Story last updated at 11:22 a.m. Thursday, July 11, 2002

Crowd saddles up to rodeo
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Melissa Fowler, top, stays on a spunky steer during the junior bull-riding competition Satuday.  
A record number of cowboys and cowgirls turned out for a wild weekend of ridin', ropin' and racin' last weekend at the 42nd annual Peninsula Horseman's Association Rodeo in Ninilchik.

Lindsey Blaine of Anchor Point, one of the event organizers, said about 100 contestants showed up from around the Kenai Peninsula and beyond to participate in the long-running community rodeo.

Among the highlights of the weekend of bull-riding, barrel-racing and the occasional act of buffoonery was a dream-like ride for junior bull-rider Melissa Fowler, who kept herself attached to a particularly spunky steer for so long, her ride seemed to give up before she did.

"She had a fabulous ride, said Blaine. "That was one of the best rides I've seen in years."

Also noteworthy were some white-knuckle speeds in the barrel-racing competition. The top riders sped through the ring, rounding three barrels in times under 17 seconds.

Blaine said, however, that the adult age group had better watch their backs, since times in many of the junior events were nearly as low.

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Barrel-racer Susan Pretzman and her ride fly around a barrel to take third in the tight competition.  
"We had some really good times," she said. "In the next couple years, some of those riders will be moving up into the older category."

Many of the events are aimed at helping young riders hone their skills. Steer daubing, Blaine said, is one such example. A training ground for roping, the event has young contestants chase a steer with a stick dipped in mustard.

"The young riders get out there and get lots of practice," she said.

In recent years, riding and rodeo events seem to be growing in popularity on the peninsula, Blaine said.

"It sort of goes in cycles and, really, what we are seeing right now is the up cycle. There are younger kids getting into it who will keep it going strong for a few years," she said.

Riders of all ages have more and more opportunities to show their skill and talent these days with a circuit of rodeos throughout the summer. The Ninilchik rodeo is one of a four-part series in which participants gather points during consecutive competitions, and the results are eventually tallied for an overall winner.

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Roper Armondo Ibarria of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, entertains the crowd at last week's rodeo.  
But while the Ninilchik rodeo is serious competition, there is a fun, family side emphasized, Blaine said, that goes back to the rodeo's earlier days.

Starting in Happy Valley, the event used to be the only rodeo on the peninsula, Blaine said. Several years ago, the event had to move because the land used for it was sold. Rodeo coordinators worked out a deal with the Ninilchik fairgrounds, and though some longtime participants miss the old stomping grounds, up and coming riders are happy about the enhanced facilities, Blaine said.

"It's still has that family fun involvement that you just don't find anywhere else," Blaine said. "It's one of the rodeos that nobody misses (coming to)."

The rodeo is typically held the weekend before or after the Fourth of July and is also a celebration for the patriotic crowd. This year, young riders started the event with a tribute to those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I think that started it off right," she said.

Blaine said the entire show wouldn't have been possible, however, without the help of all the volunteers that begin planning the big event months in advance.

"The whole rodeo's put on by volunteers," she said. "It takes lots of help."