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Some rodeos still on, despite cancellations

Holly Jessen
for The Fence Post
A barrel racer competes at Kansas’ Biggest Rodeo in 2019.
Photo by Terri Abrahamsen

Rodeo contestants and fans will still find places to get their rodeo on this summer, although a number of big-name events have been sidelined due to COVID-19.

For example, despite an initial announcement otherwise, the show must go on in Cody, Wyo. The nightly Cody Nite Rodeo is ongoing through the summer as well as the Cody Stampede that was held July 1 to the Fourth of July. “It’s a major tradition in Cody,” said Mike Darby, president of the Cody Stampede Committee.

Another one still on the schedule is in Phillisburg, Kan., where a rodeo will entertain fans July 30 to 31 and Aug. 1. Kansas’ Biggest Rodeo had 430 contestants and paid out more than $119,000 last year and Ruth Nicolaus, who handles publicity for the rodeo, said she feels it will be even bigger this year. “We really think that people are ready to do something fun,” she said. “They are ready for good news and good times.”

Here are a few other examples of rodeos still happening. The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been moved to Aug. 19 to 22. Nebraska’s Big Rodeo is on July 22 to 25 in Burwell, Neb. The Jackson Hole Rodeo in Jackson, Wyo., will go on three nights a week through August, except fair week.

THE BIG PICTURE

The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, the largest rodeo sanctioning body in the world, sanctions or co-sanctions about 730 rodeos in nearly all U.S. states as well as Canada, Mexico and Brazil. The PRCA website lists more than 150 rodeos that are still planned for July and August, despite COVID-19. The organization also lists more than 100 canceled upcoming rodeos as well past events which were not held. “There are quite a bit of the bigger ones canceling,” said Scott Kaniewski, media director for PRCA.

Individual rodeos make the decision to reschedule, cancel or move forward with events. “That comes down to what those county and state officials are saying is OK,” Kaniewski said, adding that PRCA is updating its website with information about events as it’s available.

A few rodeos went forward with the competitions but without fans in the stands, like in Cave Creek, Ariz., in late May, which was the first rodeo to go on after a more than two month hiatus of all rodeos due to COVID-19. The Cave Creek Rodeo Days was broadcast live on the Cowboy Channel, he said. Right now that’s also the plan for a three-day Spud Rodeo set for Sept. 11 to 13 in Greeley, Colo., which was put on the schedule to replace the canceled Greeley Stampede.

Other rodeos made the decision to move forward with events but put measures in place for social distancing, extra cleaning, hand sanitation stations or other precautions. PRCA has a 30-page document on its website, called corona virus ground rules and safety guidelines. The document includes information about requiring the use of masks for spectators and competitors (before and after competition but not during), medical screenings, waivers and more.

However, in a letter signed by George Taylor, CEO of PRCA, the organization clarifies that PRCA is not requiring every rodeo to follow all the rules. “The United States is opening at varying levels and we will customize a plan that meets the local requirements for your rodeo,” he said. “These guidelines were written with the intent to help a rodeo that has the most COVID-19 restrictions.”

The PRCA is available to help individual rodeos develop a COVID-19 action plan. “Our vision is to safely host rodeos and not jeopardize the legacy or the future of your rodeo,” he said.

SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

In Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon announced the end of May that the state’s six largest rodeos, all scheduled for July, were canceled. One of the six, the rodeo in Cody, Wyo., is back on in spite of that announcement. The situation was fluid and difficult to navigate, Darby said. COVID-19 put everyone in an unprecedented situation. “There’s no handbook for this,” he said. “You can’t YouTube how to do it.”

On May 29, two days after the governor’s announcement, the Cody Stampede Board released a statement, clarifying that it did plan to go ahead with both the Cody Nite Rodeo and Cody Stampede. The decision to cancel was made by a special task force that worked with the governor but the Cody Stampede Board hadn’t voted on or agreed with the decision.

The rodeo was revived after the organization was able to get an approved exception to Wyoming State Health orders, which allows for larger numbers of people at the event, including spectators, competitors and essential workers, Darby said. At the start, the rodeo was restricted to only 25 people in a group at a time. However, that number was increased a few times until, with the help of adding additional bleachers creating more distance between fans, the rodeo can now seat 2,835 people total. Without bleachers, the auditorium has a seating capacity of 5,200. The rodeo also renegotiated with its vendors, to lower prices and set cost limits. “That gave us some fiscal leeway to have a great rodeo,” Darby said.

Along with more seating for social distancing, the rodeo is also encouraging the use of masks, he said.

In Phillipsburg, Kan., the rodeo will have hand sanitizer stations in multiple locations and the bathrooms will be cleaned thoroughly every night, Nicolaus said. Masks will be provided for committee members and volunteers and contestants will abide by the guidelines set forth by the PRCA. Fans and others are all free to wear masks, if they choose, she said. Also new this year, fans will not be allowed behind the chutes or around livestock, to keep contestants and fans separated. ❖

— Jessen is a freelance writer living in Minnesota with her nurse husband and daughter. They recently settled down after more than three years living a travel lifestyle, thanks to her husband’s travel nurse job. She can be reached at hollyjessenmedia@gmail.com.


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