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Hailey Rodeo Has Been a Mainstay for Seventy-six Years
A circus clown attempts to divert the attention of a bull after it dumps its passenger.
Thursday, July 4, 2024



An 8-year-old girl wearing a cowboy hat with silver spangles covering the talk went on and on as she tried to explain this thing called rodeo:

“The cowboys try to see who can stay on the longest,” she said matter of factly. “I like the horse riders the best. I haven’t gotten to ride a horse, but I did ride a sheep, and the sheep ran over my arm and I got a bloody nose.”

Whoop! Went the wrong way.

The Sawtooth Rangers’ Days of the Old West has been firmly implanted in the yearly ritual of the Sun Valley area, ever since the Sawtooth Rangers’ Riding Club held its first rodeo in 1948 at the old Hailey Ball Park, dubbing it the Wood River Roundup.

It was voted Fan Favorite Rodeo at the 2021 Idaho Cowboys Association and won Best Ground two years straight at the ICA Finals. It not only dangles checks in front of some of the West’s best bull riders and bronc riders but it serves as the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, whose members serve up hot dogs at the rodeo.

The Sun Valley area is better known for symphony lovers sipping wine on the lawn of the Sun Valley Pavilion than it is for cowboys roaming Ketchum’s wooden sidewalks.

But, once a year, everybody in the valley becomes a cowboy, dusting off their cowboy hats and pulling on their tightest blue jeans over cowboy boots sporting leopard spots and red roses.

The horns are too close for comfort.

“I’m not Western,” apologized one errant young man as he walked up to friends at Tuesday night’s rodeo in a flannel shirt, shorts, flip flops and a camouflage ball cap. “But I’m ready for rodeo.”

Sun Valley Resort’s rodeo was named the finest in the United States and Canada by the National Rodeo Association when it made its debut in 1937. Spectators wearing Parisian fashions and satin cowgirl outfits came from throughout the United States to watch Shoshone-Bannock Indian chiefs and Canadian Royal Northwest Mounted Police parade around the rodeo arena.

But the Union Pacific let the rodeo lapse after the resort was turned into a Naval convalescent hospital during World War II, and subsequent rodeos have never matched the glamour of the early rodeos.

But that doesn’t matter to the faithful who turn up for the three-day Fourth of July rodeo at the Hailey rodeo grounds across from the airport. They come out to walk up and down the aisle, looking to see who they can see as they return to their seats with armfuls of hot dogs and A&W rootbeers.

Dang! This thing just won’t let up.

And they’ve come to marvel at a simple thing like a cowboy’s hat shooting straight up in the air during a hard-charging ride, landing in the dusty arena in a poof of dust. And to cheer on special acts like the Escaramuza Charra riders of Nampa who entertained during intermission at Tuesday’s show.

“It’s cool to see the horses and the bulls—they’re so powerful,” said one spectator as he watched a 1,200-pound white Brahman bull quickly dispense its rider, then charge around the arena in a glory lap. “And the riders don’t very often beat the bulls.”

“It’s one of the biggest family activities you can do,” added another.

The crowd cheers as bronc riders manage to stay a full eight seconds on a good bucker. And they groan when a young cowboy’s ride is cut short right out of the chute ending his stay at the rodeo.


Perhaps the best rodeo cowboy ever to come out of the Wood River Valley was Bellevue’s Kelly Wardell, who won the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in 1998 and rodeoed professionally for 30 years. Still competing is Bellevue’s Sarah Rau, who won the 2020 Texas Circuit Rookie of the Year Award in 2020.

Sun Valley resident John Boydston has photographed rodeos as far away as Georgia, using techniques he learned from the late Sun Valley cowboy photographer David Stocklein in his photography workshops.

“Mainly, I learned from him that you are always chasing the light, and every picture tells a story. Loved that guy,” Boydston said.

While looking for the light Boydston never ceases to be amazed by the skill sets needed by the rodeo contestants: “The grit and determination of these riders and competitors is worn on their faces and fun to watch. Grit is the key, and everybody is rooting for everybody, which only increases the thrill of the moment.”

~  Today's Topics ~

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Carey Pioneer Days Features Concert, Picnic, Parade and Rodeo










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