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Bull-riding at the 2023 Chaffee County Fair. Photo by August Toevs

Among the sights to be seen at the Chaffee County Fair and Rodeo were, arranged in escalating order of their capacity to amaze: small children clinging to bewildered sheep, teams of cowboys and cowgirls tying up calves in a matter of seconds, world-class athletes performing Herculean feats of strength and, no joke, a zebra on top of a trailer.

The above-listed events were only a fraction of the excitement that drew a record-breaking crowd to Fritz Rundell Arena last Saturday night, the second night of rodeo-ing at this year’s county fair.

Saturday, July 22, marked the National Day of the Cowboy, and those gathered in Poncha Springs for the Chaffee County Fair that night were celebrating it with fervor.

A cowboy competing in the breakaway roping event. Photo by August Toevs.

The night’s emcee, Skip Ransom, informed the crowd that not only did more people purchase tickets to Friday night’s festivities than in the last two years combined, but Saturday’s crowd was even larger.

Salida native Cali Quintana took home the title of Rodeo Queen this year, though her role in the night was far from ceremonial. In addition to her newly-acquired royal status, Quintana also competed in the barrel-racing event.

Sabrina Kreutzer of Lake Creek, Texas picked up the Hollenbeck All-Around Belt Buckle, an award given to the rodeo’s most impressive entrant. Kreutzer excelled not only in the breakaway roping event, where competitors compete for the fastest time to lasso a calf, but in the mixed team roping competition as well, where she competed alongside her husband Wade Kreutzer.

The whole event, put on in conjunction with Rawhide Rodeo Company and the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association, kicked off at 5:00 p.m. with a fan favorite event, muttin’ bustin’, which has small children in helmets (as young as four-years-old) attempt to cling to a high-speed sheep. It is often a bull riding champion’s first entry into the world of rodeo competition, starting with sheep before graduating up to steers and from there, broncos and bulls.

A young cowboy falling from a sheep in the muttin’ bustin’ event.

In the night’s final event, bull riding, competition was fierce. Only one rider, Levi Wilkins of Penrose, Colorado was able to pull off a “qualifying ride,” lasting longer than eight seconds on the back of a less-than-pleased bull.

The rodeo competitions took a brief pause to include a performance from the one-armed bandit, Jon Payne, who has won the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s Specialty Performer of the Year award 15 times. He was the one who brought the zebra, chasing it and another horse around the trailer, firing off blanks from his pistol, before ultimately urging the horse and zebra up on top of the trailer, and joining them himself.

The Chaffee County Fair will continue on through July 30.

To view a complete list of the remaining events and festivities, click here.

Renowned rodeo performer, John Payne, a.k.a. “The One-Armed Bandit”, perched atop his trailer accompanied by another horse and a zebra. Photo by August Toevs.

In lieu of a “proper” conclusion, here is a collection of quotes from Skip Ransom that demand inclusion in this write-up, despite their arguable irrelevance:

“Muttin’ Bustin’: the only allowable, legal form of child abuse in the country.”

“Roping a bull like that is like having a rottweiler on some dental floss.”

“Hey, if you let your kids sit on the fence [during the bull-riding] I’m gonna assume you don’t like ‘em.”

And, finally: “We’d be hungry, sober, and naked without ranchers and farmers like these.”