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Mike Terry, Deseret News
Justin Trujillo practices his lasso at the team branding event at the Rush Valley Rodeo in Rush Valley this weekend.

RUSH VALLEY — Dennis Sagers hadn't seen the cowboy for 30 years, but after a few minutes, the two were jawing like they did when they were both pain-free enough to ride bucking horses.

"It was just like it was last week," said Dennis Sagers, the past president of the Rush Valley Rodeo. "I get pretty emotional about it. ... It's not the awards you win, it's the friends you meet along the way."

Sagers' father, Vance, was one of those responsible for starting the rodeo back in 1973. And while it started as an effort to allow local cowboys and cowgirls to show off their roping and riding skills, it's evolved into what locals refer to as the biggest little social event in Tooele County.

"It's more about getting together and socializing," said Sagers.

The entire affair started Friday night with the team branding competition. Saturday afternoon the youngest cowboys and cowgirls, about 148 of them, got a chance to compete in events like calf riding, goat ribbon pulling or goat tying, barrel racing and breakaway roping.

The big winner in the kids rodeo was Brayden Evans, an 8-and-under contestant, who won three events — breakaway, barrels and pole bending. He had no trouble riding and roping, but he struggled to carry his three shiny, new belt buckles out of the arena.

"He always wins," said his older brother, Brydger Evans. And the seven-year-old doesn't even wear a belt yet.

"I like roping," Brayden Evans said from under a big, black hat.

"But I'm going to ride bareback."

After the kids rodeo, folks gathered under trees, near trailers and on the grandstands to have a hot dog and get reacquainted.

"Some people drive a couple hundred miles to come to this rodeo," Sagers said.

While most rodeos are affiliated with a circuit or a holiday, the Rush Valley Rodeo, or the Little Cheyenne Clover Rodeo as old-timers refer to it, this event is unaffiliated and open to all willing to compete.

At this rodeo, cowboys feel free to try events they don't normally enter. That worked out well for Mona's Troy Fowkes, who won the calf roping and was in the top four of an evolving event — stock saddle bronc riding.

"I saw it and wanted to try it," he said. "I got on one in Heber and was so scared that first time. ... I'm a roper. But I've always been kind of a big buckaroo. ... Just fresh out of high school and wanting to have a little fun."

His team roping partner, Matt Dell, was a little concerned about his decision to climb on a bucking horse.

"He said, 'Nothing better happen,"' Fowkes said with a grin.

At this rodeo, there are as many people standing in circles talking, sharing memories and food as there are sitting in the grandstands cheering on the cowboys and cowgirls.

At this rodeo, driving the water truck is as much about cooling off and entertaining the youngsters as it is an effort to keep the dust down on this hot July afternoon.

At this rodeo, allowing children to be as involved in every aspect of the rodeo is as much the point as savoring a top-notch competition.

"It's just gone from one generation to the next," Sagers said. "We're just passing this tradition along."

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