Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Celebrates its 75th Anniversary
Rodeo has evolved into one of the best in the country, event organizer says
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jul 16, 2022
Cole Reiner from Buffalo, Wyoming competes in the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo in Casper.
(Wyoming Truth photo by Jackie Jensen)
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
CASPER, Wyo. – Rodeo contestant Brody Wells looked calm and collected as he waited to perform in the saddle bronc riding competition at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Tuesday night. It was the first time Wells, 21 of Powell, Wyoming, competed in the fair’s pro rodeo event.
“I feel great,” he said before his turn in the arena. “…I’ve got a good horse.”
Wells started rodeoing in his late teens and went on to compete in the college rodeo finals as a student at Clarendon College. He described the Casper rodeo as a good circuit rodeo that draws top competitors and gives them a chance to earn good money.
About 740 contestants competed in the five-day rodeo, according to Angela Berry, spokesperson for the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo. Contestants from across the United States and Canada vied for prizes in seven categories: bull riding, women’s barrel racing, bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team ring and tie down roping.
Twelve contestants in each category will advance to the finals on Saturday, where $500 thousand in prize money will be split among the rodeo categories.
“When rodeo first started, it was really western, but it’s become more refined, more structured,” said Tom Jones, general manager of the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo. “…Now, there’s a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life in rodeo and not necessarily just ranch people.”
And rodeos are big business. In 2021, the fair and rodeo generated more than $5.5 million for the Casper economy, Jones said. Approximately 35,000 spectators attended the rodeo last year, but Jones expects that number to rise with ticket sales up 10% for the Casper fair and rodeo’s 75th anniversary celebration.
The town of Casper held its first fair on record, known as the Industrial Convention, in 1904, according to the fair’s website. For years, Casper’s earliest fairs and rodeos lacked permanent fairgrounds and were hosted in different locations. The Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo finally found a permanent home in 1947.
“The major thing about rodeos is it does remind people of our roots and where we all came from and how we all grew up,” Jones told the Wyoming Truth. “It’s a mainstay of our country.”
Fair adds some new features, but keeps longstanding traditions
While the fair hosted its usual parade, livestock competition and carnival for attendees, it also brought in some new exhibits: the traveling Aussie Kingdom show and display and the Budweiser Clydesdales. The Aussie Kingdom featured kangaroos, wallabies, a laughing kookaburra, a dingo, a blue-tongued skink and a variety of other animals native to the Outback.
The huge Clydesdales stood stoically in cages outside the rodeo arena and stadium. One of the horses, the aptly named Bud, towers more than 19 feet and weighs 2,200 pounds, according to his sign at the Clydesdales exhibit.
For Pete Greiner, chairman of the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo board, watching the fair and rodeo grow has been a lifelong project.
“In the beginning, it was a ranch rodeo,” he said. “A ranch rodeo is when the ranches around the community come in and we have a rodeo – and then that all evolved into a regular rodeo… It’s grown from a ranch rodeo into one of the best rodeos in the country.”
On the morning of the first day of the rodeo, the fair hosted its annual parade in downtown Casper. The parade had more than 180 entries, with many vehicles and floats promoting candidates for various political offices.
A car with a “Liz Cheney for Wyoming” sign cruised by and was later followed by a truck dragging “Hageman for Congress” signs and American flags. Harriet Hageman, who is seeking to oust incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney, walked ahead of the truck, smiling and waving to parade onlookers.
Dani Izzarelli attended the parade with some friends and her two sons. The 46-year-old Casper resident, a parade regular for 40 years, noted how much the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo has grown. The parade also took place two days after Wyoming’s 132nd statehood anniversary on July 10.
“This is a big year for everything – being an election year, being our birthday for Wyoming,” said Izzarelli. “And the fair and rodeo is always a lot of fun to be at and always brings everybody out of the woodwork.”
Chris Tobin, who lives about 55 miles from Casper between Midwest and Kaycee, came to the parade with her husband, daughter and granddaughters. The family planned to watch the rodeo one evening as well. Tobin’s granddaughters, 3-year-old Kelbi and 6-year-old Oakley, are involved in kid rodeo events, including goat tying, barrel racing and pole bending.
“It’s just something we enjoy doing each year,” Tobin said about the parade and rodeo. The family planned to purchase rodeo tickets for “whichever night we can get the best seats.”
Rodeo is the “best way of life”
Outside the rodeo arena Tuesday, bull rider Riker Carter was relaxing in a red folding chair near a trailer where contestants huddled, merely a spectator that evening. Carter, 30 of Stone, Idaho, has competed in the Casper rodeo numerous times and claimed first place overall in 2019.
“This is a good rodeo to come to in the middle of the year,” Carter told the Wyoming Truth. “All the top guys come here because it pays more.”
“Most of these contestants here, this is how they make their living,” he said. “Especially in Wyoming, I don’t think you’re going to see rodeo go anywhere anytime soon. The cowboy’s life is a big deal in Wyoming.”
Carter climbed on his first big bull at age 12, joking that riding a bull is “eight seconds of pure terror.”
In August 2020, Carter landed in the hospital when a bull rolled over him and broke his back, requiring him to undergo a surgery to fuse the bones in his spine. Although he wasn’t supposed to ride a bull for two years, Carter was back in the saddle in January 2021.
“It’s probably the best way of life you can ever do, really,” Carter said. “I’d rather be driving all over the country, only riding a bull for eight seconds a day than go sit in a 9 to 5 job all week. I’d rather be footloose and fancy free.”