RODEO: Competitors return to West of the Pecos

PECOS The annual West of the Pecos Rodeo is steeped in tradition as the home of the nation’s first rodeo.

It’s an event that people across the Permian Basin look forward to every year but the 2021 edition had a palpable buzz.

Fans filled Buck Jackson Arena Wednesday for opening night of the rodeo’s return.

It was the first time in two years the rodeo was held after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition.

As the first performance got underway, there was a sense of normalcy returning for Brenda McKinney, who serves as the secretary and treasurer on the rodeo committee.

“We’re always so proud to host the West of the Pecos Rodeo but it’s great to bring it back after the rough year last year,” McKinney said. “It’s a lot of hard work and we’ve all worked to get to this day.”

McKinney has served on the committee for 28 years and is part of four generations of her family who have played a role in hosting the event.

She and the rest of the committee held out hope initially by first postponing the 2020 rodeo to the end of July into early August before ultimately having to make the call to cancel the event.

It was a decision that McKinney said was a necessary but tough one to make.

“COVID was just starting to hit our community pretty hard and we knew we just couldn’t have it by not knowing who would be coming in that would be asymptomatic carriers,” she said.

Because of that cancellation, along with several others across the country in 2020, cowboys and cowgirls had to find a way to make up for lost events.

McKinney added that there was an uptick in competitors for the 2021 rodeo.

“A lot of them hardly had a place to go last year and were ready to get back on the road and do what they do,” McKinney said. “I think they’re going to try and hit as many rodeos as they can to make up for lost time.”

Dawson Hay is one of the cowboys who competed on opening night who was in that category. After suffering a serious head injury during a rodeo in 2020, the saddle bronc rider made his West of the Pecos debut with fellow Canadians Jake Watson and Zeke Thurston.

Hay made the most of his first trip to the area, finishing with a ride of 86.5 points to lead all saddle bronc riders after the first night of competition

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about coming here to Pecos,” Hay said. “They were all good bucking horses and I rode one that I really didn’t know much about.

“It ended up going really good and was able to get a top spot.”

While Hay was enjoying his first appearance, bareback rider Garrett Shadbolt was embracing his return to the Permian Basin.

Shadbolt competed in Pecos in 2019 as a rookie on the PRCA Tour and entered the rodeo ranked No. 6 in bareback riding.

“It’s just really cool to be back here because it kind of puts me in a part of history,” Shadbolt said. “You can just tell this is rodeo country and it just feels really right when you’re back here.”

Getting that recognition is something that McKinney values even more so in 2021 after the arena was empty just a year ago.

“We’re just so proud that we’re able to do this,” she said. “Even though it’s a lot of work and it’s hot, we all kind of have our chest stuck out saying that we’re going to do this and we’re glad to do this for not only the contestants but the community.”

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