GUYMON, Okla. – The biggest event in the Oklahoma Panhandle is 80 years old this year, and the celebration to honor the anniversary will be just as grand.
This is the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, the annual showcase that provides the largest economic impact of any event in Texas County, Okla., more than $2 million a year.
It’s home to the greatest athletes in ProRodeo, and it’s where world champions play – in fact, there were 886 entrants into this year’s event. If they make their living in rodeo, they want to be in Guymon the first weekend in May for a week stocked full of competition and culminated with four championship-caliber performances set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.
“Our goal every year is to make our rodeo better than ever,” said Earl Helm, chairman of the volunteer committee that produces the annual rodeo. “We want people to talk about this rodeo all year long.”
They’ve been doing it for several years. From outstanding rodeo action to the best entertainers in the sport, Pioneer Days Rodeo has had it. This year features a few tweaks to the schedule to make it better for everyone involved and the return of award-winning barrelman Troy Lerwill, whose “Wild Child” act remains one of the most sought-after in ProRodeo.
“I believe we’ve got one of the greatest shows around, and this year might be one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Helm said. “When you get the opportunity to bring in Troy Lerwill, you do it. He’s the kind of act that everybody has been talking about since the last time he was here.
“We’re reaching out to a different group of people. They will come watch a rodeo if you bring in something they like. He’s motorcycle. They love seeing something like that.”
The schedule changes include moving the first four rounds of steer roping to the beginning of the five days of slack. All steer ropers in the field will compete in four go-rounds Monday, April 30, and Tuesday, May 1. The tie-down ropers, steer wrestlers and team ropers will compete Wednesday, May 2, and Thursday, May 3, in two full go-rounds. The barrel racers will compete Friday morning, May 4.
Only the top players in each event – the top 34 through four rounds in steer roping; the top 40 through two rounds in steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping; and the 40 fastest times after one round in barrel racing – qualify for the four performances through the weekend. The barrel racers outside the top 40 will compete in the second go-round Friday afternoon to wrap up the slack competition.
“The barrel racers are excited about it, and I am, too,” said Ken Stonecipher, the production director for the Pioneer Days Rodeo committee. “The ground will be much more consistent than we could’ve ever made it from Monday to Friday.”
It benefits the other events, too.
“We started kicking this around because of steer roping, because we need a good, solid base underneath them,” Helm said. “We don’t need it deep for the ropers, but the barrel racers need it deep. Now we can set it up to where we have more solid ground early in the week. This way, we can try to better prepare the ground for each event as we go.
“You always have to think about the stock and the stock’s safety.”
The committee also will put on a calf fry/hamburger feed for timed-event contestants and sponsors shortly after Wednesday’s slack. It’s a way the volunteers are giving back to some of the entities that have made the rodeo so successful over the years.
While the changes have been put into place to improve upon the existing system, there are plenty of aspects of the Pioneer Days Rodeo that will remain the same. Dallas-based Carr Pro Rodeo will return as the primary stock contractor, but he’ll team with other top-notch livestock producers, Korkow Rodeos, Powder River Rodeo and D&H Cattle Co., and Frontier Rodeo. That means the very best animal athletes and spectacular production will be part of each performance.
This year marks the third straight year of the Classic Events Championship, the Rick Furnish-organized event that features 20 top-level cowboys competing in steer roping and saddle bronc riding. Each contestant in the non-sanctioned event will rope, trip and tie down two steers and ride two broncs – the first round will feature a younger horse, while the second round gives the contestants an opportunity to ride a seasoned bronc.
“It’s always a great event and a lot of fun for us,” Stonecipher said. “You get to see true all-around cowboys at work, and it’s a blast.”
For a week the end of April and the beginning of May, the best contestants in ProRodeo converge on the Oklahoma Panhandle to battle for some of the biggest prize money in this part of America.
“I’m really excited with what we’ve got in store for the fans this year,” Helm said. “I think they’re going to be excited, too.”