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Story last updated at 4:00 PM on Wednesday, July 4, 2012

NINILCHIK RODEO: 52 years and still going strong

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Homer was royally represented at the Ninilchik Rodeo over the weekend, with Andrea Ardenia, left, reigning as Little Miss Rodeo and Melanie Mastollier crowned Miss Rodeo. Both young women are from Homer.

Grab your hats and put on your boots, cowboys and cowgirls. It's rodeo time at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair rodeo arena in Ninilchik.

Rodeoing on the peninsula began in Ninilchik in 1960, moved to Happy Valley for a few years, but then returned to Ninilchik. The 52-year-old event continues to offer fun for spectators and thrills for participants every July. This year's rodeo is Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 1 p.m.; the Grand Entry is at 2 p.m. Admission is $8 adults, $5 for ages 7-12; free for six and younger.

A much anticipated change is underway that will make spectators more comfortable while watching the action in the arena: replacement of the old wooden bleachers. New bleachers are ordered, with some temporary bleachers in place. Once the new bleachers arrive, the temporary ones will be used for spectators of the Kenai Peninsula State Fair pig races, said Shirley Cox, rodeo organizer.

Also new are Frostbite and Snubbing Post, a couple of "pretty fancy bucking bulls" Cox recently brought to the peninsula.

Bringing bulls to Alaska is no small thing, as Cox's recent experience illustrates. She bought four bulls in Idaho and hauled them to the ranch she and her husband, Barry, have in Willowa, Ore. The bulls had to pass specific blood tests to get into Canada so they could be brought to Alaska.

Assuming everything would be fine, Cox was surprised when the bulls didn't pass the tests.

"We had to haul them to the sale barn and took quite a beating on the price," she said.

With her schedule to get from Oregon to the peninsula pushing things along, Cox left Oregon and made a 500-mile side trip to pick up replacements for the bulls she'd lost. She arrived, assuming the blood work had been done and everything was in order.

"They informed us the bulls had not passed their tests either," said Cox of the disheartening news she received upon her arrival.

"So there we were, stuck in Canada ... and needing to get home (to the peninsula). ... So we came home without them."

To make matters worse, thinking she would have her trailer filled with bulls, Cox had paid someone else to bring three horses from Oregon to Alaska. A couple days after Cox arrived on the peninsula, she received word one of the horses had become sick and died in Canada.

"This was the trip from hell," said Cox.

Trials and tribulations of this magnitude make Frostbite and Snubbing Post "like gold" for having arrived safely, said Cox. The four-year-old bulls are a Brahma cross and are "pretty cool looking bulls. Pretty feisty. They're getting a little better now that they're settling in, but the first few days we had them here, they were scary," said Cox.

Saturday's Grand Entry is a good way for spectators to see the cowboys and cowgirls before the action begins. Leading the Grand Entry will be Rodeo Queen Melanie Mastolier of Homer and Little Miss Rodeo Andrea Ardenia, also of Homer.

Also in the Grand Entry will be representatives of the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization whose mission is to honor and empower wounded military service members.

"We're going to involve them quite extensively," said Cox.

A dollar of each rodeo admission goes toward medical expenses for Steven Kitson, 17, of Sterling. Kitson was helping with cleanup after last weekend's Great Alaska Horse Expo in Ninilchik when he fell off a four-wheeler. His injuries required him to be flown to Anchorage for medical treatment.

"It was real scary for awhile, but he's very much on the mend," Cox told the Homer News on Sunday.

Public parking for this year's rodeo will be on the opposite side of the Sterling Highway and in the Catholic Church parking lot.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at