OGDEN — Some of the world's toughest cowboys took on some of the world's best horses in a near empty arena on the eve of the busiest stretch of the local rodeo season.
The Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo, like most top rodeos, usually limits its saddle bronc competition to the best 60 riders who sign up. But this year 97 riders were accepted.
"It was actually a mix-up in the front office," said Chet Johnson, who had one of the night's top rides as he turned in an 83-point ride. "They usually limit it to 60, but they didn't this year and everyone got in."
Rather than turn cowboys away, the rodeo director decided to hold an extra night of saddle bronc riding only. It's so rare, only one cowboy recalled participating in a bronc riding only event.
"San Francisco years ago," said Johnson. It's really rare."
Ogden rodeo officials invited fans to come watch for just $5, but only about 50 people turned out to watch 37 saddle bronc riders compete in one of the country's top rodeos.
"It's more fun with a crowd, but it's also fun to watch 37 bronc riders," said Johnson with a grin. "There are some great cowboys, but there are also a lot of great horses. There's a lot of NFR (National Finals Rodeo) horses; it's going to be tough to beat anyone out of slack because the horses are so good."
They were so good that Tyler Corrington opted to ride with an injured knee in hopes of bettering his chances of making the NFR in November. He hurt his knee last week in Calgary, but he's ranked 30th in the world and has to win some money in the next month if he hopes to make his second trip to the NFR.
Had he not drawn such great horses in the Utah rodeos, the Minnesota native may have taken some time off to let his knee heal.
"I've just been taping it myself," he said, as another cowboy jokingly said he wanted to start riding with a bum knee. "I can't wait to get where the Justin Medicine guys can take a look at it. I'm at the point where I got to get on everything if I want to move up."
He didn't just get on Wednesday night, he provided one of the night's most exciting rides.
"This is dang good slack," said Corrington, who scored 86 points, which was the night's second-best score. Cort Scheer also scored 86 points on a re-ride (after getting a tip from two-time World Champion Cody Wright on how much rein to give Sock Dancer), and South Dakota's JJ Elshere led the competition with an impressive 88-point ride.
"This is a really tough rodeo," said Corrington. "It usually takes a great score to win. It's all the great horses and good cowboys."
And it's the most critical time for NFR hopefuls to deliver those big rides.
"The next six weeks is what usually determines the NFR," said Johnson, a Wyoming cowboy who has earned three trips to the World Championships in Las Vegas.
The Ogden Rodeo officially opens Thursday with pre-show events beginning at 6:30 p.m. and the competition starting at 7:30 p.m. The rodeo runs through July 24 with no performance on Sunday. For the first time this year, they will offer reserved seating on the north side of Pioneer Stadium.
The Days of '47 Rodeo begins Thursday at the Maverik Center in West Valley City and runs through July 24 (also no performance on Sunday). The competition begins at 7 p.m. each night with concerts following each rodeo performance.
"It's a party every night," said Adam Shields, public relations director for the Days of '47 Rodeo. The rodeo is offering a KSL family night Thursday with discounts that make tickets between $10 and $50.
The Fiesta Days Rodeo in Spanish Fork begins on Friday, June 20 and runs through July 24 (with no Sunday competition), at the Fairgrounds in Spanish Fork.
There are also various smaller rodeos around the state during the Pioneer Days celebration. The rest of the west is busy with big-money rodeos in California, Canada, Texas and Wyoming — just to name a few.
"There are a lot of big rodeos this time of year," said Corrington. "Just a lot of town fairs and July 4th celebrations, I guess."
DAYS OF '47 RODEO
WHERE: Maverik Center, West Valley City
WHEN: July 19-24 at 7 p.m.
SPECIALS: Today is KSL family night with discounted tickets
*No Sunday performance
FIESTA DAYS RODEO
WHERE: Spanish Fork Fairgrounds
WHEN: July 20-24 at 8 p.m.
*No Sunday performance
OGDEN PIONEER DAYS RODEO
WHERE: Pioneer Stadium, Ogden
WHEN: July 19-24 at 7:30 p.m.
*No Sunday performance; fireworks on July 24