Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
September 13, 2008
Rodeo has been alive and well in the Roaring Fork Valley for many years, and will probably continue to draw a crowd as long as the government stays out of it.
The first rodeo arena in Aspen, as far as collective memory can ascertain, was “out west” by the Aspen Meadows, on the spot where the Utes used to race their horses. The white man built a “better” race track there during the mining days, and then sometime later, Pitkin County, as part of a fairground effort, decided to put up an official arena. The rodeo aficionado in charge of building the arena was having trouble digging post holes in the rocky ground, so one afternoon he canvassed the saloons of Aspen, looking for help. The next day, before sundown, old-time miners, along with their knowledge (and possession) of dynamite, had dug the post holes for the new arena.
As part of the Aspen clean up campaign of the Paepcke era, the rodeo arena and associated race track met the wrecking ball because part of the land was needed for tennis courts, or some such thing. Most of the race track, sans fencing, is still visible from Ruthie’s Run.
Badly in need of an equine arena, a group of local riding enthusiasts, working through Newt Klusmire’s supper club on Galena Street, pressed patrons for donations of either $100 or $200, until a satisfactory amount was raised to begin a riding and rodeo facility out where the Pomegranate is now located. Also built was a huge grandstand which held most of the spectators. The Aspen Saddle and Bridle Club was in charge of the arena, and once a year, the Silver Stampede rodeo was held on its grounds. The valley 4H clubs held their annual show there, too. Making room for more “progress,” that arena was torn down for the emergence of the Pomegranate Inn.
With no arena, rodeo was fairly well lost to the upper valley, although the Vagneur family, under the able leadership of Wayne and Clyde, built an arena of competition size in Woody Creek, holding weekly roping events there under the auspices of the Aspen Roping Club.
Of course, there was the W/J Rodeo, for many years a Lions Club spectacular that drew contestants from all over the country. Yours truly rode bareback broncs and the occasional bull there, but spent more money on beer than he ever won. Keith Patterson, Johnny Chiodo and I ended up doing really well in the wild horse races, taking home some big bucks from those. Guys like Freddie Vendola took home some big injuries, as well.
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If you’re in the rodeo groove now, you know there’s an authentic event at Snowmass, held every Wednesday evening, just after the barbecue. As a matter of fact, that is the longest running weekly rodeo in the valley, and since the early ’70s has presented some of the best and most consistent rodeo experiences to be found around these parts. Ms. Chris Kelly is the top-hand out that way.
The Gus Darien arena near Carbondale hosts a Thursday evening rodeo which has proved popular of late. It’s good to see a fledgling operation, managed by a group of local business owners, taking hold on that end of the valley. But wake up guys! By allowing “locals” to permanently park around the arena perimeter 24/7, the place looks like the “white trash capital” of the valley during the week.
Come performance night, if you’re disabled or otherwise incapacitated, and can’t walk to the bleachers from the northern parking lot, it’s just too damned bad, ’cause all the close-in parking is taken before the gates even open. For this reason, many an old-timer was turned away this summer. It’s a tragedy that’s giving valley rodeo a bad name; from Aspen to Utah, at least.
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