Now in Its 27th year, Challenge Rodeo Delights at Cheyenne Frontier Days
30 elementary school students try their hands at rodeo games
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jul 29, 2023
Seven-year-old Jonny Burton (center) delighted the audience by holding onto this bucking horse for a full eight seconds. (Wyoming Truth photo by David Dudley)
By David Dudley
Special to the Wyoming Truth
CHEYENNE, Wyo.—Ten-year-old Drake Willis, of Cheyenne, lifted his right leg up and over Kiwi’s broad back. It was Willis’s third Challenge Rodeo, but the first time he has participated in the barrel race. And it was the first time he saddled up on a real horse—and stayed there for the entire race.
Willis’s dad, James, said his son was afraid the first time he got on a horse. Once Willis got settled, Kiwi carried him off toward the first barrel. James and Willis’s teacher, Jaci Berreth, watched with big smiles on their faces.
“Drake is one of two blind students in the district,” said Berreth. “I’ve been teaching him about horses and rodeos, but he can’t learn that by words alone. He needed to experience it.”
Giving that experience to the 30 participants — all special needs students in grades K-6 and many from Laramie County School District 1 — is what Thursday’s Challenge Rodeo at Cheyenne Frontier Days is all about. Accompanied by volunteers ranging from professional cowboys to clowns, barrel racers and Dandies, the youngsters tried their hands at bull riding, saddle bronc, steer roping, barrel racing and horseback riding.
Though the sun was shining bright, and the temperature was 85 degrees and rising, muddy grounds pushed most of the events out of the arena and onto the concrete pad in front of the grandstand.
It was on that concrete pad that friends Hattie Burningham, 9, and Isaiah Farmer, 9, of Cheyenne, raced one another on stick horses. They were neck and neck entering the home stretch, but Farmer edged out his competitors.
Though Burningham was hot to trot on the stick horses, she wasn’t so keen to try her hand at steer roping. Kylie Luckenbill, a 15-year-old volunteer from Cheyenne, did her best to show Burningham the ropes, but the latter blushed and walked away from the event.
“I don’t get it,” Burningham said, laughing. “It’s OK. I just wanna have fun with Isaiah.”
Meanwhile, Jonny Burton, 7, a second-year Challenge Rodeo veteran, climbed onto a quarter horse; his face lit up as the horse began bucking. But Burton wasn’t about to let go. He held on for his life as the eight-second mark came and went.
It took a moment for Burton to steady himself, but once he did, his teacher and sponsor Jody Madsen greeted him with a high-five.
“This is so fun for the kids,” Madsen said. “And it’s wonderful for us to see them meet these challenges and grow.”
Thanks to donations from Swire Coca Cola and the Cheyenne Frontier Days Buckle Club, each participant received a T-shirt, cowboy hat, trophy and a canvas bag in which to carry their awards. Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming’s First Lady, Jennie, gave them belt buckles.
Amber Leach, a Cheyenne-based volunteer who has worked with some of the participants as a substitute teacher, said Challenge Rodeo is one of her favorite events.
“I’ve been involved with Frontier Days for 15 years,” said Leach, who also serves on the rodeo committee and assists behind the chutes. “From helping the kids with the games to seeing all the volunteers come together to spend time with them, I love every minute of it.”
And the kids feel the same. When Willis was asked what he thought of his first horse ride, it sounded like he said “scary.”
Berreth placed a jelly bean into her hand and held it out for Willis, who took it and popped it into his mouth.
“No, I said ‘Hairy!'” Willis said. “I love it!”