This August, residents of the Rim country will celebrate the 120th Annual World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo.
The big event is Aug. 18 to 22 in Payson. It features fun, food and exciting rodeo events such as bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping and the biggest thrill of all -- bull riding.
There is even a terrific event for the littlest cowboys and cowgirls -- mutton bustin' -- where the youngsters don protective head gear and do their best to ride a woolly, wriggling sheep.
Festivities begin with the popular Rodeo Mixer Aug. 18. While the mixer is not a public event, it kicks things off with a special thank-you for the men and women who have put in hours of sweat and tears to bring the rodeo to the community -- the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee members and the volunteers and members of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Rodeo action kicks off Thursday night, with the Cactus Professional Women's Rodeo Association Buckle Series All-Women's Timed Event Rodeo, 7 p.m. at the Payson Event Center.
The men take the arena Aug. 20, when the Oldest Continuous Rodeo action begins. The first performance will be held that evening, with additional performances the afternoon and evening of Saturday, Aug. 21 and on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 22.
Between performances there are a couple of dances. And the big rodeo parade is scheduled for Saturday morning, Aug. 21. Those attending the parade can expect to see all kinds of fancy dressed riders, high-stepping horses, beautiful and talented rodeo queens from around the country, clowns and floats of a wide variety. Be sure to bring a comfortable lawn chair, a broad-brimmed hat or bonnet, plenty of water and sunscreen. The sunshine in Rim country is strong and hot, so be prepared.
Additionally, in conjunction with the rodeo fun, the Mazatzal Casino on the Tonto Apache Reservation will again have its Testicle Festival -- culinary event featuring "Rocky Mountain Oysters" prepared in a variety of ways. This activity is tentatively planned for Aug. 20-22.
The 120th World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA), so the points the riders earn in their competitions are added to their year-round score and placement in the sport.
PRCA rodeos have two types of events: roughstock events and timed events.
The roughstock contests are the bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding. The rider in each of these events may only use one hand to hold the reins of his mount, and to score he has to stay on the animal for eight seconds. At no time can the rider touch the animal with his free hand.
The timed events are tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping and steer roping.
Bareback and saddle bronc riding, along with tie-down and steer roping and steer wrestling, have the strongest link to the origins of rodeo -- skills needed by cowboys working the roundups.
The bareback and saddle bronc skills were needed to break wild horses and train them to be the skilled companions of the cowboys. They could then be used to help drive the cattle in from the summer and winter ranges, cut the cows and calves out of the main herd, gather in strays and pull down the calves and steers that needed tending. Pulling down the cattle for branding is where the roping and wrestling come into play on the range.
Showing off these skills, proving which ranch had the best crew of cowboys, was where rodeo had its start. It was a time to gather together to renew old acquaintances, meet newcomers, catch up on the events of the past year and celebrate. Do some trading and gambling, and just have a good time.
That good time is still the draw of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo, even after 120 years.
For more information, contact the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, (928) 474-4515.