Rodeo of the Ozarks had a shaky start, but now it’s one of the best in the nation
Dilynn Dodd, Miss Rodeo of the Ozarks 2007 carries the U.S. flag
into the arena during the Grand Entry on July 4, 2008
By Maylon T. Rice
Historians of The Rodeo of the Ozarks will recall a “shaky start” to one of the longest running events in Northwest Arkansas. The 65th edition of Rodeo of the Ozarks is set for July 1-4 at Parsons Arena in Springdale. The event has grown well beyond what veteran rodeo organizers like Tex Holt, dreamed possible.
Back in 1945, when the first Rodeo of the Ozarks debuted, some wondered if there would ever be another.
First, on July 1, the opening night, rain fell, so the event was delayed a day. Then on the final night, July 4, the north side bleachers collapsed sending 300 people to the hospital. Luckily, no one was seriously injured. On the bright side, a hometown cowboy, Springdale’s Glenn “Pup” Harp, won the steer roping competition.
The Rodeo of The Ozarks hasn’t looked back on that shaky start, and has charged ahead to become part of the cultural and entertainment fabric of Springdale and all of Northwest Arkansas. And it is ranked as one of the best by the prestigious Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Tex Looks The Part
Holt, a longtime spokesman and savvy media magnet for the event in his white hat and well-appointed cowboy shirt, looks the part of a cowboy, even though despite the name Tex, he spends most of his days hawking insurance policies.
Holt has served on the Rodeo Of The Ozarks board for the last 28 years and shows no signs of slowing down or any lack of enthusiasm about the event.
“This event — and it is well beyond a four-day event these days — is just phenomenal,” Holt said. “I mean that given our history of leasing a piece of ground for $50 and putting on a rodeo with hand-built bucking shoots and a temporary corral, this is something else these days.”
Holt and the other 11 members of the Rodeo of The Ozarks board, the group responsible for the rodeo, all say they could not put on the event without their legion of volunteers.
“I have no way of knowing how many people help out behind the scenes and do it with very little recognition. I mean there are people who just show up each and every year to take care of a particular part of this rodeo that they love and they come back year after year after year. Many of these people go out on their own and recruit others to work. I can tell you this, our community and the region is blessed by the volunteers who made this rodeo what it is and that is one of the best in the country. Holt should know.
One Of The Best
After decades of improving the rodeo each year, the Rodeo of the Ozarks has been recognized as one of the top five PRCA outdoor rodeos. That’s awfully tall cotton to be in, Holt says. Others agree.
Holt credits the rodeo’s founder, Shorty Parsons, and a litany of other Springdale and Northwest Arkansas businessmen and professionals for carrying on the mantle of making the rodeo the best it can be.
“I can tell you when I came on the board 28 years ago there were businessmen like Don Harp, Harvey Jones, Mace Howell, well I can name names all day, but this core of businessmen took this rodeo and they each and every year looked for ways to improve it.
This year the event is expecting 500 top competitors in seven PRCA events such as steer wrestling, barrel racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping and bull riding.
And don’t forget the very patriotic Grand Entry each evening at 7:30 p.m. signaling the start of the rodeo events.
99 Percent Fun Camaraderie
Holt says serving on the Rodeo of The Ozarks board is time consuming, but “about 99 percent fun and builds lifelong friendship and camaraderie for doing something good for the community.”
During all those years, Holt says the Springdale Benevolent Foundation and the people of Springdale and Northwest Arkansas have been the constant winners in all this volunteer work and effort.
“The Springdale Benevolent Association works with the Springdale Public School and the youth of Springdale in lots and lots of programs,” Holt said.
“The schools teach a course on the economic impact of the rodeo in dollars spent in our community,” he said. The end result is a “stick horse” race every spring. First graders in Springdale get to come to the rodeo arena and participate in activities that for many is their first contact with livestock and the rodeo.
Holt said the organization also supports activities of the Springdale Riding Club, The Ozark Junior Rodeo Association, the Springdale High School Rodeo and area 4-H Clubs. One of the most publicized events during rodeo week is the “Special Rodeo” for special needs children from the area, Holt said.
A youngster participates in the Mutton Bustin competition
July 4, 2008, at the Rodeo of the Ozarks
Mutton Bustin’, An Idea From Texas
Holt said one of the signature events at the rodeo is the Mutton Bustin’ event for the little cowboys and cowgals. Mutton Bustin’ starts each night at 6:30 p.m. Trophies are awarded to the best in mutton bustin’ on the final night of the rodeo.
“If you want to know what are the two events most people come to see, well let me tell you, it’s bull riding and mutton bustin’, and I’m not sure which is really No. 1,” Holt said laughing.
“I mean when the little fellers get out there on them sheep the crowd really comes alive,” he said.
