Deep in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, there’s a place where the road ends and the west begins, so grab your cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat for an experience unlike any other. It’s time for the Ellicottville Championship Rodeo.
“It’s one of the largest IPRA/APRA sanctioned rodeos in the Northeast,” said John Kent, who started the rodeo with his wife, Karen, 26 years ago. “I’m in charge of all the events,” he said, noting that Karen runs the kitchen and front office, but that his responsibilities range from the parking to crowd control and security to concessions and booking talent for entertainment like the rawhide rodeo. “I’ve done business with the stock contractor for the rawhide rodeo for the entire 26 years we’ve been doing rodeos,” Mr. Kent said. “That’s unheard of - staying with the same contractor - but we hit it off. He knows what I expect, and he gets it done.”
Other exciting attractions at the rodeo include bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, cowgirl barrel racing, team roping, junior bull riding, bull riding and cattle penning.
“We have ten events in all, including girls breakaway roping, which is new this year,” Mr. Kent said. “Cowgirl breakaway is getting big out there in the rodeo world, and my daughter talked me into it, so I told her she has to do it.”
Mr. Kent hopes the added event will help draw in more contestants to the rodeo. “We currently have close to 500 contestants a year,” he noted. “With girls breakaway, we should break that number with no problem.”
The Ellicottville Championship Rodeo also includes a few kid-friendly events, such as stick-horse races and junior bull riding, which Mr. Kent said is important when raising new cowboys and cowgirls. “More and more kids want to ride bucking ponies and bulls,” he said. “We want to start them young and start them right, so they grow up to be professionals. The rodeo is fun for the whole family, and all ages love it. People sit on the edge of their seats, cheering and applauding the cowboys and cowgirls. We have folks in their 80s who come in and watch.”
The Ellicottville Championship Rodeo attracts rodeo enthusiasts from the area and around the world. “We have people driving two to three hours or further, but some that come from all over the world from countries like Germany, France and Italy,” Mr. Kent said, noting that a change in advertising efforts made the rodeo more successful. “An old-timer in the rodeo business once asked me how much I spent on advertising, and when I told him, he suggested I double it. We took his advice, and it’s worked. That’s why I’m still here.”
Around February, the seasoned trio began planning this year’s program, printing and preparing advertising, and gathering sponsors for the event. “It used to be just my wife and I,” Mr. Kent said. “My daughter, Tammie, is back now, and she’s a big help. We need the young input because we would grow stale if we didn’t have it. There are different acts each year, and we try and change it up. Sometimes I hire my acts in August or September, just after the rodeo. Other times, I hire them right then and there when the rodeo is over.”
This year’s rodeo features three trick riders from Texas, a clown act from Mississippi and a rodeo announcer from Tennessee. “Our clown, Dusty Myers, has won several International Finals Rodeo (IFR) awards for Funniest Clown of the Year,” Mr. Kent noted.
The rodeo kicks off Thursday, July 3 through Saturday, July 5 at 7:00pm each night and continues through Sunday, July 6 at 2:00pm with plenty of food, drinks, entertainment and fun for the whole family. Each day, the gates open two hours before the show so visitors can enjoy the rodeo midway.
“Make sure to come with an appetite,” Mr. Kent said, highlighting the chicken barbeque as one the rodeo favorites. “We also have fireworks each night after the rodeo, and everyone loves those.”
This year’s sponsors include Gowanda Harley-Davidson, as well as Tim and Bonnie’s Pizza of Ellicottville. Presale tickets for the rodeo are available online at www.ellicottvillerodeo.com
until a week prior to the rodeo. The cost is $9 for children ages 12 and under; free for children under age 5, and $17 for ages 13 and up. Parking is free, and the event is handicap accessible.
“Plenty of tickets are available at the gate as well,” Mr. Kent said. “The show goes on, rain or shine. We have die-hard fans. Our cowboys are tough.”
For anyone who has yet to attend the rodeo, it might come as a surprise to learn just how exciting the event is for the area. “People don’t realize it’s the real deal with the bucking horses, bull riding and other events,” Mr. Kent said. “The talent is outstanding, and we have big names that have come in and still come in. There are cowboys and cowgirls from all over the world … world champions right here.”
“If someone is looking for an exciting afternoon, he or she needs to attend because there’s plenty of excitement,” Mr. Kent explained. “Many think the rodeo is something our ancestors did, and so many people come up to us after attending the first time and say they didn’t realize how big this event was, or tell us they’ll be back next year.”
“It’s a riot,” Mr. Kent said of the Ellicottville Championship Rodeo. “You name it, we got it. It’s a great time.”