Posted by: Kath Usitalo | August 2, 2010

At The UP Pro Rodeo

Rodeo City Riders of Waupaca County, Wisconsin opened the show with a patriotic performance

Paige and I had a great time at the UP Pro Rodeo this weekend, the 43rd annual event in Iron River in the western Upper Peninsula. I’m afraid she’s inherited my weakness for cowboys (of course my interest is purely professional—as photo subjects). It was our first rodeo and the one thing we both came away with was the question: What are those cowboys thinking?

A cowboy rides 'em bareback

Brothers Nolan, 3, and Blake, 5; Blake is going to be a bull rider

What makes a guy want to set himself up for whiplash, bruises, broken bones, concussions and worse? Not to mention a life on the road, living out of a duffle.

As rodeo cowboy and musician Chris LeDoux said, “Sometimes a hard day’s work is easier than a lot of things you can meet in life.”

But enough songs, like Garth Brooks’ Rodeo, have been written about it; all that’s a part of the mystique.

We hit town on Friday for that evening’s concert featuring Jamey Johnson (I’m now a fan) with the Kentucky Headhunters (those guys are a trip) and the very good UP band that opened the show. Their name is  Chasin’ Steel, which is slang for Steelhead fishing—these Yooper bluegrass musicians are also fly fishermen.

Paige in one of her two cowboy hats; in the background Shannon Arritola and her longhorn steer Cowboy Magic visit with rodeo-goers

Saturday morning we watched a Rodeo Queen competition and the impressive parade through town. Gotta love a parade where the local Angeli’s supermarket hands out fresh fruit. Paige got a melon.

Next, we did some browsing at the Laughing Loon Emporium, our favorite store in Iron River. Three floors of antiques, collectibles, and nice vintage clothing. We relieved the shop of two gently used cowboy hats for Paige.

Shannon Arritola of Texas travels to rodeos and other Midwest events all summer with her horses and longhorn steer

Then it was on to the grandstand at the fairgrounds for the main event: Saturday afternoon’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeo performances.

We watched bareback and bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie down roping, barrel racing (this is the only women’s event) and bull riding. And the antics of the rodeo clown, of course.

Unfortunately, there was a rash of bad luck and three cowboys were seriously injured—very unusual, according to those who know. Two men were hurt when they were thrown from their horses—one cowboy was dragged around the arena and ended up with a broken leg and who knows what else.

Cody Bullock and the other Bull Riders prep for their competition

The third cowboy to be injured, Cody Bullock of New Buffalo, Minnesota, was thrown and knocked around by some 1,800 pounds of unhappy bull.

We were too far away to see exactly what happened, but it didn’t look good. I was especially concerned because I had chatted with Cody just a little earlier while the bull riders were preparing for their competition.

Cody under the bull; this can't be good

Sure, it’s a risk and a part of the job; see yesterday’s post. And as John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death—and saddling up anyway.”

One thing that surprised us was the shortage of Michigan cowboys in the rodeo. Only a few of the dozens participating in the three performances were from the host state; lots from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and elsewhere.

After the show Paige and I headed out of town and back to Blue Skies. There was another performance on Saturday evening and the final show plus crowning of the Rodeo Queen on Sunday. But it was our first rodeo and we didn’t know what to expect or how much we’d enjoy it, so we hadn’t planned to stay for the entire event.

There was lots of color, lots of cowboys and cowgirls, and lots of excitement. Fun!

Barrel Racers wait for their shot

The only problem was the flat, light grey sky, which didn’t help my pictures.

I may have to return for better photos.

And Paige is already talking about getting her girlfriends to go with her next year. Oh, my.

Isn’t there a song, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to love cowboys…”?

Abbey Westphal of Iron River at Saturday morning's horsemanship competition for Rodeo Queen candidates; she would be crowned Miss U.P. Rodeo Queen on Sunday afternoon (she was my pick!)

Visitor Info Click: Iron County

Mark your calendars: Dates for the 44th event are July 22-24, 2011 (tentative)



  1. I do miss attending these events. I have been to several events in Saline, regionals in Pocatello and finals in Vegas with international riders (a bullrider was fatally wounded). Otherwise, it is a lot of fun to watch. It looks like the kids contest (chasing and catching lambs or was it piglets?) was missing in the Iron River event.

    • No kiddie contests, except popsicle eating!

  2. I think your photos are great today, Kath….really shows the vibrancy of a rodeo. I haven’t been to one in awhile but always loved going. Hmmmm….just somethin’ about those cowboys! Are you sure you want beatiful Miss Paige to go back without you? 🙂

    • Oh, I never said I wasn’t going to be there!!

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