horses they are. But everything doesn’t usually click and go right. (This year) every horse performed at the top of its game. I was very tickled with it and excited.”
Asked about bringing their stock to Greeley for so many years, he had nothing but positive things to say about the venue.
“We look forward to it every year,” said Beutler with a smile. “It’s an awesome place to come. When they fill this place up, the atmosphere — with this bowled stadium — it’s tough to beat. It’s pretty cool.”
“They have been fantastic,” said Andy Segal, Greeley Stampede director of media and communications, about the event’s long-time relationship with Beutler and Son Rodeo Company. “They’ve got some powerful horses and some powerful bulls. They bring us up with their stock; there is no doubt about it.”
When the discussion turned to impressions of 2014’s Greeley Stampede, Segal was happy to respond.
“We had great attendance, great turnout for the concerts and the rodeos,” he said of the thousands showing up to buy tickets. “There were lots of people that came to the rodeo this year; well over what we had last year. All in all, I think it was a pretty good year.” ❖