Editor’s Note: When my family moved to our ranch just outside of Beulah in 1972, the saddle club and rodeos had already been a tradition in the valley for 50 years. In a time before four-wheelers or cell phones, just about every kid had a horse, or access to one. Every Monday evening in the summer, gymkhanas were sponsored by Beulah Valley Saddle Club. A highlight of the summer was the annual the rodeo the club sponsored that was also sanctioned by the Southern Colorado Horsemen’s Assn., so the event was well-attended. This is a personal account, as the historic record will fill volumes to recognize everyone involved over the years. The photos are a compilation over several years, and courtesy of Dr. Tom Ready.
The horses would have already been in the corral, having caught them the evening before in preparation for the big weekend ahead. It is 1976, and my 13 year old self is dressed with new jeans from Mack’s Saddlery in Pueblo, a leather belt that says ‘Greta’, and a tank top for the Beulah Valley Saddle Club’s two-day 4th of July Rodeo. My new long-sleeve shirt, the dress code for any horsemanship events, was hanging in the house, freshly pressed by my Mom the night before.
Meadowlarks called out a gleeful greeting, heralding the morning and matching the excitement fluttering in my stomach. My mom and siblings Holly and Eric were equally excited for the events and activity ahead, an extended version of our beloved weekly gymkhanas at the Mountain Park Arena. Proud members of the Beulah Valley Saddle Club, we joined the first year we moved to Beulah.
The horses whinnied a welcome, and I climbed over the corral fence with a shallow bucket of grain. Distracted, the horses easily dipped their heads down, and I quickly fastened the halters and led them back down the two-rut road to the house. Sis, sweet as pie until an arena and cheers brought out her fierce competitive side; Little Bit, a cart pony who found fame in the poles; and Star Lady, the long-legged, part Tennessee Walker horse that you could never get into a lope. We love and appreciate each unique horse–whether working cattle, or moving around the ranch, the horses are a big part of our daily lives.
We kids had no problem getting all our chores done down at the barn this morning; the sooner we accomplished our tasks, the sooner we could hitch up the trailer. Still, Mom hollers out to us kids to get a move-on; and we load up the horses into the four-horse stock trailer. Pulled by the blue four-door International pick-up, it is loaded up with saddles, blankets, bridles, curry combs, brushes, grain, hay, coolers of drink, snacks, and lunch for the day.
Heading down our dirt road to the highway, we saw all manner of trucks and trailers headed to the Mountain Park Arena. We joined the parade for the five-mile trip, appreciating the drop in temperature as we traveled through the trees along Pine Drive, the familiar pine scent filling us with energy for the day.
A wide swing to the other side of the road was required in order to make the turn to the first park entrance. Despite being early, there is already a line and my heart races to think we might have missed something. As we pull up to the bottom gate, just past Kay Keating’s red barns, where happy and smiling saddle club volunteers were collecting the gate fees, wearing aprons around their waists to hold change and programs.
After paying our fee, we waited until we couldn’t see the truck ahead of us. The new gravel took care of the mud, but a heavily loaded truck and trailer could easily get bogged down on the steep ascent up the road. So you put your foot in it, and didn’t let up until you were at the top. (If you did get stuck, you’d be holding up the works, and Mr. Purvis would have to go get his tractor and drag you out.) The big rigs usually unloaded their horses at the bottom, and led them up.
My capable mom easily navigated the thrilling ride to the top of the hill. We crested the hill, large hayfields to the east, and then behold the Saddle Club’s Mountain Park Arena!
The arena glowed with a fresh coat of white paint applied to the top rail that ran the entire perimeter, corrals, catch pens, roping chutes, bucking chutes and the announcer’s stand. A big sign proclaimed ‘Beulah Valley Saddle Club’ in the club’s official kelly green color. The entire arena was ringed with cars, trailers and people–participants with their families, and visitors eager to observe. A concession stand was opening near the small set of bleachers on the north side, and the finishing touches were being put on the Beulah Ambulance army tent. A long line formed at the entry booth, excitement was thick in the air.
The morning began with Horsemanship at 9:00am, all of us kids are entered. Mom is an experienced horsewoman, and thinks we’ll learn something more about riding horses. The sun is already starting to get hot, but my wide-brimmed cowboy hat is doing the job. Relieved when the scrutiny is over, we kick back and watch the impressive performances in Western Pleasure and Reining.
A bustle of activity around the trucks and trailers is observed ahead of the grand entry scheduled at 1:00pm. The official green and white, handmade crocheted saddle blankets brighten up the everyday tack. Horse’s tails are combed, and hats pinned into place. My sister Holly is the princess this year, and gets to wear a western suit with a white satin sash with the word ‘PRINCESS’ across it. She rides into the arena at the very beginning, behind the queen, Donna Allee, and queen attendant Beth Donley.
The announcers make the call over the loudspeakers and riders on horseback carrying the United States and Colorado flags into the arena, the bottom of the flagpole wedged into the stirrup. Patriotic music plays in the background, and a steady progression of riders fills the arena–first the pivot men (or women) with flags would follow until they find their post, then dozens of saddle club royalty, each in a colorful suit and matching cowboy hat with sparkling tiara. Next come club members and participants (or anyone who could find a horse to ride) with club flags, and colorful outfits in tribute to the red, white, and blue. The vast brown arena transforms into a fluid mix of color circling the arena, creating a glorious spectacle for all.
When everyone had zig-zagged around the pivot points, and eventually trailed out of the arena. a prayer for the safety of the participants was said, and the national anthem was played over the loudspeaker. The announcer would ask to post the colors, and everyone would have their attention. The two riders carrying the flags would blaze off in the opposite direction, racing along the perimeter of the arena at full speed, flag streaming behind. Soon hurtling toward each other at breakneck speed, they passed each other in a fine salute to the flags and our nation!
When the royalty were announced, each races around the arena once, saluting to the crowd. My sister and I prefer two finger salutes from the hat, but every girl has a unique wave.
With all our respects paid, it was time for the games to begin! We entered the gymkhana events like barrel racing, 75 up and back, and stake race. My brother Eric has been practicing on his bucking barrel all year so he can finally take his chance at riding a steer, older boys will ride the bigger cows. There is all types of roping–calf roping, team roping, junior/senior roping, and women’s goat tying. The arena volunteers kept busy with setting up barrels, flagging times, and making sure everyone stays safe, while putting on a good show.
Occasionally, Beulah Volunteer Ambulance Service are spurred into action–carrying a patient on a stretcher, or being waved off because cowboys are tough. The ambulance service also takes care of splinters, heat stroke, allergic reactions, cuts, and sprains; most of which came as a result of all the action that happened outside of the arena. My parents help man the first-aid tent which offers privileged shade.
The action around the outside of the arena is just as exciting as inside the arena. I make countless walks through the lush social scene both on and off my horse. An electric environment exists with people catching up, talking about new horses, upcoming rodeos, injuries, hay, and rain. There are couples holding hands, and couples fighting; families having picnics on the back of a tailgates, or in campers. Everyone parked right up to the edge of the fence in order to sit comfortably in their cars or trucks. Everyone has a cooler filled with beer, pop and watermelon to make it through the day.
Like all good days, this one goes too quickly. The sun begins to set, and now everyone is wearing a layer of dust. People are starting to load up their trucks and trailers to head back out. Evening chores need to be done, and then we’ll be getting ready for the big dance at the Beulah Community Center. Yep, growing up in Beulah certainly has its perks. v
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