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Eagle rodeo is cowboy approved

Sarah Mausolfsmausolf@vaildaily.comEagle, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file photoLocal cowboy Jared Schlegel of Burns loses his hat while competing in the Bareback Riding event last year at the Eagle County Rodeo in Eagle. Rodeo events continue every night starting at 8 p.m. through Saturday.
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EAGLE, Colorado – Cowboys who compete in the Eagle rodeo aren’t the only ones who score prizes.The rodeo itself won two awards in November, suggesting it’s a pretty big deal within the rodeo circuit.With the rodeo set to begin Wednesday night at the Eagle County Fairgrounds as part of the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo, it’s worth looking into why this event, which is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, is so highly decorated.The event last year picked up awards for most improved rodeo and best rodeo in its size class.”It’s pretty prestigious to win that,” rodeo announcer Les Ohlhauser said.The judges for the awards were the very cowboys and cowgirls who competed in the mountain states pro rodeo circuit finals in Denver in November.The Eagle rodeo beat out about 14 other rodeos in Colorado and Wyoming to score the award for best medium-sized rodeo, Ohlhauser said. Rodeos that dole out $3,000 in prize money per event were eligible, he said.What makes Eagle’s event the best?The food is one highlight, Ohlhauser said. Travel weary cowboys are greeted with a hospitality tent where they can snack.Eagle cowboy Cody Martin, 31 has competed in rodeos across the country and he said food tents for contestants aren’t too common.”That’s just another thing that sets the Eagle rodeo apart,” he said. “They actually have that hospitality and I think other people are catching onto that. It’s a nice rush to be on the road and come in and have a good home-cooked meal there.”Aside from its gustatory merits, the rodeo boasts a big pool of prize money – $3,000 per timed event and $6,000 per riding event, Ohlhauser said.That’s one of many reasons why Martin’s fiance, Eagle resident Kelly Gray, plans to enter the rodeo for the first time this year. She and her thoroughbred, Shawn, plan to compete in barrel racing, where Gray will ride her horse in a clover leaf pattern around barrels. Among the perks of the Eagle rodeo, Gray lists the well-maintained rodeo facility and quality livestock. The rodeo plans to use broncs and other animals from well-known Texas breeder Pete Carr.Along with winning an award for best medium-sized rodeo, the Eagle event earned a prize for “most improved” rodeo. Seventy-five rodeos throughout Colorado and Wyoming were eligible for that title, Ohlhauser said. The contest considers progress a rodeo has made over the past two to five years.Over the past 15 years, prize money for the Eagle rodeo has soared from $1,000 per event to $3,000 or $6,000 per event, he said. Plus, the event has added parking for contestants with horse trailers and a sports medicine team from Fort Collins that attends to injured cowboys.A renovation at the rodeo facility in 1999 made the event more enjoyable for spectators as well, Ohlhauser added. The old arena featured rickety wooden bleachers that were too small for the crowds, he said.”Most people had to stand because it was always sold out,” he said.Now, the facility has a covered grandstand that seats more than 2,600.Brad Higgins, manager for the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo, expects the rodeo to draw some 260 contestants, plus nearly 3,000 spectators per night.”We have a good mix,” he said. “Some people are rodeo savvy, for others it’s their first rodeo. We try to gear the rodeo toward that kind of crowd.”Each rodeo includes bronc riding, steer wrestling, mutton busting and live music.

For more information on the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo: 970-328-1904 or http://www.eaglecounty.us/fairrodeo


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