Southern Utah Amateur Rodeos
People unfamiliar with America’s rural West might be under the impression that rodeos are just a relic from the region’s wild cowboy days of yore. But in Southern Utah, these competitions are still alive and well. In fact, for some families, the rodeo is the main sport of choice, and preparing for rodeo events is a way of life.
Children start to train for them as soon as they can cling on to a saddle horn, and when they grow older, they star on their high school and college rodeo teams. Each summer there are amateur rodeos held across the region that showcase local talent in county fairs and festivals. These events are a fun and exciting way to experience some of the west’s unique lifestyle and traditions.
The art of the rodeo was largely brought to Utah by the Mormon pioneers, who settled in the area during the mid to late-1800s. After being ousted from Nauvoo, Illinois, people from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) sought out new homes, and many ended up homesteading in Southern Utah’s high desert. They worked the land as farmers and ranchers, and used horses to herd their cattle (cowboy style).
Today’s competitions entail several events based on the skills that “cowboy-ing” would require, and test the competitor’s ability and agility on a horse (though rodeos often include events that focus on other livestock as well). Popular rounds in a rodeo competition include steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing, bull riding and, last but not least, bronc riding, in which the participant attempts to stay on a horse that has a known penchant for bucking its rider off. This last event is often thought of as the gold standard in rodeo, and is one of the most fun to watch.
Come summer — when you just might be splashing in the Virgin River of Zion National Park — there are rodeos held all over Utah, but the southern part of the state is a particularly good region to go see them. One of the biggest is the American Legion Enterprise Utah Rodeo, which has been held in the town of Enterprise (about 40 miles north of St. George) since the local LDS church put the first one on in the early 1900s. The three-night jamboree in late July includes tournaments in barrel racing, calf roping, team roping, and bull riding — the main event, in which each night’s winner receives $500. The Enterprise Rodeo draws out about 200 contestants and a crowd of more than 6,000 spectators. If you want to see what life as a cowboy is like, this is one event you won’t want to miss.
Another noteworthy rodeo in the area is the Wayne County World’s Fair Rodeo, held in the town of Loa in mid-August. It includes the traditional rodeo events of bull riding, saddle back and bareback broncing, barrel racing, team roping, calf roping and breakaway roping, as well as the “hometown” events of hide race, maiden race, keg race, wild cow milk, ribbon pull, and trailer race. Time this trip right and you'll be harvesting peaches after hikes in Capitol Reef then taking in the rodeo, just a few small towns up the road.
If you want to see a professional event (yes, there are professional rodeo riders), the Dixie Round-Up Rodeo in St. George each September is a longstanding favorite that has been held for more than 80 years.