Pioneer Days in Ogden allows the community to engage in activities like bareback riding, steer wrestling, clown acts, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
This year marks the 85th celebration for Ogden Pioneer Days. According to the Standard-Examiner, Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo has been ranked among the nation’s top five best large outdoor rodeos, attracting more than 30,000 attendees each July.
Jeff Haney — a communications professor at Weber State and member of the Pioneer Days organizing committee for six years — discussed the importance behind Pioneer Days and the sense of community it brings to Northern Utah.
“The honor of being ranked among the top five is reserved for the best of the best in the country,” Haney said. “We have worked really hard to provide a rodeo to this community that honors this tradition that has been established in this area since 1934.”
The Pioneer Days celebrations started July 10 with events like concerts, fireworks, parades, Miss Rodeo pageants and the pre-rodeo. Despite the late-July heat, the July 20 rodeo brought in thousands of fans ready to cheer on this year’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association contenders.
The Pioneer Days rodeo competition is a way for cowboys to win cash prizes. According to Kevin Sweazea, a retired bull rider, numerous cowboys make most of their money competing in these events.
Kevin Sweazea was visiting Ogden’s Pioneer Days Rodeo for the first time to watch his 23-year-old son Carl Sweazea, who competed in team roping. Carl Sweazea was in the running for this year’s rookie of the year.
Team roping is an event in which horseback riders compete in pairs to rope the horns and legs of a steer in the fastest time.
Kevin Sweazea said he was excited for his son because he is just starting out his professional rodeo career. Carl Sweazea’s partner, Bj Campbell, has been to the national’s final rodeo a few times.
“It’s action every single second. It’s a display about athleticism, a display of perseverance, a display of the courage, and in addition to that, it displays the patriotism. We honor the rights and the freedom the country has,” Haney said.
The top 15 cowboys at each event compete at the final rodeo in Las Vegas, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Cash prizes are given to the winners of the rodeo, but some cowboy’s eyes are after the belt buckles prize.
According to Jessica Saunders, an avid rodeo attendee, buckles are worn with pride and tell a person what and when the competitors have won.
“It’s exciting to get dressed like a cowgirl and feel the excitement from the bull riders. You can feel their energy from the stand,” Saunders said.
In addition to the cowboys, Pioneer Days rodeo features Whoopie Girl riders, a tradition stretching all the way back to the beginning of Ogden Pioneer Days in 1934. Jake Hansen, a behind-the-scenes worker, assists the Whoopie Girls, who ride horses out onto the field carrying flags of the rodeo’s sponsors. Of course, Hansen described the rodeo as his favorite part of the Pioneer Days celebration.
Kale Watkins also helps the Whoopie Girls, as his wife is one. Watkins helps them with their horses to calm them down and get them out of the gate. Watkins enjoyed the energy and atmosphere of the event.
“It’s a good environment here. Everybody gets excited, everybody gets into it. The crowd has a fun time. The announcers keep it upbeat, there’s never a dull moment,” Watkins said.
The Pioneer Day Rodeo brings together generations and aims to remind attendees of “the roots of our free country.”
“If you’re an adrenaline junkie, if you like those thrills, if you like to see things that seem darn near impossible, then rodeo is the sport for you,” Haney said.