Writer Amanda Christmann Larson
Photographer Bryan Black of Blackswan Photographers
It’s still the boots and the spurs and the cowboy hats, but the face of rodeo is starting to look a little more diverse. In a sport where boys and men have long ruled the roost, the girls are kicking up dust, and they’re doing it with style.
The Cave Creek Pro Rodeo, a 35-year Arizona tradition and the highlight of Cave Creek Fiesta Days, is coming to town March 22 – 24. It is one of the best-attended and most anticipated events in the area, and behind its success are some dedicated folks.
While other rodeos are flailing and failing, the blood, sweat and tears of the Cave Creek Pro Rodeo Committee are keeping ours going strong. Nothing has changed on the outside; the Cave Creek Pro Rodeo is still an exciting event full of thrills and spills and crowd-pleasing excitement. There are a lot of scuffed up boots behind the scenes, but these days, many of them have manicured toes inside.
The women behind Cave Creek Pro Rodeo are a force to be reckoned with. Gritty and pretty president of the board Traci Casale heads up the events, and has been the glue that has held the rodeo together, even after devastating cold weather, followed by theft of every piece of equipment the rodeo owned nearly caused it to fold in 2011. The one-two punch came at a time when the future of small rodeos nationwide was starting to look bleak.
“I said to everybody, ‘Do you want to go home, or do you want to put your boots on and go to work?’” Casale said, her black studded custom JW Brooks hat shading her dark eyes from the setting sun as she relaxed in the back of a pickup truck.
Casale is tiny, but so is a stick of dynamite.
“We all put our boots on and worked hard to make it happen, and everyone said that 2012 was the best success we’ve ever had out there,” she continued with pride.
The other seven women who found time to meet at the arena nodded in agreement. Each one has spent hours and hours rounding up sponsors, planning event schedules, maintaining and upgrading facilities and so many more responsibilities, all while juggling families, careers and other sometimes overlooked things like sleeping and eating regularly.
They’re busy gals, but they all say they’re happy to be a part of the rodeo lifestyle.
“There are a lot of opportunities for women to use their strengths and apply them to rodeo,” said Casale. “Women tend to be better multi-taskers and that alone is a huge benefit in producing any major event. Women also tend to be quite giving, and when you are volunteering all your time to a cause or to an organization, generosity is invaluable. We all have to be generous with our time and we all have to wear many hats to make this rodeo successful.”
“We all have the same goals of being part of this community and preserving our Western heritage,” said Robbie Hall, who heads up the Fiesta Days Parade that will wind its way through Cave Creek March 23. Over 4,000 people lined the streets for last year’s parade, and a similar crowd is expected this year.
“A huge part of our goals, too, is bringing more youth and families into this sport,” Hall added. “There isn’t much out there for our youth, and rodeo is a healthy family thing that everyone can enjoy together.”
Tina Hayden, who is in charge of the mutton bustin’ event for children four to seven years old, is on it. Last year, she herded 95 youngsters for the popular event. Today’s mutton busters are tomorrow’s bronc riders, so she and the volunteers and sponsors who work with her are cultivating the future of rodeo … and she does it with a smile. “I’m a mom, so it’s nothing new for me,” she said modestly.
Each of the women, Casale, Hall, Hayden, Cathy Nielsen, Yolanda Kruger, Amanda Barlow, Beth Cornell, and Casale’s sister Teri and other volunteers have all dug in their heels and worked hard to make the rodeo – and the golf tournament, parade, dances, mutton bustin’, and all of the Cave Creek Fiesta Days celebration happen, and rodeo folks around the country are starting to take notice. At the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Convention this year, they were one of the only constituencies made up nearly entirely of women.
“We got noticed,” said Hall with a laugh. The others agreed.
But this is no beauty pageant. These girls are more than lipstick and hairspray. They get down and dirty and do their time to make it happen.
Amanda Barlow, the youngest of the group, was the reigning Cave Creek Fiesta Days Rodeo Queen for the past two years. Tall and slim with golden curls, she could have won the competition on looks alone. But not here; not among these hard-working gals. Instead, she’s proven herself worthy time and again, breaking her own horses, developing her own breeding program and holding her own in competitions against some of the best pro rodeo barrel racers in the country.
“I’ve always been treated fairly,” Barlow said with quiet confidence. “I’ve always worked as hard as the guys, and they treat me like I’m one of them. It’s nice to represent women and girls, and it’s always a good feeling when they announce that this is a rodeo queen competing.
“People live and breathe this,” she continued. “It’s not a beauty contest. You have to work hard to do well, and I love it when little girls look up to me and say, ‘I want to be you someday.’”
The women of Cave Creek Pro Rodeo are more than a sisterhood; they’re part of a family. Like any family, everyone – male and female – is important. Each of them knows that, although they all have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses, they are there for each other and the rest of the rodeo family in good times and in bad.
“I am lucky to be surrounded by dedicated and talented women on this rodeo committee,” said Casale. “We support each other in so many ways.”
These women are doing an excellent job of continuing a long tradition. The PRCA is the largest and oldest rodeo-sanctioning body in the world. The organization sanctions more than 600 rodeos annually in 38 states, in addition to four Canadian provinces, and ensures that every PRCA-sanctioned event is managed fairly and that the animals are treated humanely.
Some of the toughest bulls and bucking horses will once again be at this year’s Cave Creek Pro Rodeo, thanks to Cervi Championship Rodeo. Known for world-class stock, they are responsible for luring some of the top competitors who know that tough rides mean high points.
Gold Buckle sponsors Kennedy Design Build, GoDaddy.com, Coors Banquet, Wal-Mart, Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, A to Z Equipment Rentals & Sales and the Town of Cave Creek, as well as the many Silver Buckle and other great rodeo sponsors have been integral in keeping this fun family event alive in Cave Creek. Additional partnerships are still needed to keep the rodeo spirit alive in our community.
Tickets are available online, and rodeo fans will want to purchase them early since seats are expected to sell out.
The schedule of events is as follows:
• Third Annual Fiesta Days Dan Lebsock Memorial Golf Tournament and Fundraiser. Join your favorite rodeo supporters on the green at Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club, followed by dinner and awards at Harold’s Cave Creek Corral.
• PRCA slack performance at noon.
• First PRCA performance, Tough Enough to Wear Pink,
benefiting cancer charities at 7 p.m.
• Rodeo Kick-off Dance at Harold’s Corral after
• Fiesta Days Rodeo Parade at 9 a.m.
• Mutton Bustin’ competition at 2 p.m.
• Second full PRCA performance at 7 p.m.
• Rodeo Dance at Harold’s after rodeo performance.
• Mutton Bustin’ finals at noon.
• Final PRCA performance at 2 p.m.: Wrangler National
Patriot Day to benefit American military veterans and
All Pro Rodeo events are held at the Cave Creek Memorial Arena, with the exceptions of the golf tournament, parade and dances. The arena is located north of Carefree Highway. Follow 24th Street north, then turn right on Maddock. The arena is located at the first elbow in the road.
If you’d like to join the rodeo family, whether you join the committee or simply show up to help during rodeo weekend, the men and women of the Cave Creek Pro Rodeo Committee can use your assistance. You don’t have to be a cowboy to join the association; you just need to care about making a difference in your community. Approximately 150 volunteers are needed during the rodeo weekend to make it run smoothly. Contact the committee online for more information.