Chase Runyan of House looks to get out from under a cow during the Wild Cow Milking Contest in the 35th annual PRCA Rodeo Thursday at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Eric Butler
The 35th annual Pioneer Days Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo kicked off in grand fashion Thursday night with an opening parade replete with flags and pageantry. Then the competition itself began with one of the top current bareback bronc riders, Ryan Gray, having a ride to match his reputation.
Gray, the first contestant in the first event, scored an 83 for the best result of the four bronc riders on Thursday. The Cheney, Wash., native has earned more than $35,000 this year and is ranked No. 2 in the world.
“I try not to keep up with that. I don’t try to keep up on it on a daily basis,” said Gray of his world ranking. “A guy can get caught up and get fouled up, you know what I mean? I’d just as soon stay out of it.”
It didn’t take long before Gray and several others had to get to the real business of cowboy work. Just after the bareback bronc riding competition, a horse got her leg caught at the top of one of the chutes located on the north side of the arena.
Gray, along with as many as nine other cowboys, tried for 20 minutes to untangle the horse’s leg without breaking it.
“The horse kind of got wedged in a bad spot. I’ve never seen anything like that — I don’t know how she managed to do that,” Gray said. “They want to keep her safe, get her leg out of there so she doesn’t hurt herself.”
Among those helping was famed rodeo clown Leon Coffee, who repeatedly called for equipment to get the leg free — while steadying the upright horse at the same time. It was Eddie Johnson of Cliff who finally got a tool out of his vehicle and cut the shoe off, just enough for the horse to extract herself.
“It’s kind of a cowboy thing. When someone’s in trouble, they all come in to help out,” Johnson said.
The cowboys then settled into attempting to win some prize money in the three-day event. The Pioneer Days Rodeo will continue Friday and Saturday night at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena.
John Etcheverry of Carlsbad, who recently graduated from New Mexico State, said he was hoping to get as much as $1,000 for first place. Etcheverry did have the night’s best time, 8.6 seconds, in the tie-down roping competition.
“It would help me get to more rodeos, that’s for sure,” Etcheverry said.
By that time of the night, Coffee was back to his usual shenanigans as a rodeo clown. In a between-ride exchange with announcer Charlie Throckmorton, Coffee joked he was mourning the death of his third wife — after losing the first two to mushroom poisoning.
Coffee told the crowd, and Throckmorton, that the third died of a head concussion.
“How’d that happen?” Throckmorton said.
“She wouldn’t eat the mushrooms,” Coffee answered.