EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah – Rodeos across the state have announced cancellations in the midst of the pandemic – here’s how one plans to take place, with restrictions.
The boom in the announcer’s voice, the roar from the stands, and the white knuckle excitement from a great ride -- these are the things that make up the Utah rodeo circuit.
But, in the wake of the pandemic, the 2020 season was brought to a halt, silencing the stands for many high-profile events across the state.
“I’ll have to try and rodeo more back East, because the North West’s not looking good at all,” said Rhen Richard, a 3-time NFR cowboy and local favorite.
For cowboys and cowgirls, like Richard, they don’t get paid unless they compete and without those paychecks, they don’t qualify for finals.
“It’s going to kind of be like, not really rodeo-ing to many money, you’re going to have to go to make points,” Richard explained. “There’s going to be a lot of rodeos that don’t really make sense on paper with how much it’s going to cost you to get you there, but the guys will have to sacrifice that a little bit to try and make the finals this year.”
Each rodeo season runs from October 1 to September 30 the next year. However, there aren’t many events held between November and January. Now, with nearly three months’ time having been lost to the pandemic during a more active time of the year, those who work in the industry and starting to feel the brunt of it.
“It’s funny that we talk about essential jobs, what’s essential, well everything’s essential to the guy that that’s what provides his living,” said Jared Gray, President of Pony Express Events. “To these guys, this rodeo’s essential or they could be living on the streets in a cardboard box.”
Gray said their event, the Pony Express Rodeo which takes place in Eagle Mountain every May, typically draws 3,500 people to the stands each day of the weekend-long event.
This year, they are one of the few who decided not to cancel. It will take place from June 11-13.
“It’s been difficult, you know, I didn’t want to be the only guy taking a risk,” said Gray. “There’s not many of them left, but we’re still trying to plug forward.”
Of course, reopening won’t come without changes.
They pushed back their event by a few weekends, now taking place June 11-13, and have to cut the number of fans in the stands by more than 80 percent to just 750 people in attendance.
“I’m a little bit nervous how we’ll be able to keep the energy [with a small crowd] and make it entertaining, but I do know we’ve hired some of the best in the business to make it fun and I hope we can keep that energy going,” said Gray.
“We are going to try to live stream this so if you can’t make it, or you are in a high risk category, you can still enjoy it from the comfort of your own home,” Gray continued. “I think that’s what’s really going to make this happen and help it a lot.”
Gray said one of their local sponsors intends to provide bandanas to the fans so they can wear them around their necks and "pull [it] up over their face and try to be safe when they can."
Due to varying number of tickets purchase per household, they will not block off certain seats. Instead, all tickets will be sold as ‘general admission’ or ‘no numbered seats’ to allow people to sit with their household groups.
“We’ll just ask people to participate and make sure people know when they’re coming they need to space out and stay six feet apart and sit in their family groups, and I think we’ll all stay safe that way,” Gray said.
The new rules extend from the stands to the chutes.
“We are going to check symptoms, temperatures, ask the questions to make sure everyone’s safe, wear masks when possible,” said Gray. “High-touch areas, we’re going to do our best to keep them sanitized and make sure we’re not breathing on anybody more than we have to.”
Gray said for them holding an event, and doing it safely is necessary.
“It’s the announcers, the rodeo clowns, the stock contractors, the bull fighters – these guys make a living going up and down the road as contract labor – we could go on all day about what it takes to put on a rodeo and they’re counting on this as well,” said Gray.
Still, they hope their event will pave the way for others.
“It’s not about risk-taking, it’s not about taking a stand, I hope everybody can still do their rodeos safely,” Gray said. “I’m just excited, I hope for everyone’s sake we do well and this rodeo will go off without any incident and safely, and others can go behind us to make sure they can go on as well.”
For a list of events in the PRCA circuit, click HERE.