NEWPORT — After a 10-year hiatus, pro rodeo returned to Lincoln County last week with a roar as crowds estimated at 2,000 thundered their approval at the cowboys, the animals, the flags and the girls who flew them from galloping horseback.
Drenched in chaps, spurs and patriotic themes, the Lincoln County Pro Rodeo attracted 260 contestants with $10,000 in prize money spread across 10 timed and “rough stock” events that satisfied rodeo fans and awed newcomers.
Hatched at the last minute by Lincoln Co. fair officials after a Vancouver, Wash., rodeo lost its lease, the two-day event left members of the organizing committee “blown away” by its success. According to reliable figures, the rodeo was the largest, cowboy-wise, of four staged in Oregon last weekend during the height of “Cowboy Christmas” — the busiest time of year for entrants.
“Hands down, we had the most contestants, making us the biggest NPRA (National Professional Rodeo Assn.) last weekend in Oregon,” said fair manager Todd Williver, who reckoned the turnout would make the show a lynchpin of future fairs.
Williver credited the Howell Rodeo Co. for supplying livestock at a decent price and local sponsors — led by Toyota of Newport — who rallied to the call, allowing organizers to attract contestants with $1,000 purses in each category.
“When we knew we had a rodeo, we had to get the cowboys,” Williver said, recalling that 26 businesses quickly signed on to underwrite the $30,000 rodeo. “We had to be competitive, and there’s pretty darned good evidence by the turnout that we were.”
According to rodeo industry studies, the typical rodeo contestant earns $15,000 to $20,000 on the “amateur-professional” circuit.
“There are a lot of expenses and when you’re not winning, it gets kind of rough,” acknowledged tie-down roper Garret Robinson, a 24-year-old cowboy from Heppner, who lives in the front compartment of his horse trailer at the 60 rodeos where he competes every summer. “So far it’s been pretty good this year, and I’m breaking even.”
Mike Smith of Newport, a retired rodeo cowboy who was the fair committee’s stock superintendent, looked over the sea of snorting horseflesh and bulls that jostled to challenge their next rider.
“This all started with four people talking, and here we are with a rodeo,” he beamed as the crowd roared to a rider who was ejected from a bareback bronc. “Look at us now.”