'It's both work and fun': Competitors at the 84th Pretty Prairie Rodeo are also friends

The rodeo runs through Saturday evening

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News

PRETTY PRAIRIE — For five-year-old Jackson Greene, the rodeo is like magic. During the 84th Annual Pretty Prairie Rodeo, Jackson sat riveted in the stands as cowboys rode bulls and bucking horses and roped calves. 

He also saw kids his age compete in mutton busting, where youngsters ride little lambs. 

"I want to ride a lamb," said Jackson, who lives in Clearwater. 

When he is older, Jackson would like to try his hand at roping a steer. For many competitors at this Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event, this is how they too got started. Wide-eyed and ready to ride.

"I was looking at steers from when I was little," said Jon Laine Herl of Goodland. "I was roping in an arena when I was 5 or 6."

More:Bull riders, ropers and barrel racers from across the country bullseye for the Pretty Prairie Rodeo this week

Jon Laine Herl, from Goodland, competes in steer wrestling on the first night of competition at the 84th annual Pretty Prairie Rodeo.

Herl grew up on a cattle ranch. He followed in his father's footsteps as a steer wrestler. 

"When I was a kid, I was looking at the steers and seeing what they could do," he said. 

During the first night of competition, attendance went up by more than 60% from previous year’s opening nights, increasing from about 1,200 to 1,900 audience members. As children were free, the number in the stands — which can hold around 4,500 onlookers — totaled around 3,200.

People from throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas cheered on the cowboys and cowgirls as they performed for the crowd and money. Because the contestants are all a part of the PRCA, they are already top-ranked competitors.

Dusta Kimzey-O’Connell races to the finish line on her horse 'Moose' in the barrel racing competition at the Pretty Prairie Rodeo Wednesday night.

Some even have a pedigree. Dusta Kimzey-O’Connell's father, Ted Kimzey, worked as a rodeo clown for years. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Dusta, who has won many competitions, decided to be a barrel racer at a young age.

When she was little, she was performing with her dad — often at Pretty Prairie.

“I would do the tricks, and the crowd would cheer,” she said.

Kimzey-O’Connell's brother is a world champion bull rider.

Like Kimzey-O’Connell, Jesse and Casey Stipes, were born into the business.

“We’re third-generation ropers,” Casey Stipes said. “We started roping when we were six and seven.”

The brothers decided to team up with each other this year, and it worked during Wednesday night’s competition, bringing in the winning score and a "nicely done" from the veteran announcer, Randy Corley.

More:Two Kansas cowboys are tops in steer roping — and they are father and son

Travis Booth from Kingman competes in steer wrestling on Wednesday, the first night of competition at the 84th annual Pretty Prairie Rodeo.

Other competitors, like Travis Booth of Kingman, decided later on to steer wrestle. He was raised on a cattle ranch in Colorado but had not thought of riding horses or wrestling steer professionally until his coach at a community college made him an offer — a scholarship for riding in the rodeo. Since then, Booth has competed at a rodeo just about every weekend he is free.

“I’ve been coming to Pretty Prairie for the last five years,” he said. “I get to see all my friends.”

Although each cowboy and cowgirl competes against one another, they are always the first ones to help each other out. They’ll water a horse, let someone bunk in their trailer or even loan a horse to another cowboy.

Weston Patterson from Waverly, Kan., competes in the Saddle Bronc riding event on 174 Parlor House at the Pretty Prairie Rodeo Wednesday evening.

That comradery starts at a young age. For Weston Patterson of Waverly, who is a saddle bronc rider (he rides a bucking horse) and whose father was a steer wrestler, people in the rodeo are his lifelong friends.

“I’ve been doing this since I was knee high to a grasshopper,” he said. “I love it. It’s on my mind 24/7.”

Although riding bulls or bucking horses is hard work, most of the men and women who compete enjoy what they do.

"It's both work and fun," Herl said. "It's a great combo."

Five-year-old Avila Mazzarelli from Andale rides in the mutton bustin competition at the 84th Pretty Prairie Rodeo Wednesday night.