Little Britches Rodeo says goodbye to Goshen County

National Little Britches Rodeo Queen Catherine Odgers of Nevada, left, poses with rodeo contestants Sid Peterson of South Dakota, center, and Talli Engel of Wyoming, during the Little Britches Rodeo that was held in Torrington, Wyoming, March 29-31.

TORRINGTON. Wyo. — Following a decade of top quality youth rodeo experiences for hundreds of regional youth, the Little Britches Rodeo will fade into the Goshen County history books with the conclusion of the 2019 event that was held March 29-31 at the Goshen County Fairgrounds in Torrington.

According to Susie Schaefer, who along with her husband, Bob, introduced and has organized and helped promote the event since 2010, the nationally recognized youth rodeo “...had run its course.”

The final rodeo, featuring 123 youth, ages 5 to 18 years of age, from mostly mid-western states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, was held at the Goshen County Fairgrounds in Torrington. While the Pavilion and adjoining horse stalls and camper hookups, were the main locations for the gathering, Schaefer explained that the three-day event benefited local businesses, including eateries, motels and fueling stations.

Summing up their dedication to the rodeo, Susie said, “We not only wanted to bring the Little Britches Rodeo to Goshen County, but we considered the additional benefits to the community, from Eastern Wyoming College to clothing stores.

“We decided on the spring rodeo, in part, to help boost the local economy,” Susie said. “It gets pretty quiet around here in the spring, and after talking to business people, we decided on the spring rodeo. And I think it has done just that.”

Schaefer said rodeo participation has fluctuated over the years, averaging about 135-140 youth. She noted that numbers have been dropping, for several reasons. Just like anything else, Schaefer said, numbers change as youth age out, and there is a slack time before another generation of youngsters are old enough to participate.

Although rodeo participation has slacked off, it has done its share to promote the community.

According to Sandy Hoehn, community development director with the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation and the chamber of commerce, the county has benefited from the lodging tax collected by local motels and camp grounds. Hoehn said the largest income in recent years came in 2015 when nearly $2,000 was collected over the three-days. It averages about $661 a night, if all 167 rooms are booked.

The rodeo has also been instrumental in promoting education, as participants have earned scholarships sponsored by the Torrington Elks Lodge.

According to Elks spokesman Clayton Kilgore, the rodeo not only benefited the town and county, as well as the rodeo participants, it was also good for the Elks.

“We enjoyed it,” Kilgore said. “It was an opportunity for us to show support for our youth, and the publicity for us was great.”

According to Kilgore, the Elks’ contribution to the event began in the early years when the organization provided a nice supper for participants and those connected with the event. However, he said local eateries felt the meal was detracting from their financial opportunities, so the meal was dropped. Since then, the organization has sponsored concessions during the three-day event.

Kilgore said interests of the local organization have changed, and consequently, the group has decided to withdraw from its involvement with the rodeos, withdrawing its scholarships, totaling nearly $1,000 each year for three scholarships, or $7,000-$9,000 total over the past decade. He said figures on the benefits to Eastern Wyoming College and its rodeo students were not available, but he is certain that the EWC program also benefited from the Little Britches Rodeo.

Of course, not all are utilized at Eastern Wyoming College or other Wyoming higher educational institutions, but they do remind contestants and their families that these institutions are available to potential students, including EWC’s award winning rodeo program, and other rodeo opportunities in the state.

Kilgore said the Elks organization is not capable of doing the rodeo on its own, so, “It’s time to move on, but we really can’t thank Susie and Bob enough. They came to us, and we went for it. It was good for the program and us.”

The Little Britches Rodeo has been important to local families, as well as those who travel hundreds of miles to participate.

Adding her support for the youth rodeo, Shelly Thompson of Yoder said local families have appreciated the opportunities it has offered.

“The Little Britches Rodeo has been great for the families and the community,” Thompson said. “It has been great for the kids, and had a family atmosphere. It shows them that life isn’t always fair, and helps establish responsibility, and their work ethic.”

She said the event has been good for the community as well. “It’s sad to see it go,” Thompson said. “Susie and Bob have left awfully big shoes to fill. They really worked to get sponsorships and prizes. Two of our daughters have earned their scholarships.”

Additionally, she said, the Little Britches program provides opportunities to establish contacts and friendships all over the United States, including some that are beneficial in the future. She noted a recent experience when she was taking horses to Texas, and through Little Britches contacts, a family provided a place for her to stop overnight.

“It’s not only the local community that benefits,” Thompson added. “The program is really a Little Britches Family. If a horse goes lame during the rodeo, someone will exchange theirs. And they cheer for each other, even though it could be for someone who beats you. It teaches a lot of life skills,” she concluded.

Thompson said there is no doubt that the family’s two-year-old child will follow in the footsteps of the two oldest children and will be involved in Little Britches Rodeo.

“We started this to help the community, and I think we’ve done that,” Susie said. “Nobody draws states like we do.”

Wrapping up the final event, Schaefer said that the 2019 sponsors included contributions from Kansas, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, all around Wyoming and Nebraska.

About 75 percent of the financial support has come through the mail, according to Susie. “They do that each year because they believe in what we do, and this year we had three new sponsors.”

Additionally, private individuals paid rough stock fees and provided hay at no cost, in addition to businesses participating at reduced costs for products and services.

“All of this is appreciated as we put on 33 events each day,” she added.

Adding a special touch to the final Goshen County Little Britches Rodeo was Catherine Odgers of Nevada, National Little Britches Rodeo Queen, who called Susie to donate her time at the Torrington event.

While the rodeos are always exhausting, Schaefer said they have been worth it.

“Nobody draws to a state rodeo like we do, but it’s time to call it quits,” Susie said. “Community interest if fading, and Bob and I can’t keep going at this pace. We’re just glad we could do what we did for the rodeo youth and the community.”

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