If you really want to experience a piece of Kansas, go to a Rodeo. The sport is unique because it has its roots in real work required of cowboys on the job. It gives you a taste of our history with all of the modern excitement and showmanship of any professional competition.
In Kansas, the life of the typical cowboy has always been a little wild and free. Cowboys first made their mark on the state by driving cattle through the open range. They would spend months on dusty trails, driving literally millions of wild Texas Longhorn north to railroad lines in places like Abilene, Wichita and Dodge City. It was a dangerous job, and the tough, independent reputation of a successful cowboy was well earned.
As the land was fenced and tamed, Kansas cowboys took their skills to working ranches sprawling over thousands of acres of prairie lands prime for raising cattle. The work of the cowboy became a source of pride which has carried to this day. Ranching and farming has changed through the years in Kansas, but the freedom of the work, the independence and the skill needed to get the job done remains the same.
The original rodeo events were little more than friendly competitions between neighboring ranches. The race to see “whose hands could handle the job best” was a way to build community and pride in the profession. Buffalo Bill Cody, who took his famous nickname from his time in Kansas, is said to have put together the first organized rodeo competitions. He contributed the showmanship that made him so famous to the events.
These days there are rodeos of all sizes that can be found across the state. They include barrel racing, bull riding, calf roping and some of the biggest take place in the summer months. The oldest consecutive rodeo in the state “The Flint Hills Rodeo” took place in early June, but you still have a chance to make it to one of the other big ones.
The state’s “Largest Night Rodeo” in Pretty Prairie will be July 20 – 23. I went to this one years ago. It was a lot of fun, and one of my favorite memories of living in that part of the state.
You could head up to Phillipsburg in the Northwest part of the state for “Kansas Biggest Rodeo” on August 4, 5 & 6. This even features 500 competitors and $100,000 in prize money.
In southwest Kansas, The Dodge City Roundup Rodeo will be held August 3 to 7.Or if you want to wait until fall, try the Kansas Championship Ranch Rodeo in Medicine Lodge. A ranch rodeo is slightly different from a PCRA rodeo with events that try to more closely match the actual work done on ranches. The Kansas Championship will be held September 23 & 24 in conjunction with the town’s Peace Treaty Pageant.
When you attend a rodeo, the sights and smells outside the arena are as much of a part of the experience as the competition in the dirt below. If you go, I can guarantee you that you won’t forget the experience.
What do you like best about a Kansas rodeo?
Karen Ridder is a freelance writer living in Topeka. A former News Producer for KSNW-TV in Wichita, her work can also been seen in print publications including: Topeka Magazine, TK Magazine and the Topeka Capital-Journal. She has written for several national blogs and was recently recognized as one of the 2011 winners in the Annual Kansas Factual Story Contest. Karen has lived in Kansas for 15 years and married a native Wichitan. Together they are raising two little sunflower boys and a dog named George.