The voice of local rodeo |

The voice of local rodeo

Shane Macomber/Vail DailyA cowboy slams a calf down on its back before tying its legs together at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.

EAGLE ” Holding his microphone, Les Ohlhauser excitedly shuffles in his perch above the rodeo arena.

A new best time is achieved.

“Eagle County, look at this. 4.9!” Ohlhauser says.

A cowboy twists a steer’s body, trying to wrestle it to the ground.

“Bring him around,” Ohlhauser says. “Oh, yeah!”

A bronco gives its rider a particularly turbulent ride.

“You talk about change of direction,” Ohlhauser says. “This horse has got it.”

Ohlhauser is the announcer for the rodeo half of the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo. With that job, he must be a cheerleader, an expert and a straight man. He narrates the proceedings during the action and maintains the crowd’s interest during lulls.

His handlebar mustache is straight out of the Old West. And he wears the requisite rodeo garb: cowboy boots, cowboy hat and blue jeans.

Before him is a stack of paper with notes on competitors, bulls and horses. He knows that, for instance, bareback rider Josi Young of Duhl, Idaho, won last weekend at Rock Springs, Wyo., and is No. 4 on the Wilderness Circuit. He knows that one bull to be featured later in the night has been ridden once out of seven tries. Another’s been ridden eight out of 25 times.

To his left are two women who use stopwatches to time the speed events. Others in the booth relay scores to Ohlhauser from officials in the rodeo ring or enter scores into a computer.

To his right is a window where he can see the cowboys waiting to compete. As Ohlhauser announces that the start of the rodeo is five minutes away, the cowboys kneel in prayer, their hats over their hearts.

Though he comes off smoothly in his announcing, there are a few snags in the booth. A roster is late. An official’s speech is a surprise to him.

“The first night’s all dress rehearsal,” he says to his crew.

Ohlhauser, who lives in Denver, has the pedigree to make him a rodeo expert. He grew up on a ranch in North Dakota, and competed on the pro rodeo circuit in saddle bronc, bull riding and steer wrestling.

From a young age, he also was an auctioneer, a vocation that dovetailed into rodeo announcing. He started announcing rodeo in 1977. Now, he announces at nearly 30 rodeos a year, from North Dakota to Texas, from Wisconsin to California.

The Eagle event is one of the top rodeos on the circuit, he said, even if it is a “tourist rodeo.”

It’s necessary to do a bit more explaining about the events for the Eagle crowd, Ohlhauser said.

Ohlhauser cited the growth of rodeo riding, including an extended season ” it now goes all year long ” as well as more TV time.

“We’re part of the preservation of the Old West,” he says. “That’s what we want to be and continue to be.”

And the archetypal image of the hard-drinking, rough-and-tumble cowboy in the Old West? Today’s rodeo cowboys are focused on making enough money to get by, Ohlhauser says.

“The fighting, carousing, that’s history,” he says. “(Rodeo is) their livelihood.”

Part of Ohlhauser’s job is being the straight man to rodeo clown Leon Coffee.

Ohlhauser banters with Coffee when the clown works through his routine of bringing out a fireworks-laden little car that explodes in flames and flares.

During a rodeo event, when Ohlhauser calls one cowboy a “young gun,” Coffee wonders where the firearm is.

“I’m saying he’s a young, fast, lightning-quick tie-down roper,” Ohlhauser says.

At Saturday night’s bull riding kickoff, Ohlhauser and Coffee entertained a capacity crowd of 3,500 at the fairgrounds.

“My job is to keep (the crowd) at the edge of their seats throughout the rodeo,” he says.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

Vail, Colorado

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