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Rodeo offers fans an exciting final giddy up

With clear blue skies, warm sunshine and a steady temperature of about 67 degrees, La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros, more commonly known as the Tucson Rodeo, started off this Saturday with a more successful start than last weekend when only die-heart rodeo fans were brave enough to stick it out through the rain. 

Parking lots were full of cars to the point where fans had to park in nearby lots or neighborhoods. The rodeo grounds were chock-full of attendees, security and staff.

Excited spectators packed the stands, leaving little room to sit. Many ate hot corn, fry bread, hotdogs, tacos, cotton candy and other rodeo treats. 

Among adults, silver Coors beer cans were not short in supply, as they were permitted to drink in the stands, so long as they did so “responsibly.” 

This Saturday, gates opened at 11 a.m. with Ram Mutton Bustin’ and Junior Rodeo events going from 12:30-2 p.m., pro rodeo events continued from 2-4:30 p.m. and the Coors Barn Dance closed the event, holding out until 8 p.m.

Events in the pro rodeo competition included bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronco riding, tie down roping, barrel racing and bull riding, with bits of wild west entertainment sprinkled in between. 

Pistol Preece, 20, a bull riding competitor who came from Troy, Texas, managed to score a whopping 84.5 points, qualifying him for the final round on Sunday. 

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“Today’s rodeo was pretty good, I made some money,” Preece said smiling and referencing his win of $679. “I’m a fourth-generation rider. I’ve been at this a long, long time. I put a lot of hard work into it during the week, trying to train my mind to focus so I’m ready for anything. I know a lot of guys get amped up or nervous, but my adrenaline just gets going and I have fun.”

Between the competitive events, a bumbling rodeo Spiderman, bullfighters and sing-along music like “Sweet Caroline” entertained audience members of all ages, but the event that stood out for 37-year-old Eva Savin and her 2-year-old daughter, Hazel, was the women’s barrel racing. 

“She loves the horses, and the barrel racing was her favorite,” said Savin, showing her daughter horses through a fence outside the stadium. “I had to lie to her when that one girl fell down, because she didn’t see her get back up. She started crying and I told her the next girl riding was the same girl, and then she was fine.” 

Savin, in her story, was recounting when barrel racer Callie Van Tassell’s horse lost its balance, sending her to the ground.  Van Tassell had to walk along the stadium without her horse, but Wayne Brooks, the Pro Rodeo announcer, managed to get the audience to applaud her twice for her efforts.

Vendors at the rodeo were more optimistic this Saturday, displaying their wares to eager customers stopping by for souvenirs ranging from leather boots, pins and apparel to food and drink. 

Emie Theriot, owner of Pink Lasso, hosted a bright-pink booth on the rodeo grounds, selling cowgirl apparel, ropes and horse-shoe art. She said that sales had went well that day, largely in part to the weather, because she didn’t have to fight the elements to keep her store up. 

“The weather [last Saturday] was really bad, my booth didn’t make it through because the wind hit my booth and broke one leg,” said Theriot, “The attendance was a lot lower, from my understanding, because of the weather. Today was great, though. They said it was a sold-out crowd.”

Jayme Pribula, a 19-year-old studying nutritional science at the UA, said the rodeo was something she and her friend, Malic Boyer, had been coming for three or four years independently, starting out of high school. 

“We’re dedicated to it, ever since I’ve been a kid, we’d have that half of a week off,” Pribula said. “It’s a fun culture to be around. I grew up in Tucson, so at our high school we’d have Country Thunder, ... a remake of it, and do country dancing.” 

RELATED: Rain fails to steal Tucson Rodeo's thunder

Boyer, a 20-year-old also studying nutritional science at the UA, said bull riding was her favorite event. 

She loved how friendly everyone was, no matter where she and Pribula were.

“We were talking to random people in the stands and even at the Coors Barn. Everyone was really friendly,” Boyer said. “Two guys taught me how to dance. I didn’t know how and they were like ‘don’t worry, we’ll teach it to you.’ It’s nice because it’s not creepy, like other parties.” 

Both students also said the guys were more polite, thanking them after a dance, and shaking hands with them. 

As the sun went down over the rodeo grounds, families and cowboys alike shuffled out, making last-minute stops at booths and animal pens. Footloose could be heard coming from the Coors Barn where couples, families and event hosts danced together to a live band.

For Saturday’s results, the top first-round winners and final qualifiers in the bareback riding category were with Mason Clements from Santaquin, Utah and Austin Foss, from Terrebonne, Oregon, at 85 points for $3,956. 

For steer wrestling, the top second-round winner and final qualifer was Calder Johnson from Elm Springs, South Dakota, for 4.1 points and $2,923, and in saddle bronc riding, it was Shade Etbauer from Goodwell, Oklahoma, at 86.5 points for $3,042. 

In team roping, the top winning final qualifying team managed to achieve their goal in 6.1 points for $3608, and consisted of Travis Tryan from Billings, Missouri, Chase Tryan from Helena, Missouri, and J.B. James Jr. and Brock Hanson from Bennett, Colorado.

When it came down to tie-roping, the top first-round winner and final qualifier was Trent Creager, from Stillwater, Oklahoma, with a time of 9.1 points for $4,180, and in women’s barrel racing it was Megan McLeod-Sprague from Marsing, Idaho at 17.4 points for $4,080. 

Finally, in bull riding, Brennon Eldred, from Sulpher, Oklahoma, managed to be the top first-round winner and final qualifier, holding on for 90.5 points, and winning $3,334. 

Details of Saturday’s results and winners, as well as Sunday’s, can be seen at the Tucson Rodeo’s website, underneath the results tab, or at tucsonrodeo.com/contestantslresults.html.

La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros, is a tradition that began in 1925. It is one of the top-25 professional rodeos in North America and brings in around 11,000 fans a day. 

It will return next year in February and is typically hosted from Feb. 20-28, with the Tucson Rodeo Parade falling on Feb. 25.


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