GUNNISON, Colo. – There is a breathtaking beauty that comes with the Gunnison Valley, tucked neatly into the picturesque Rocky Mountains.
All that is part of the attraction for thousands of people that visit Gunnison each year. For rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, all that just adds to the experience they share as they compete at the Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo, set for Thursday, July 13-Saturday, July 15, at Fred Field Western Center in Gunnison.
The event, which will celebrate its 123rd year, was recognized as one of the very best in ProRodeo. Only 20 rodeos nationwide – five in each of four size categories – earn nominations for Rodeos of the Year, and Gunnison’s marquee event was among them in 2022.
It’s quite a distinction for the volunteers that work year-round to produce not only a great community event but also a world-class competition that features many of rodeo’s greatest stars.
“There are a lot of reasons why Cattleman’s Days Rodeo deserves to be nominated,” said Andy Stewart, the voice of the rodeo and one of its chief ambassadors. “The committee is always striving to improve this rodeo in any way possible. They continue to spend money where it needs to be spent, and they’re really big on community involvement.”
The local event was in the Medium Rodeo of the Year category, which is the largest sect of competitions in ProRodeo. To be recognized as one of the top five is quite an honor, but it’s one that has been earned over the years.
“It’s pretty cool whenever you can ride somewhere that they’ve been having a rodeo for over 100 years,” said Tilden Hooper, the 2022 Cattlemen’s Days bareback riding champion from Fort Worth, Texas. “There’s a lot of history. I’m sure every great cowboy I’ve ever looked up to rode here. To get a chance to come here and get to win this rodeo is special to me.”
Hooper is a nine-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and has been around ProRodeo for 17 years. He’s been to a bunch of big events, and he was excited to get the title in Gunnison last summer.
“It’s a really good rodeo,” he said.
He hasn’t been in the game as long as Patrick Smith, a two-time world champion heeler from Lipan, Texas. Smith is in his 21st year competing in the PRCA and has 13 qualifications to ProRodeo’s grand championship, which takes place each December in Las Vegas. He earned his most recent trip to the Nevada desert in part by winning the Cattlemen’s Days team roping title with newcomer Tanner Tomlinson of Angleton, Texas.
The committee has “done a great job of adding money to the rodeo, taking care of all the contestants,” Smith said. “Guys are starting to recognize Gunnison and make sure we’re entered, because it’s that good of a rodeo.”
What makes it so good? First and foremost is that the community goes all out for the celebration and for the rodeo. Add to that a good payout, a great livestock producer and tremendous history, and hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls are making sure they have a chance to compete in Gunnison.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia and atmosphere in that older arena,” Stewart said. “You have a different feel. It takes you back 50-60 years. This is a really special place.
“I hear from a lot of people, and they say it’s a travel destination rodeo. They enjoy the town being so quaint and being able to get on great livestock from Stace Smith Pro Rodeo. It’s an opportunity to slip off in the mountains and enjoy that rodeo.” With all that going for it, many in the sport suspect Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo will be back in contention for Rodeo of the Year in 2023 and beyond.