Four-year-old triplets Kenly and Grady Flint get ready for the obstacle course event at Wrangler Arena Saturday.
Campbell County kids, teens light up the arena at Betty Hough Memorial Youth Rodeo
Kenly Flint blinked sleepily in the early morning sun. It wasn’t quite 8 a.m. Her brother Grady grabbed her hand, pulling her protectivley closer to their mom Jamie as the trio waited in line to get their temperature checked at the registration desk. Around them, kids twice their size trotted past on horses as they looked up bewilderingly, eyes shaded underneath matching off-white cowboy hats. When the “Star Spangled Banner” blared out over the loud speakers, Grady took off his hat and held it against his chest.
The 4-year old siblings, who happen to be triplets, were getting ready for their second go-around at the Peewee Rodeo Saturday morning. The event not only kicked off this year’s inaugural Betty Hough Memorial Youth Rodeo, but also marked the first day of the 2020 Campbell County Fair. Their triplet, Raleigh, chose to sit this one out, so it would just be the two of them competing this year.
Like everywhere else, the pandemic has left its mark on the Campbell County Fair. As such, this year’s event has been drastically pared back with all of the entertainment and ticketed events canceled, and the 100th year-anniversary celebration postponed until next year.
What hasn’t changed, however, despite the optional face masks available at the Fair Office, the signage encouraging social distancing efforts and daily temperature checks for superintendents, is the spirit of the contestants and community, which is readily felt.
Minutes later, the two Flint kids lined up to take their turn running the obstacle course, which included a horse stick ride to a scooter, followed by crawling through a rainbow tunnel, where they exited to grab a plastic squirt gun and hop onto a rocking horse to shoot the target in front of them.
Kenly more sauntered than raced, taking her time to think through the various obstacles while brother Grady shot through in seconds when his turn came up next. Then, the dozen or so competitors lined up in heats to race each other in the stick horse contest as parents and family smiled and laughed watching them, catching videos on their cell phones.
Behind them in the parking lot, 7-year-old Connor Knapp was busy helping his mom Caitlin unload his trusty horse Dodge from the family’s trailer as his grandma Linda looked on. Connor has been competing at fair for as long as he can remember, which is just as long as he’s been riding Dodge. Like a seasoned ranch hand, he fastened his saddle in between patting his trusted horse’s head.
Today, he’s competing in pole bending, flags, barrel and roping. His all-time favorite event is goat tying, but he likes pretty much everything, including catching up with all of his friends. He stopped to wave to a boy, who was saddling up his horse at the trailer behind him.
The Knapps, who are originally from Michigan, have lived in Gillette for just over a decade. Linda said her son, Cody, moved out to Wyoming when he was 19 years old, given the shortage of job opportunities back home. He and Caitlin are high-school sweethearts and former rodeo champs in their own right.
“Cody moved out here with $400 in his pocket with the hope of getting a job in the oil field,” Linda said proudly.
She, too, moved out to Wyoming from Upstate New York and can’t imagine a better life. On top of being close to family, she said she’s never met such nice people in all of her life. And, she loves rodeos, she said, and is looking forward to the Ranch Rodeo Thursday night and watching her son – who had to work today – compete on the Heart of the West team.
“What could be better than watching a rodeo in Wyoming?” she said rhetorically, gesturing to the dozens of trailers and kids grooming their horses and practicing roping a small plastic steer.
Out in the arena, Sara Reed pounded spikes into the dusty ground as she helped set up for barrel racing. Her aunt was Betty Hough, the namesake of today’s memorial rodeo, and she’s been helping set up for several years.
She’s not sure she has volunteered as much as been told she’s going to help, she said with a laugh, as she hustled over to the adjacent arena to set up the flag event.
Outside of the arena, 10-year-old Addison Teigen sat atop her horse Forest next to her father, who waited on his horse beside her. She’s competed for the past two years and is eager for her turn in today’s races.
Around her, kids as young as 6-years-old sat on top horses as if they’d been born to ride. In general, the kids competing that day seemed to step out of bygone era with polite hellos and thank you’s and a spirit of gamesmanship that today seems almost old-fashioned.
As if to prove that point, a girl racing by the stands with hat flying, took the time to thank a spectator who told her she’d done a good job. Meanwhile, the other kids waited in their cowboy hats and sparkly, plaid shirts for their turn in the ring.