Rodeo of the Ozarks robin’ fans in young – The Free Weekly


BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
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If parents play their cards right, they can start their kids on a lifelong adventure, courtesy of the Rodeo of the Ozarks.

The 77th edition of the rodeo is scheduled June 22-25 at Parsons Stadium in Springdale. Founded in 1944, the rodeo should be 78 but canceled the 2020 performances due to covid-19 concerns. It’s back this year with some old favorites and some new entertainment, much of it focused on corralling the next generation.

“Many of the people who come don’t know rodeo,” admits Rick Culver, executive director. “It’s just entertainment. So we’ve had to change the way we think. They might not know any of the cowboys — or they might know all of them; we’ve still got the hardcore cowboys and spectators. But probably 80 percent of our audience is coming to be entertained.

“And bringing the kids in is everything.”

To that end, the Rodeo of the Ozarks hosted a two-day horse camp the first weekend in June. Now in its second year, the camp invited youngsters to come and learn all about horses and ride one at the end — and it was booked solid, with all 160 spots reserved in about six hours.

“Lots of kids have never had the chance to learn about horses,” Culver says. “This isn’t a farm community like it was. Everybody doesn’t own horses like they did 40 or 50 years ago.”

Beginning June 22, youngsters who missed horse camp can take their turns in the saddle starting at 5:30 pm every day when the rodeo gates open. Connie Boger will have her pony rides set up — and she hopes to do some teaching at the same time as providing pre-show fun.

Connie and her husband, the late rodeo clown Bunky Boger, traveled the United States with as many as four semi truck-and trailer combinations, first going to rodeos and later bringing petting zoos and pony rides to fairs from Boise, Idaho, to Roswell, NM, and Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska to the territory of Puerto Rico. While covid-19 keep all those events shuttered in 2020, she even put up a 40-by-60 foot tent, created a Facebook page, made new signs with Arkansas farm facts, and opened a petting zoo and pony rides at her ranch near Hickory Creek Park on Beaver Lake.

“These are things I think kids need to see and do and know,” Boger says of interaction with the animals. “So many people have never seen a sheep or a goat or a pot-bellied pig. They need to — and I want them to!” And if she can’t do that at the rodeo, she can at least introduce kids to Shetland ponies and her mantra that it’s “important for kids to be able to touch an animal and appreciate animals and understand we’re all part of the cycle of agriculture.”

Pony rides will cost $7, and Boger says the age of the riders matters less than their size. “I try not to make the ponies carry more than 70 pounds.”

The next offering for kids is the long-popular Mutton Bustin’, which allows youngsters 4 to 7 years old to take their turns riding a sheep. It’s a huge attraction, Culver says, with 30 kids a night mounting their woolly steeds. Even the ones who are nervous and don’t ride this year will almost certainly come back next year, Culver says, and some will stay on “as long as the sheep will let them or until we ask them to get off.”

There are also “Wild Horse Races” with “bouncy horses” for those who don’t want to ride a sheep, and older girls can set their sights on becoming part of the Rodeo of the Ozarks Rounders, an elite drill team on horseback, or competing for the title of Miss Rodeo of the Ozarks or, new this year, Junior Miss Rodeo of the Ozarks.

Next to last but not least, this year’s entertainment act is Tim “Wild Thang” Lepard and TeamGhostRiders from Pontotoc, Miss., which brings to the arena trained Capuchin monkeys who ride dogs — “and everybody loves that,” Culver says. And finally, the free Rodeo of the Ozarks Parade rolls down Emma Avenue west from Parsons Stadium at 3 pm June 25.

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FAQ

Rodeo of the Ozarks

WHEN — Gates open at 5:30 pm June 22-25; youth events begin at 6 pm; grand entry is at 6:30 pm

WHERE — Parsons Stadium in Springdale

COST — $10-$40

INFO — 756-0464, rodeoftheozarks.org

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