In 1972, a community contest selected a new name for the local potato festival and the Greeley Spud Rodeo officially became the Greeley Independence Stampede — and with it came the first Kids Rodeo.
The Kids Rodeo has become an important part of the tradition at the Greeley Stampede and continues to this day.
“The Kids Rodeo is an incredibly important part of the Greeley Stampede because we don’t just service the professional athletes that come in here, but we service the community, Weld County and the surrounding area by providing a means for them to participate in the sport of rodeo, from the age of 3 years old all the way up to 18 years old,” said Andy Segal, director of communications for the Stampede.
Segal continued, “We prepare them to go into the world of professional rodeo, if that is what they choose. The Kids Rodeo is an important part of the Greeley Stampede, and we are proud to have this event here each year.”
Many of the competitors, like Ashtyn Hicks, who competed in junior barrels, junior poles, and junior flags, have been coming to the kids rodeo for years and have grown up competing in multiple events.
Ashtyn’s mother, Nicole Hicks, speaks for many of the parents when she talks about the benefits of Ashtyn competing at events like the Greeley Stampede Kids Rodeo.
“I think it is good for these kids to be able to compete because it teaches them to be able to win and how to lose, which is something that we have to deal with in everyday life. It teaches them if they do lose to still support their fellow competitors and learn from what they did wrong, and it helps them to improve and do better for next time.”
The thing that makes the Greeley Kids Rodeo special is that it is a full-fledged rodeo, designed for kids from 3 years old up to seniors at 18 for the horse events, and 19 for the bull riding.
The Greeley Stampede decided from the beginning to give something back to the community by holding a Kids Rodeo with different events for all ages and abilities.
The kids are not off in some obscure arena — they compete in the fully set up, main arena of the Greeley Independence Stampede.
Rodeo Chairman James Herman understands the significance of the Kids Rodeo.
“What I bring to our committee every year when we set our schedule is that the Kids Rodeo is not something we are going to make a lot of money on. But the sport of rodeo is a Western tradition and it is so important to start these kids young.”
“The Kids Rodeo is our way of helping to do that. One of the goals of the stampede is to preserve Western tradition and the Western way of life, so this is a small way that we can do that,” said Herman.
James Herman and his assistant, Katie Giest organize the 60 volunteers that take on the monumental task of bringing order to the chaos that results from having three arenas going at the same time.
“The crew was out at 6 a.m., cleaning the arena after the concert the night before. Then they had to set up the three arenas for the 9 a.m. Kids Rodeo. After setup, they stayed to work the various jobs at the Kids Rodeo. We couldn’t do this without the great volunteers that we have,” said Herman.
Herman was only half joking when he said, “Honestly, it’s a lot of hard work to put on. I would almost rather put on three PRCA rodeos, rather than one Kids Rodeo.”
But he was serious when he said, “It’s definitely hard work, but when you’re out there and see the fun those kids are having, the chance for those kids to run the barrels or ride a bull in the Greeley Stampede arena during the Stampede makes it all worthwhile. It was so successful this year. It’s absolutely worth doing.”
The arena floor is broken into three areas of simultaneous competition.
The largest area is used for two groups each of keyhole, barrel racing and flags. A long section in front of the north grandstand is set aside for the events for the younger kids and two age groups each of pole bending and goat tying. The chute area is used by the bull riding association, the Rocky Mountain Young Guns.
The bull-riding classifications begin with Competitive Mutton Busting and progress from calves through steers, young bulls, and finally to seasoned bucking bulls. What category a competitor is in depends on their age. Safety for the youngsters is a primary consideration and there are at least two experienced bull fighters in the arena at all times.
The youngest kids are certainly not forgotten. They are well represented in the “Boot Scramble,” “the Stick Pony Race,” “Goat Tail Pull” and “Goat Tail Tying.”
For the more adventurous kids, there is always mutton busting.
There was a record number of 71 mutton busting contestants this year.
They were evenly distributed with 37 competitive mutton busters in the Mountain States Young Guns and 34 recreational mutton busters.
The recreational mutton busters are in it just for the fun. Their object is to get on and hang on for as long as possible. The kids love it, but for most it is a one-time thing.
For some though, it sparks a fascination that leads them to competitive mutton busting.
Competitive mutton busting is very different. It has rules, and style points, and buckles, and money won, and it all could lead to being the world champion mutton buster at the finals held in Fort Worth, Texas.
There is a tremendous amount of preparation and organization that has to happen to keep the Greeley Stampede Kids Rodeo running smoothly, leaving many to tip their hats to the Stampede, the ground crews, volunteers and to all the sponsors that make the Kids Rodeo unique.
Judging by the talent on display at the Greeley Stampede Kids Rodeo, there is no doubt that some future rodeo stars were on display and that the future of rodeo in Colorado is in good hands. ❖