Holt said he’s ordered about 25 sheep as rodeo livestock for this year and about 20 little cowboys will be riding each night.
Rules have changed little for the event, Holt said. Riders must be less than 50 pounds and be 4-, 5- or 6-years old. “… and you gotta dress to ride,” Holt said. Each contestant has to have on boots, jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.
“I can tell you that event is one that after a hard day at work can sure help you laugh and have a good time,” Holt said. “The sheep and the riders, they are something else to watch.”
The mutton bustin’ event came from John Reddish, the current Rodeo of The Ozarks board president and Don Harp.
“They had been down in Texas scouting out some other rodeos about our size here in Springdale and they came back and told us about this mutton bustin’ thing,” Holt said. “When we first had it, only a few kids were in it. Now we have to almost turn ‘em away we have so many.”
The Rodeo of the Ozarks has perfected that Texas event, Holt said. “The first couple of years we had to hold the sheep, let the rider lay down on its neck and turn the sheep loose. While that was still fun, it’s much better today.”
Today there is a special chute and a short harness so the little cowboys can sit up and ride. Holt says there is nothing like the competition that goes on between friends, parents and grandparents for this event.
“I mean to tell you, I know of some parents who have gone to renting or getting sheep in here to practice ride. Some of the outfits on these little cowboys are really nice, too. Lots of parents sure get into these events, but it is the little cowboys that make it go,” he said.
Although the Rodeo of the Ozarks is one of 65 PRCA rodeos going on during the July 4th weekend, the Springdale event draws some of the nation’s best competitors. Holt said the winners purse is why some of the nation’s top cowboys and cowgirls flock here.
“There is over $100,000 in prize money to be won here,” he said. “And we are one of the first events of the rodeo season, so just getting started out with a big win here means money in the bank for a cowboy just getting started on his 2009 prize winnings.”
Holt said as an incentive to get the best competitors to come to Springdale, the board pays the entry fee for some of the top 15 competitors in particular events.
“If you are among the best and can ride for free here with a chance to make money, that’s a win-win for the cowboy,” Holt said.
For Holt, working on the rodeo is a win-win as well. He said he has made lifelong friends while serving on the rodeo board and he enjoys seeing friends who are regular rodeo fans each year.
“We have people who tell me year after year what this rodeo means to them and they will be back next year. You can set your watch by that, too,” Holt said. “No matter how shaky the start, the Rodeo of The Ozarks got started. It’s going now and well into the future.”
Need To Know
- Everyone age 2 or older must have a ticket. No exceptions.
- Gates open at 6 p.m.
- No pets allowed, except for certified service dogs.
- No outside food or drink. A variety of concessions are available.
- No strollers, since there is not room in the seating areas for strollers.
- There is limited parking on the rodeo grounds for $3 per vehicle. Free parking is available at the Jones Center and the Springdale Airport and shuttle buses will be available.
- Still cameras are allowed, but video cameras, recording devices and cell phones that have the ability to record motion are not allowed at the rodeo or the concerts.
- All bags, purses, jackets, etc., can be searched upon entry as a safety precaution.
- Prohibited items include bottles, cups, food, weapons (including knives) and laser lights.
- Tickets are $6-$33.
Rodeo Of The Ozarks Goes ‘Pink’
Are you tough enough to wear pink? Well lots of cowboys and cowgals will be on July 2 at the Rodeo of The Ozarks. That night has been designated as “Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night” in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer. This will be the fourth year The Rodeo Of The Ozarks has participated in this national campaign. With the support of Packaging Specialties of Fayetteville, the local sponsor, winners wearing pink will receive a $100 bonus. The Rodeo Of The Ozarks will also make a donation to the local affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Those attending the rodeo on July 2 are encouraged to wear pink.
Concerts Coming To The Rodeo
A trio of concerts will follow the first three nights of the rodeo and will feature some well-known names.
David Ball will perform after the Wednesday night rodeo, The Bellamy Brothers will follow the July 2 rodeo and Buddy Jewell will follow the July 3 rodeo. Rodeo ticketholders can stay for the concerts at no additional charge.
“We hope the community will recognize this is a two-fer deal,” said Rick Culver, vice president of the Rodeo of the Ozarks board. “They really don’t have to leave their seats to stay for the concert.”
Adding three nights of concerts is new to the Rodeo of The Ozarks. But thinking outside the traditional rodeo box is nothing new for the Northwest Arkansas rodeo.
“The Board looked at adding something after the rodeo performance that folks would like to experience in the cool of the evening,” Culver said. “A concert seemed like just the thing to have. We hope and expect it to go off well.”
The rodeo board saved the biggest bang for after the July 4 rodeo: the annual fireworks show.
“We know people like that and will stay seated for that performance,” Culver said. “They always do.”