Clowning around at 2021 Elizabeth Stampede
JW Winklepleck entertained record setting crowds in Elizabeth, Colo.
for The Fence Post
It is like JW Winklepleck was destined for the role of rodeo clown. Raised in Strasburg, Colo., he was born into a rodeo family (his dad was a bareback rider back in the 1960s and 70s). While JW also competed in bareback events at PRCA rodeos, he kept getting nudged toward the role of rodeo funnyman.
“We used to raise bucking horses and bulls, so we would put on roughstock ridings,” explained Winklepleck about his rodeo clown origins. “I would help with the bull fighting and stuff and, of course, in roughstock riding you need time to load the chutes. So dad is like, well, you’ve been a clown all your life, go out there and do some acts for me. So I would do some clown acts and some rodeo committees saw me and some stock contractors saw me and they asked me to do their rodeos.”
Winklepleck didn’t just dive in to the funnyman deep end, however. First, he dipped his toes in the water to test things out.
“For a few years, I would ride my bareback horse with my facepaint (still on),” Winklepleck recalled about his initial dual roles as both rodeo clown and bareback contestant. “Then I would get off and put on my baggies. If you get bucked off, you got a way out,” he added with a laugh. “You’re just a clown. So that is kind of how I got to doing that. I think I started working the barrel and being a clown probably about 1999.”
In his performances, Winklepleck brings a spontaneous and athletic comedy to the arena sand. It comes as no surprise to see him dancing on top of his barrel, busting moves throughout the arena to the music being played over the speakers, being towed by a pickup man on horseback to surf the arena sand, wading into the stands to interact with the audience, or even jumping around between roughstock rides to get the crowd clapping and cheering.
While clapping and cheering is essential for a high octane rodeo, making people laugh is what he said he loves most about his job.
“All clowns probably say that,” added Winklepleck with a grin. “I love seeing people come and have a good time. When I was little, I liked the bucking horses and I liked the bulls, but what I liked next was the clown.”
It is those crowds having a good time that feed his energy and spontaneous humor, and it felt special to the lanky cowboy to finally be performing and interacting with crowds again at the Elizabeth venue.
“It was like a big family reunion, you know,” he said about arriving in Elizabeth and seeing all the familiar faces. “We haven’t seen each other. I was fortunate I worked six rodeos last year, which was more than a lot of guys got to work. At least I got to work some. Coming back to Elizabeth this year it was great seeing everybody. Of course, this place never lacks for enthusiasm. They are always ready to rock, ready to roll.”
Rock and roll they did. After seeing their popular event canceled in 2020 for the first time in 55 years, the community showed up in force for 2021, selling out all four rodeo performances for the first time in the award winning rodeo’s 56-year history.
“It was awesome,” said Winklepleck about the full grandstands in Elizabeth, Colo., over the June 4-6 weekend. “It made my job a lot of fun, because the crowd was a blast. It was great to see people getting out and going to rodeos. It was great to see families and great to see kids.”
While he has many times entertained sold out crowds in Elizabeth for the Friday night bull riding and Saturday night PRCA rodeo, it was a treat for Winklepleck to have the opportunity to also amuse standing room only audiences during the Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances.
“I haven’t seen it this good,” he said about the massive 2021 turnout in Elizabeth. “The enthusiasm. It was a great rodeo.”
What made it even better was how different it felt from all the empty stands in the recent past that were mandated for rodeos due to health and safety edicts. With nearly all of Colorado’s mandates lifting in May and early June, the atmosphere was enthusiastic and celebratory, which played right into Winklepleck’s high-energy style.
“I didn’t realize how much I actually work with a crowd or try and pull their energy,” he said about the experience of playing to TV cameras during rodeos with empty stands. “I love big crowds. When you see kids having fun and see families having fun, especially with the stuff going on now, (it is great to see them) all get away and just relax, take a deep breath, and have some fun.”
With Winklepleck in the arena and manning the barrel, spectators of all ages are destined to have fun.
For more information on JW Winklepleck and his Rodeo Clown schedule, you can visit https://jwwinklepleckrodeoclown.com/.
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