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94th Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo starts with a red, white and blue flourish

A skydiver floats down with the flag to start the rodeo. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event gets off to a strong start in Cortez

If there’s any question about the full decibel range of a few thousand people, it can be answered in the rodeo arena.

From the reverent stillness when the national anthem is sung and when the announcer offers a solemn prayer, to the deafening roar that greets a qualifying ride, and back down to the tense hush after a bad fall, the 94th Ute Mountain Roundup had it all.

Day 1

The rodeo started with flare as a skydiver dropped into the arena Thursday at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds carrying the United States flag. As he drifted into view beneath the grandstand cover, fans erupted in shouts and applause. When the skydiver landed safely, a team of volunteers rushed the landing site to lift Old Glory off the ground.

Shortly after, EMTs and members of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Officer were recognized for heroism.

On top of the professional rodeo competition, fans enjoyed less formal rodeo events, including the stick horse race, mutton busting, and a race that rodeo clown Matt Merritt called “The Cycle of Life,” which involved five fathers from the audience rolling, crawling, then running in the arena.

Evandrus Wells hangs on for his mutton busting ride Thursday night at the Ute Mountain Roundup in the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. Sam Green/Special to The Journal
Audience members compete Thursday in a race that Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo clown Matt Merritt called “The Cycle of Life.” (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)

It was a banner night for bareback bronc rider Bailey Small of Rock Springs, Wyoming, who tied for first place with an 82-point ride on Rockin’ Cotton.

“A lot of people look at (bronc riding) like it’s a fistfight almost, but really you’re in a dance with the bucking horse, and I think that’s a lot of fun,” Small told The Journal.

Lindsey Rosser-Sumpter, head rodeo coach at Otero College in La Junta and breakaway roping competitor in this year’s Ute Mountain Roundup, also spoke about the artistry of rodeo.

“(Breakaway roping) is an awesome event, right? I mean the calf comes out of the chute, a cowgirl on a fast horse stops, ropes the calf and the calf runs away, so the calf always wins,” she said.

Breakaway roping has become more popular in the past five to eight years, according to Rosser-Sumpter. She is also the commissioner of Rodeo Women’s World Championship, the largest all-female rodeo in the world. She said the most important issue for female rodeo athletes right now is making sure the money is even across the board for men’s and women’s events.

The backstage work of hosting the Ute Mountain Roundup includes dozens of volunteers and contractors.

“We’ve got a committee that is just second to none,” said Bentley Colbert, chairman of the Rodeo Committee. “We all come together, and we all have a job and everybody does their job well.”

Colbert was quick to recognize who he calls the “production people” for the rodeo, including Walton Scoreboards, Powder River Rodeo LLC, which provided the stock, and rodeo clown Matt Merritt, announcer Jody Carper and trick rider Jessica Blair.

“It’s like putting on a TV show, it is a production,” he said.