On Thursday night, the Montezuma County fairgrounds were alight with excitement as members of the community headed to the grandstands in anticipation of the first night of the Ute Mountain Roundup rodeo.
Children excitedly pointed out the cattle and horses awaiting their turn in the arena, while others greeted friends and family in their best western gear.
You would be hard-pressed to find a head missing the adornment of a cowboy hat, and cowboy and cowgirl boots were in abundance.
Young cowboys and cowgirls signed up for the mutton busting, and rodeo’s Wright brothers signed autographs as the time ticked closer to when the events would officially kick off.
Each day, the Roundup has a different theme, and Thursday night was in honor of first responders, many of whom are involved in the rodeo in some capacity.
Devonne Kingery, who is on the rodeo committee, is an teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School and a first responder. Her husband is an emergency medical technician.
At the high school, she teaches fire and EMS classes and works on the ambulance at Southwest Memorial Hospital in her spare time.
“First responders are near and dear to my heart,” Kingery said. “I myself am a first responder and have been in the industry for probably 18 or 19 years, 11 in Montezuma County. My husband is also a first responder, so it is kind of in the family.”
Kingery said she loves the rodeo and the rodeo atmosphere. When she worked as an EMT on the rodeo ambulance, she said it was a special way to stay involved in the rodeo while doing what she loves as a first responder.
“It’s kind of how I would stay in touch with the rodeo. I’ve never gotten to compete in rodeo myself, but I would always work the rodeo events. I just loved being around it,” she said.
To her, being a first responder is being able to care for people and give back to the community she lives in.
“It’s like having a second family,” she said.
She said being part of the rodeo as a first responder made her want to be more involved in the event, which helped her decide to become part of the rodeo committee.
“Being out here for all the rodeos on the ambulance and seeing what they do made me want to be part of it,” Kingery said.
Having a night that honors first responders and the sacrifices they make is something very special, Kingery.
“We’re actually a very humble type of people,” she laughed. But, we do spend more time with the crews that we work with than we are at home. I mean, we work 24-hour shifts. So, it is nice to be recognized.”
“They really do rely on first responders in this rural community,” she continued. “Sometimes it takes 45 minutes to get a patient from home to the hospital. ... People don’t often realize how stressful of a job it is, not just for the responder, but their families too. It takes a special kind of person to be a first responder.”
Once the rodeo began at 7 p.m., a video compilation played giving honor to first responders and the work they do, and a firetruck drove through the arena. Firefighters who stood outside the truck were met with a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd.
The rodeo announcer said first responders are “heroes who protect our freedom” and reminded those in attendance that their sacrifices help keep us free and safe.
“They risk their lives for those they protect, they face their fears every day,” he said. “They’re 24/7; they’re real heroes!”
“These are our hometown heroes,” he said.
The rodeo continues at 7 p.m. Friday at Montezuma County Fairgrounds, with the nightly theme “Remembering Our Western Heritage.” On Saturday, the Ute Mountain Roundup parade starts at 1 p.m. on Montezuma Avenue, and rodeo action concludes while honoring the military.