Gunnison is key to rodeo’s elite

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Steer wrestler Jace Melvin, who shared the bulldogging win at Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo last year, was one of several National Finals qualifiers to have earned money in Gunnison.

GUNNISON, Colo. – Over the last two years, an influx of dozens of ProRodeo’s elite athletes have made their way to this mountain community.

They’ve not only competed at the Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo, but many have left with money earned in the Gunnison Valley. That includes 12 former world champions that account for 24 gold buckles.

“We’ve always had world champions and (National Finals Rodeo) qualifiers who have been part of our rodeo, but we’ve been really blessed recently,” said Brad Tutor, first vice president of Cattlemen’s Days, which set this year for Thursday, July 14-Saturday, July 16, at Fred Field Western Center in Gunnison.

“We have Stace Smith as our stock contractor, so that helps us get some of the bigger names to Gunnison.”

Since 2020, three world champions – bareback rider Will Lowe, header Levi Simpson and saddle bronc rider Ryder Wright – have all left Gunnison with at least a share of the Cattlemen’s Days crown. Better yet, though, is the number of NFR qualifiers who have earned the title. Last year alone, six of the eight winners have all competed at ProRodeo’s grand finale.

Being in Gunnison is a big deal to the men and women that make their livings in the sport.

“This is a great rodeo,” said Garrett Tonozzi, a two-time qualifier originally from Fruita, Colorado, but now living in Lampasas, Texas, with his wife, Brittany Pozzi-Tonozzi, a two-time world champ. “Doing well here means a lot. I always wanted to go to Gunnison when I was a kid.

“This is my home. Western Colorado is where I’m from. I love coming back. This is an awesome rodeo.”

It’s a sentiment that has been shared over the years by many cowboys and cowgirls.

“Gunnison has been really good to me over the years,” said Shali Lord, a two-time NFR qualifier from Lamar, Colorado. “It’s one of our better Colorado rodeos, and we always like to go over there. They have good hospitality for the contestants, and the ground’s aways good.

“I’ve done well there with different horses. It seems like all my horses like the same places, which is really cool, and all of my horses have liked Gunnison.”

That doesn’t hurt. Lord has padded her annual salary well over the years by competing in Gunnison, so that always helps make the five-hour venture a lot better.

“The committee there does so much to help you, either by feeding you or giving you hay,” said Lord, who last won the Cattlemen’s Day crown in 2020. “The grandstands are packed every night. There’s a lot going on, and there is a lot of support from the community, which I think is very important.”

It is, and it’s what makes Cattlemen’s Days such a special event every year.


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