The unassuming town of Elizabeth, Colorado is proud of hosting a rodeo voted “Best Small Rodeo of the Year” by competitors in the Mountain States Circuit eight times over the last 10 years. It appears word of mouth is really getting around to the cowboys and cowgirls, as nearly 100 of the 287 contestants in the three PRCA rodeos and slack over the weekend were former World Champions, NFR participants, or Circuit Finals challengers. One of those former PRCA World Champions was Kelly Timberman, and it’s safe to say the Wyoming bareback cowboy praises the scenic venue to his peers on a regular basis.
“This is one of my favorite rodeos,” began Timberman about the contest occurring annually over the first weekend of June. “I like the setting; it’s in the trees and it’s nice. It’s just one of these rodeos that all of us guys, especially the circuit guys, look forward to coming to. It’s close to home, it has good stock, it pays well, and it’s just a good atmosphere,” he continued while readying for his performance before a fine crowd on Sunday afternoon. “Having good stock on top of the committee working hard to increase the purse every year is a big bonus. Hats off to the committee for doing all that for us and bringing a good stock contractor, too. It makes a good rodeo.”
That stock contractor is Hal Burns, whose Burns Rodeo Company has been bringing high-flying roughstock to the event for 20 years. Burns is often associated with big rodeos and annually takes a number of bucking beasts to the NFR. When asked his opinion before Sunday’s last performance, he had nothing but praise for the 2008 Elizabeth Stampede.
“Saturday afternoon was the biggest Saturday afternoon crowd in its history,” said the experienced contractor. “They added new bleachers here (Saturday) night and sold it out. I thought (Saturday) night’s rodeo was as good a rodeo as we’ve ever put on here, and looking at the caliber of the cowboys and the amount of entries we’ve had here (Sunday), it looks good,” he added with enthusiasm. “Some places you get a little short of cowboys, but they come back to Elizabeth – they like to come to Elizabeth. It’s a good setting and the committee is top notch. The committee goes out of their way to take care of the contestants. That’s why we have world champions here and that’s why we have NFR cowboys here.”
There are not only NFR cowboys in attendance, there are also rising stars making appearances and loving every minute of it. New Mexico bull rider Spud Jones, a young Native American cowboy who grabbed first place at the 2008 National Western Stock Show rodeo, showed up in Elizabeth for the first time on Sunday afternoon and promptly put up 80 points on a Burns bull named Skunk Works. Catching up with the lanky competitor afterwards, Jones complimented the small town contest.
“This is my first year coming here and it’s really beautiful,” said Jones. “It’s a nice arena, a nice set up and everything. The rodeo is good, the hospitality is nice, and the people are nice. I’m coming back next year for sure.”
Even cowboys from the home state chimed in about competing in Elizabeth.
“Yeah, I kind of like Elizabeth,” began Heath Ford, a Colorado bareback rider and multiple NFR qualifier. “Shoot, I’ve been coming here since I was 10 years old. It’s a good place to be. It’s nice and cool here. I’ve just come from some rodeos in New Mexico and Kansas that were hot and blowing wind, so this is a pretty good break.” His break became even better when he piled up 80+ points in front of a cheering multitude shortly after making his comments.
“I enjoy the Stampede,” agreed Ross Kleven, a bull rider from nearby Westminster, Colo., after compiling 74 points in front of the record Saturday afternoon crowd. “It’s one of the better rodeos to come to. They always take care of us in the contestant hospitality tent and there is always a bunch of good people ready to help you out around here. I like this rodeo a lot.”
“We very much appreciate all the praise from the contestants,” said Norm Almquist, President of the Elizabeth Stampede. “Our fans, contestants, vendors, our sponsors … these are our guests, and we’re trying to treat them like they are our guests.”
Despite all the glowing reviews from contestants of every discipline, Almquist is most proud of the contributions his rodeo makes to the local community.
“Support of the community is really important to us,” said Almquist. “We support our local kids and the town. We have charities that we’re supporting – the two breast cancer charities (Renee’s Friends Fund and Lancaster’s Barrel Race for the Cure) – and the local charities as well. We can’t be any prouder of doing the Red, White, and Blue rodeo to support our military on Sunday afternoon,” he added with conviction. “That’s what we’re about and that’s the things that mean a lot to us.”
While Stampede organizers may be all about the community, they and an army of volunteers do a pretty good job on the rodeo, too. Friday night witnessed the PBR rolling into town for the first time with its Enterprise Rent-A-Car Tour in front of a record-breaking crowd of over 2,200 energetic fans. Home state and well-known bull riding cowboy, Jarrod Ford, got them cheering even louder when he made the short-go with an 80+ point ride. Hearing about the smiles on everyone’s faces afterwards, it appears the PBR will be bucking its way back to town in future years.
“I thought the format was good,” was Burns’ opinion about Friday night’s action. “We were absolutely sold out. We bucked 50 bulls here and had some 90-point rides. It was a big time deal.”
With large throngs and gorgeous weather spilling over to the rest of the weekend, the Elizabeth rodeo continued its big-time action featuring recognizable names and crowd-pleasing performances. When he was told Sunday the lineup of contestants looked more like a National Western Stock Show performance than a small rodeo, Burns allowed himself a big laugh before replying.
“Well, I’m going to be real disappointed if it isn’t better than the National Western,” he yelled over his shoulder as he walked back toward the bucking chutes, still laughing and smiling.
It is exactly that attitude, multiplied by about 150 committed volunteers, that is behind the Elizabeth Stampede winning multiple awards as the best small rodeo in the Mountain States Circuit. It could be argued it is the best small rodeo in the country. After all… almost 100 World Champions, NFR contestants, and Circuit Finals participants can’t be wrong.