Kids Rodeo: Future of the sport on display at the Greeley Stampede |

Kids Rodeo: Future of the sport on display at the Greeley Stampede

Cody Haven is a senior bull rider in the Mountain States Junior Bull Riders Association. At this level the bulls buck hard, but are not quite ready for pro level competition. However, bulls at this level are a real test for young bull riders.
Tony Bruguiere |

The tradition of what is now the Greeley Independence Stampede began with local potato festivals in the late 1800s.

The first official rodeo was in 1922. It was called the Greeley Spud Rodeo, and although there have been some name changes, 1922 is considered the beginning of the Stampede.

In 1972, a community contest selected a new name and the event officially became the Greeley Independence Stampede and looked much as it does today with pro rodeos, concerts, a July 4th parade, demolition derby, carnival midway, western art show and free stage entertainment, as well as the Kids Rodeo.

Many kids rodeos have some sort of sheep riding during an intermission, but, it is primarily put on for the entertainment of the rodeo patrons.

The Greeley Stampede has a different approach.

The Stampede hosts its full-size Kids Rodeo that has events for kids as young as 3 and progressing up to the horse and bull riding for 19-year-old high school seniors.

Contestants come from as far away as Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and New Mexico.

Lori Miller and her daughter, Taylor, left Yuma, Colo., at 4 a.m. to haul 17-year-old Taylor’s horse to Greeley so she could compete in the Kids Rodeo horse events.

“It gives the kids a taste of every event,” said Lori Miller. “Not every kid is a mutton buster. It gives the girls a chance to barrel race, run polls or do flags. If you don’t goat tie you can always do something else. It gives you a whole host of events that you can enter. I think it gives the kids a chance to come and get a taste of the rodeo. We enjoy it because we do this down on the eastern plains, so we like to come up here and get a bigger mix of competition.”

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.

The younger kids are able to compete in recreational mutton busting, goat tail pull, and stick pony racing.

For the kids that are a little older, the events include boot scramble and goat tail tying.

Jeff Leschinsky has been bringing his two daughters to the Kids Rodeo for the past three years and said, “It gets them involved with seeing the livestock and the animals, and also gets them exposed to a different lifestyle. These aren’t ranch kids” and with a laugh, Leschinskey adds, “these are city kids — this is a little bit different than soccer, but they are absolutely enjoying it.”

Then there are the “speed” events that more closely resemble adult events and require contestants provide their own horses. The “speed” events are barrel racing, pole bending, flag race, keyhole race and goat tying.

These events have two age groupings, 12 and under and 13-19.

The arena floor is broken into three areas of competition.

The largest area is used for key hole and two age groups of 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 of pole bending and goat tying. The chute area is used by the Rocky Mountain Junior Bull Riding Association.

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 for all rides.

For the Bartletts from Cheyenne, Wyo., the RMJBR is something for the whole family to share.

Kelly Bartlett is an officer of the association and her husband, Brannon, is one of the cowboy protectors.

Their son, Brenson, is a top mutton buster.

Asked about the Kids Rodeo, Kelly replied, “I think it’s great. That’s part of the reason that we come to Colorado, because in our area there is nothing for little kids. I think this is great, and a great opportunity and a way to keep this sport alive.”

There are small entry fees for the “speed” events and the bull riding.

An effort is made to have these events be preparation for the real thing as the kids get older and get their PRCA permit cards. So these events have cash payouts and also award buckles.

There are minimal entry fees for the younger kids and they can win prizes for their efforts.

“One of the mandates of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) this year was that they want to continue to bring the youth into rodeo,” said James Harmon, rodeo chairman of the Greeley Independence Stampede. “They are worried that the PRCA is starting to lose some of the youth in rodeo. The Greeley Stampede thinks that it is very important to include the youth in our rodeo so we can bring them along, because you never know which one of those kids that are riding a calf or sheep may be the next world champion in ten years. It’s real important to keep the Kids Rodeo and it’s also good for the community. It’s good for the Stampede to show that we are not just about the big PRCA rodeos, we are about the kids and the community as well.” ❖