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Oakley rodeo hits 75

In the first years of the Oakley Rodeo, the event was a low-key gathering in a pasture just outside town. Its makeshift arena constituted a patch of dirt with two or three chutes, encircled by temporary fencing and spectators’ vehicles.

"If anything jumped over the fence, it landed on a car," said Ken Woolstenhulme, who grew up watching the rodeo and has served on the town’s unofficial rodeo committee since 1962. "Cars those days used to hold up better than they do now."

The rodeo has come a long way in 75 years. Many of the top cowboys in the nation now attend the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event, and it has appeared on ESPN. Four years ago, Oakley built a $3 million arena on 78 acres purchased when Woolstenhulme served as mayor, and the town rents a large video screen to show replays of the cowboys’ triumphs and travails. More than 20,000 attended the rodeo’s 75th anniversary last weekend, with a competitor from Queensland, Australia, and fans coming from Ulster, Ireland.

"We bring at least 5,000 people a day into the town, so there’s a fairly substantial impact," said Oakley Mayor Blake Frazier.

Held from July 1 to July 5 (except Sunday, July 4), Oakley’s rodeo was only the eighth-largest in the United States last week, but it would have been the largest virtually any other weekend of the year. The nation’s birthday is known as "Cowboy Christmas" as opportunistic professionals crisscross the U.S. to collect maximum winnings in upward of 10 rodeos.

Woolstenhulme was himself once a pro cowboy – in addition to postmaster, grocery-store owner and county commissioner – and rode broncs with current rodeo committee chairman Gerald Young in the 1940s. Rodeo is at the core of family life for the Woolstenhulmes: Ken once worked as a pick-up man with brother Dutch; another brother, Dick, is on the rodeo commission; Dick’s wife Charlotte organizes a local high-speed synchronized riding club; Dick’s son Andy serves as director of communications; Ken’s son Wade is a PRCA official after a career in steer wrestling and bull riding; and Wade’s son Jake is currently on a full-ride scholarship for rodeo at Utah Valley University.

"You’re awful busy," Ken said of the rodeo lifestyle. "Mostly on weekends. It’s not much of a family life. But the way we rodeoed, we took care of our families and we didn’t spend so much time on the road as we might’ve done."

The Oakley Rodeo once partnered with the Rocky Mountain Rodeo Association, but signed with the top-tier PRCA in 1983 and began contracting the services of Bar T Rodeo out of Chester, Utah.

"The PRCA talent was more plentiful – a lot more cowboys," Woolstenhulme said. "But the caliber of bucking stock is the main thing that improved a great deal. That’s the way (Bar T) makes their living all year round. They have to have good stuff, and they take care of it. The Bar T Rodeo Company is second to none as far as bucking stock in the PRCA."

The animals lived up to their billing on Monday, after a parade and junior events kicking off a Fourth of July celebration that was capped by the rodeo’s final events. World champions young and old made the trip, looking to grab some quick cash and finish among the top 15 overall money winners this season to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December.

In bareback riding, which involves a cowboy sitting directly on top of a bucking horse and trying to maintain control for eight seconds, Oregon’s Steven Peebles won the title with an 84 (out of 100), winning $3,719. Paul Jones of Nevada and Clint Cannon of Texas tied at 83 for second place.

One of rodeo’s original events, the saddle bronc title and $3,385 went to California’s Scott Miller for a score of 88. Isaac Diaz of Florida and Jeff Willert of South Dakota were tied for runner-up at 85. Chad Ferley, the 2006 world champion, gave fans a scare when his horse fell on its back and appeared to bend him in half, but he rose to his feet and dusted himself off before a stilted walk back to the pen.

D.J. Domangue of Texas won the glory event, bull riding, with an 88 for $3,683. Fellow Texan Dalton Votaw recorded an 87, while Price’s Kache Moosman tied for third with Washington’s Myron Duarte.

Georgia’s Ryan Jarrett roped, flipped and tied his calf in 7.5 seconds to win tie-down roping, beating New Mexico’s J.D. Kibbe by a half second. In something of a shock, 11-time world champion Trevor Brazile from Amarillo, Texas – the first man to make $3 million on the professional rodeo circuit and perhaps the most famous cowboy in the world today – missed his calf altogether.

Texas’ Clayton Hass won steer wrestling by dropping the 500- to 600-pound animal in a time of 9.9 seconds to narrowly edge Tremonton’s Baylor Roche by .1 seconds for $1,671.

The team-roping title went to Pace Freed and Jason Warner of Idaho, who took home $1,524 each. Team roping involves a "header," who catches a steer’s head or horns with a rope and then turns the steer so the "heeler" can rope its hind legs.

The only Utah champion of the weekend was Nancy Hunter of Neola, Utah, whose time of 16.31 netted her $2,977 in the sole women’s event, the barrel race.


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