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Just something about cowboys

Pam BoydVail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyThe Freedom Riders 4-H Club practice riding in formation for the upcoming Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.
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EAGLE, Colorado Eagle County is hardly the agricultural center it once was.Still, the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo the annual celebration of all things farming and ranching related celebrated record numbers last year. Go figure.I think people are drawn to the whole Western lifestyle thing, says Brad Higgins, Eagle County Fair manager. Its the reason Western movies are so popular, says Brad Higgins, Eagle County Fair manager. Theres just something fascinating about cowboys.The fair will explore that fascination during its 69th anniversary this week. The event balances traditional 4-H youth competition with crowd-pleasing rodeo and carnival action. For many participants, the county fair represents generations of family involvement. For others, it is literally their first rodeo.This year, theres lots of new action and tweaking of tradition events aimed at broadening the fairs appeal.

The bulls are gone, but fair organizers are hoping their absence will actually bring them back.For a number of years, a bull riders only event has kicked off the fair. While it was a popular event, rodeo action later in the week suffered as a result.According to Laurie Asmussen, fair coordinator, many bull riders opted to attend the one evening and then forego the rest of the rodeo competition. At some rodeo performances last year, there were no competitors for the bull riding event.We want to offer a very strong rodeo line-up, explains Asmussen. Instead of bull-riders, the fair organizers will beef up the schedule with Fiesta Eagle County a Charro show that promises plenty of spectacle punctuated with spirited mariachi music on Sunday at 3 p.m.A charro is a skilled Mexican horseman whose origins date back to the 17th century. The charro, who developed customs, dress, music and equestrian skills later borrowed by the American cowboy, dress in traditional costume and are skilled in horsemanship, bull riding, horse and steer roping and trick roping. The fair show is being produced by Jerry Diaz, a famed Texas charro.This guy is a heck of a horseman and he puts on quite a show, Higgins says.Other changes for the fair include moving the popular Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed from its traditional wintertime schedule. The fundraiser, which benefits the fair and provides funding for 4-H college scholarships, will take place Saturday at the fairgrounds. Advertised as a dinner and dirt dance, the event will feature dining music provided by the Margarita Brothers followed by dance music from the Chris King Band. Moes barbecue will cater the event but the Fair Board will be serving up the infamous Rocky Mountain oysters. If you dont know what they area, ask a cowboy.

While theres plenty of new things at the fair, traditional events are still highlighted. The 4-H horse shows and animal projects are still key features. The Junior Livestock Sale will highlight the action on Saturday, Aug. 2.In these days when out-of-town visitors make up a sizable portion of the fair attendance, Higgins said its still important to remember and celebrate the valleys historic agricultural roots.Its not easy to put on events like this in the valley, he says.Higgins says 20 or 30 years ago, a sizable portion of Eagle County families made a living ranching. Back then, the fair was when all the ranching families got together.That still happens, albeit among a dwindling number of participants. As a result, the fair has continually reached out to the changing community to draw in more interest.The 2008 fair will feature a cookie jar contest with a Mother Earth theme. And theres the traditional open class competition, which features competition for everything from zucchini-growing to cookie-baking, awards a prize in recycled arts. And on Tough Enough to Wear Pink day, breast cancer research is the highlighted cause.For the fair to survive in the years ahead, it has to broaden its appeal, says Higgins. That means efforts such as introducing rodeo to folks who have never witnessed it.A lot of the hotels upvalley work with us to bring people down, Higgins says. Famous people including the late President Gerald Ford and former Vice President Dan Quayle, occasionally pop up at the fair. Last year, a Mongolian prince showed up to watch the rodeo.Producing the fair is a big-dollar item for Eagle County. This years budget is $477,000. The event is expected to earn back about half that amount.It says a lot that the county commissioners still want to support the fair, Higgins says. Because of that, we want to reach out to as many residents as we can.


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