Forty children got a chance to enter a rodeo arena Thursday during a debut event at the Four States Ag Expo at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.
The Ag-ceptional Rodeo gives local youths the chance to learn how to rope, ride and barrel race in a safe environment.
Kids stormed the equestrian arena to ride replica bucking horses with instruction from local cowboys, including how to safely get bucked off into the soft dirt.
They ran excitedly with broom horses through the barrel course, and were given instruction on roping and goat-tying.
“My son is familiar with the ranching lifestyle, so this event gives him the chance to be a superstar and show off what he knows,” says Kellie Willis. “He’s having a lot of fun.”
Other children were experiencing hands-on rodeo events for the first time.
“I’m trying!” shrieked Eve, a beginner roper with a strong toss. “Look out!”
A blind child cautiously petted the goats, and got the sensation of being pulled on a sled through the barn.
“It’s definitely different for him, and takes him out of his usual element,” said his dad, whose recently moved to Cortez. “He’s excited. We were so glad to hear this was going on.”
Guadalupe Rodriguez, a paraprofessional at Manaugh Elementary School, said the program allows kids to play and be themselves without being judged by passersby for occasional behavior issues.
“They are let loose and get to enjoy some freedom, interact with other kids and enjoy new things,” Rodriguez said. “These kids are smarter than most people think, and pick up on things others miss. Look at them help each other. I wish the public could see the joy on their faces.”
There is a connection between the challenges of the agricultural trades and the obstacles the youths face, one teacher said as she assisted her students.
“They both have to work hard and face their situation,” she said. “I think these volunteer cowboys working with the kids appreciate that.”
The event was modeled after the Exceptional Rodeo, an initiative of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association that guides kids with special needs on ranching adventures.
Spark Reed, president of the Four States Ag Expo board, guided a shy student through the barrel races, riding a broom horse alongside him and sharing a laugh.
“We want to do this every year now,” Reed said. “These kids are having so much fun, it helps with their agility, and helps them learn. We’re really proud of them and the community that came together to donate for the event.”
The two-hour rodeo romp flew by in what seemed like minutes. The new group of beaming friends were awarded ribbons and stylish pink or white cowboy hats, then rode off together on a horse carriage under the sunny sky.