Article and photos by Ethan Nahté
The Polk County Rodeo lets loose the reins for their 70th anniversary.
Polk County Rodeo Chairman Wendy Strother said, “This is my 35th year to do the rodeo. I’m Rodeo Chairman, ever since Gene Ross passed away. Gene and I worked together on doing the rodeo for 35 years.”
Announcer Wes Ward is also back in the saddle… or announcer’s booth, this year. He’s been calling the Polk County Rodeo ever since Doug Williams retired.
Rodeo and pre-rodeo events
This year, the main events will begin at 8:30 p.m., Aug. 11-12 at the Andy Risenhoover Arena. That being said, there is plenty more going on prior to the rodeo, and a few new things during the rodeo.
First off, Friday at 9 a.m. is the Handicapable Rodeo at the Polk County Fairgrounds. If you’ve never attended, either to participate or simply to watch, you’re missing out. The smiles that light up on so many faces when riding a horse, practice roping, doing the hayride and more will make you smile.
Strother said, “It’s free to any participant and anyone who wants to come out and watch. This will be our 22nd year to do the handi-capable rodeo for the mentally and physically challenged. We say Polk County but we take them from Howard and Sevier counties, and whoever wants to come.”
Strother had a son born with hydrocephalus, whom she lost. “The handi-capable rodeo holds a special place in my heart. We’re told some of the participants don’t ever talk or smile. Then when they are around the horses, it opens them up to a new world. They begin to smile or talk.
“They look forward to it every year. I see those who come to the handi-capable rodeo around town and they’ll see me and ask when will the rodeo come around this year. They get excited.
“We appreciate all the volunteers and sponsors for helping make the event a success.
Friday night is also Senior Citizens’ Night for those 65 and older. They get the discounted rate of $4 to enter.
Saturday night the royalty winners will be introduced to the crowd.
For both Friday and Saturday evening, the Mutton Bustin’ starts at 7:30. Contestants need to be signed in by 7:15. It’s for anyone 60 pounds or less.
Also occurring both nights is the junior barrels for ages 18 and under. Contestants enter when they arrive.
Many vendors will be returning this year, as well as a couple of new vendors. Strother welcomes the crowd to come out and shop early for western decor, caps and hats, jewelry, purses, art and more.
“This is the 70th annual Polk County Rodeo,” Strother said. “It’s a milestone for us. Just for that, we’ll be giving away door prizes both nights. There will be 8 to 10 door prizes for things such as Cinch jean certificates, local eateries, haircuts and more. If you pay to get in the gate, you’ll be eligible to win.”
It’s not all adults getting in on the fun. Besides Mutton Bustin’, the kids can participate in the nightly money scrambles for cash. One scramble will be for ages 6 and under. There will also be a scramble for ages 7-12.
“Something new this year we’re going to do is called the Money the Hard Way for the Ladies,” Strother said. “Women 18 and older can participate. We’ll be tying a ribbon around a wild pony’s neck. The first lady to get the ribbon successfully off the neck and get back to the [finish line] will win $50. They have to have a piece of ribbon in their hand.”
“Another new event for us is a Cowboy/Cowgirl Rescue Race. It will be a team of two people. One person will be on horseback at one end of the arena while the other person will be at the other end of the arena. The person on horseback will race to the other end, pick up their partner and race back. This will be a timed race.”
The race seems similar to a barrel pick-up race, but Strother was not certain if a barrel will be involved or not at this point.
What else will be new this year? If you saw the poster for this year’s rodeo, you might have noticed the Coors logo. “For the first time, you’ll be able to buy cold beer at the rodeo. We have a temporary permit.” You will need to present a valid I.D. to purchase alcohol.
The Polk County Professional Championship Rodeo belongs to various rodeo associations such as CRRA, ARA, ACRA, and UPRA. If an entrant belonging to one of those associations competes, any points they might win goes to the association.
“You don’t have to have all those cards, but you have to have a at least one,” Strother said. “The amount of prize money available per event determines how many entries we allow. If they win any event, they get one point per dollar. How much they win at the end of the year determines what position they go in for the finals.
“We’re one of the last rodeos of the season, so the competition gets tough. They are working to qualify for the end-of-the-year finals. A lot of times we get contestants who are at the borderline, maybe in 16th or 17th place, trying to burst that bubble to make it into the Top 15. They’ll come participate in our rodeo to try to qualify for the finals.”
Although there are competitors from Polk and surrounding counties, Strother said that they get many competitors from the surrounding states, as well. “They’ll be from Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. The American Cowboys Rodeo Association (ACRA) is around Siloam Springs, so card holders from the states around northern Arkansas show up.
“Since it’s our local Polk County Rodeo, we’ll take locals who are part of one of the organizations. We do have some locals with one of the associations that have their card. They have to present that and let us know. Otherwise, they are just riding for the money.”
The rodeo is also open to those who are not a part of any of the associations. This could be their chance to qualify.
“If they win money here, enough that they feel they could do well, they can buy their card here and compete in the rest of the events in the season to make it to the finals.”
Entrance fees are $7 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and 5 and under get in for free. That money and money taken in at the concession stand helps support the rodeo. Strother emphasized the importance of the monies raised with concessions. “What people might not understand is it takes a lot to put on the rodeo, especially getting quality stock for the contestants. What we make at the concession stand helps us bring in the rodeo each year. When they buy anything from us — burgers or drinks — it goes right back in to pay for the rodeo.”
That stock comes from Wing Rodeo Co. out of Bogata in northwest Texas. “Wing Rodeo has been with us since this thing started,” Strother said. “They do such a great job. They have award-winning stock in all of these award-winning associations we are associated with. They take their stock to the finals.”
“In addition, without all our dedicated sponsors the Polk County Rodeo would not be possible and the Polk County Fair and Rodeo Association appreciates each and everyone them.”