By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
What: 36th annual Pioneer Days Rodeo
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Where: Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena
Tickets: $10-12 in advance at Joe’s Boot Shop; $12-14 at gate
With 35 years of continuity behind it, the Pioneer Days PRCA rodeo could have just about anyone in the competition and spectators would likely still show up.
As it is, the 36th annual Pioneer Days rodeo starting today at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena has plenty of top-notch cowboys and cowgirls in the field this year.
“You’re going to have your typical rodeo fan go, irregardless. They enjoy the excitement and thrills of rodeo,” says Rusty Barnes, captain of the Curry County Mounted Patrol — sponsor of the rodeo. “Big names are sort of the icing on the cake, so to speak.”
Some of the highest ranking competitors, for this year’s Pioneer Days rodeo, are entered in the sport’s biggest draw — the bull riding.
Four of the entrants are currently in the top 15 in the PRCA bull-riding rankings: Dustin Elliott of North Platte, Neb., Jason McClain of Lewis, Colo., Jarrod Ford of Greeley, Colo., and Cody Hancock of Taylor, Ariz.
In team roping, the No. 2 ranked PRCA duo — header David Key of Caldwell, Texas, and heeler Kory Koontz of Sudan — are in the field.
Barrel racing, the only women’s event, features fourth-ranked Kelly Maben of Spur, Texas, and 12th-ranked Tammy Key of Ledbetter, Texas.
“Contestant numbers are up, slightly up, from what we had a year ago. We’re not a big rodeo, but we’re not small. I’d say we’re kind of right in the middle,” Barnes says. “Purse-wise, we’re not up there with the really big ones, but I think we’re a pretty solid rodeo for this size of community.
As is the norm for rodeo, the actual competition will be buffered by a wide variety of entertainment.
Famed rodeo clown Leon Coffey will be at the Pioneer Days events all three nights and will also provide the specialty act, in between events, along with his usual banter with the public address announcer.
The three nights of rodeo will also include wild cow milking each evening.
At least four teams each night will attempt to corral a cow and draw milk into a bottle. Barnes says most of those entrants are local residents.
“Of course, to me, if you live in a hundred-mile radius — I consider that local,” he said.
Thursday is military night at the Pioneer Days rodeo, with reduced prices for those in the armed services. The opening night also includes the second-annual rodeo encounter — a family event that will last from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. just west of the Mounted Patrol Arena.
“A lot of the contestants will be over there signing autographs,” says Kevin Clements, co-captain with the Mounted Patrol. “They’ll have some dummy roping, goat roping for the kids; we’ll also have horses where the kids can sit on and have their picture taken.”