The first weekend of June galloped into Elizabeth, Colo., and brought with it enough excitement and weather to last the entire month.
Celebrating a third straight PRCA Small Rodeo of the Year award, the small town event brought big-time action and lots of cowboy grit into the arena tucked among the pine trees of rural Elbert County.
Friday night trotted out the popular PRCA Xtreme Bulls to full grandstands, followed by Saturday and Sunday’s three PRCA performances.
While Friday night saw an arena record of 90 points tied by Elliot Jacoby, the rest of the arena records were far from safe. Saturday afternoon’s performance saw Micky Downare score an arena record 84 points in the bareback event, and then Saturday night’s standing room only crowd saw another three arena records tied or set when world champ Kaycee Field matched Downare’s 84, world champ Chad Ferley set a saddle bronc record with 87 and then Colorado’s C.J. Vondette set a new arena record with a barrel racing time of 16.07 seconds.
Considering the who’s who of world champions and top-ranked cowgirls that have competed throughout the Stampede’s history (Kristie Peterson, Brittany Pozzi, Sherry Cervi, etc.), Vondette’s record-breaking run was exciting for her.
“I feel incredibly blessed,” said Vondette afterward. “Honestly, I didn’t know I broke it. I knew he laid down a run, I just thought the ground was fast. I was a 16.3 last year and was third, so I was just kind of shocked to clock that fast,” she added. “I honestly thought the ground was just better or the score line was shorter. But (my horse) ... fired in between the barrels and his turns were fast.”
Asked about the standing room only crowd Saturday night, Vondette continued her enthusiasm.
“It was great Saturday night,” she began, emphasizing the word “great.” “I couldn’t believe how many people were there. Elizabeth always does a great job getting people excited for the rodeo, and that’s why it was standing room only. The crowd was so loud for the barrels. I think that made (my horse) fire even harder. Such a great crowd helps us to feel welcome and that they appreciate all the time and effort we put into this sport,” Vondette finished with conviction.
When it appeared the excitement might have peaked on Saturday night, Mother Nature decided to take over. After threatening rain most of the weekend, yet staying dry for the performances, Sunday was altogether different. A few hours before Sunday afternoon’s rodeo, tornado warnings and severe weather forced a wise evacuation and postponement of the afternoon performance until 4 p.m. When the tornado threat finished but the weather didn’t relent, the rodeo was rescheduled to 5 p.m., rain or shine.
Rain it was.
Cowboy grit and determination became the name of the game as the contestants braved cold rain and a sloppy arena (albeit one with good footing). Despite the downpour conditions, Steven Dent broke the bareback arena record again with an 86-point ride.
Colorado bareback cowboy Tyler Scales also put up a solid 83 points and most of the rest of the contestants performed well in the challenging atmosphere.
Popular Colorado cowboy Josh Peek didn’t have many left in the stands to cheer him on, but that didn’t stop him from tying for third place in steer wrestling and also making another wet run in tie-down roping.
Asked what it was like to compete in the cold and pouring rain, Peek laughed before answering.
“It’s always great to be able to compete, don’t get me wrong,” he said with good humor. “But when it’s raining and nasty like that and you have to leave due to a possible tornado, that doesn’t make it very much fun.”
Peek made sure to single out the rodeo for the condition of the arena.
“I have to complement the ground at Elizabeth,” he stated. “The ground was just in a torrential downpour and it was actually shocking how good the traction was. It wasn’t a dangerous setup. I wasn’t worried about my horses and I wasn’t worried about myself.”
The ground is just one reason among many the Elizabeth Stampede has won three straight PRCA Small Rodeo of the Year awards.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the rodeo committee and its nearly 200 volunteers continue making improvements to the grounds and facilities in order for contestants and fans to enjoy one of the best rodeos in the country.
“We definitely are trying to pay attention to the details and keep going,” stated Norm Almquist, an Elizabeth Stampede board member and past president, about the ongoing work to make everyone’s experience at the rodeo a good one.
“That’s what it is all about,” agreed Hal Burns of Summit Pro Rodeo. Burns has been supplying rodeo stock to the Stampede for over two decades and appreciates the work and effort put into to making the current PRCA’s Best Small Rodeo grow over the years.
“We’re all working for that ticket buyer. That is the important person at the rodeo and this committee understands that.”
The committee also understands that what happens outside of the arena can be just as important. The Elizabeth Stampede partnered with the Children’s Western Wish Foundation to make young Gigi Scardamaglia an Honorary Rodeo Royalty Princess for the weekend. Gigi, who deals with numerous issues stemming from a traumatic brain injury at a daycare facility when she was sixteen months old, was decked out in boots, hat, shirt, jeans, a custom sash and buckle and even rode the rodeo royalty float in the downtown parade. It was an outpouring of community support that meant a lot to her mother.
“They’ve gone above and beyond,” said Kristi Scardamaglia with emotion. “The rodeo community has really, with open arms, showed us a good time. I don’t even know how to put it in words.”
“It is pretty amazing,” offered Jeff Haines, who was there supporting Kristi and Gigi with a hand on each of their shoulders. “It was really nice how the community kind of embraced her. It definitely changes a family’s life.”
“Recognition and praise is always gratifying,” summed up Burns about the rodeo’s growth over the decades, its ensuing awards and its benefit to the community. “Anytime you can keep something like this going for generations; it’s all fun.”
Even in the rain. ❖