At the Gilpin County Fair
By Jaclyn Schrock
Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads began what is becoming a tradition, professional rodeo at Gilpin County Fair. This rodeo has continued to be made possible with sponsorship from Black Hawk’s Mardi Gras Casino, part of Affinity Gaming. Locals and cowboys alike are so thankful for their sponsorship!
The 2018 Plains to Peak Rodeo Series, which finished at Gilpin County Fairgrounds this week in the Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads Rodeo, brought cowboys mostly from the Front Range, but also from neighboring states. The bull athletes that made the excitement as cowboys rode them are provided by contract from JD Ford’s Ranch in Brighton, CO.
JD wanted the 2018 rodeo to encourage a younger generation know about Rodeo. He aimed the 2017 rodeo at recognizing the accomplishments of many past champions, which included a bull rider in the 40+ age range. Gilpin County’s 2017 Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads was also the site of a reunion of older and newer cowboys. 2018 was a chance to open up a new chapter and opportunity for the next generation. Instead of a clown show with the 2018 rodeo, mini bull riding was made possible for 9-14 year old cowboys.
He also wanted to encourage Gilpin area folks who dream of riding bulls, to come to Gilpin County Fair Grounds for a 3-day training Sept. 14, 15, and 16, 2018. The Bull Riding Champion of 1970, Gary Leffew will bring his Bull Riding School right here. He has taught 13 world champions. He helps bull riders develop life lessons, with meditation and yoga to prepare themselves as a whole cowboy.
Rodeo crowd’s oos, auhs and cheers ring out loud and clear when an agile, brave and strong cowboy stays on for an 8 second ride. And in unison, Gilpin groans when another cowboy hits the dusty ground, disappointed to be bucked off with a short ride.
JD Ford complemented Gilpin County on our united voices. He wants Gilpin County to know their reputation has spread of our united voice of encouragement. He reported how other Front Range rodeo personnel knew Gilpin County sang our National Anthem loud and clear for all the cowboys last year when the sound system went down just as our female vocalist sang, “Oh say can you see?” The encouragement the crowd gave to those praying for a safe ride that day could not be explained. It really touched their hearts. It encouraged them of our support for their efforts to do their best with any situation. They can be assured the animals will vigorously attempt to dismount them with their massive weight and strength, yet they know the crowd was united to supporting their best.
JD Ford still lives on the homestead in Brighton, CO tending the farm and ranch, and working in town. He continues the family business of raising rodeo livestock. He contracts for producing about a half dozen rodeo groups and events including Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads Rodeo to bring the bulls for the rodeo. His part began when he was 14. His parents gave him three heifers and a bull, saying to build your dream – and he has done just that. He has worked hard to uphold the reputation of his family name and bring well prepared bulls to rodeos in many areas.
JD Ford was raised in the rodeo environment, so naturally followed his dream. By age 8 he learned to hang on with bareback broncs. By age 14, though he was scared and didn’t have enough practice, he began riding in the rodeos. He rode PRCA from age 15 successfully until 27 years of age. He made it to Nationals a number of times with bareback broncs. He only rode bulls professionally once, and won. The rest of the time he only rode bulls without spurs in tennis shoes on their ranch. He attributes his cowboy dream and enthusiasm which developed his riding skills to three people. His dad, who he still spends much time with in business and in life, including hunting each year. Weld County’s Bruce Fold, who made 19 trips to National Finals with his unique bare back riding style, so encouraged JD. JD feels most indebted for life lessons and cowboy skills from Golden’s Bob West.
Bob West and his previous generations as a pioneering family needed the skills we see in rodeos today to maintain herds on the range. The West family are said to be very influential to cowboys and rodeos in Elizabeth, Steamboat, Brighton, Eagle, Longmont, and many more rodeos. A first-time ever reunion of about 40 cowboys who befriended Bob West over the years, were here last year at Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads Rodeo. Another celebrative reunion was held this year as well, although Bob’s dear friend and organizer of the 2018 reunion, Richie, passed away 6 months later.
Near the end of the rodeo this year, where folks stand in the back along with cowboys as they get set up, and after their turn, haul their goods back to their vehicle, I heard a gal holding a young child say, “Bye grandpa.” The distinguished gentleman replied, “Oh, you are heading out? Well, be safe.” After hugs and kissing were complete, I asked him if he had family in the rodeo today. He said his son Scott West was one of the pick-up guys, he had been on the paint, one of his favorite horses from his 40 head herd. said he had two grandsons also riding today. So I asked Bob West for his comments for this 2018 Rodeo, he said, “It is good. The way you know it is good, is when no one has been hurt and someone wins.”
Brian Larson was photographed preparing for his bull ride, laying back to secure himself. Brian said he grew up in Brighton, often helping around the bulls and broncs. When he was 8 years old, he started in junior rodeo. He has continued to rodeo with Mountain States in Colorado and Wyoming. He has been in the finals three times, earning reserve champion one year. Larson has been in the top 12 another time. In 2015, Brian won 1st place in bull riding at Gilpin’s 2015 Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads Rodeo. With amazing grip and skill, he was the 2018 champion bull rider again, with a score of 82.5, and a prize of $2,640. He is now living in Phoenix, Arizona, but still rodeo riding in Mountain States PRCA Circuit.
We had a local, former bull rider from Gilpin County who was drawn into riding again by the purse size. Lowell Allen rode bulls when he was 30 years younger, and remembered how exhilarating it was. His 2018 ride was exhilarating too, but he kinda’ wished he had stayed home. He was disappointed that his bull was a spinner that stayed close to the gate, bucking him off in a short ride.
Another disappointed rider was Chase Everly of Castlerock, CO. His last bull ride was in Elizabeth, CO. At Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads, he rode Red Top Angel, but not for long. He practices a lot on broncs out east. His grandpa had been a rodeo livestock contractor, but has sold off most of the stock. The few he has left are the way Chase practices.
Oh there are more stories to tell of rides here and there. However, the best is to encourage each rider and observer to follow your dreams, and never give up. Congratulations to all who did their best at Mardi Gras Bulls & Beads Rodeo.
Bull Riding, 1, Brian Larson, 82.5, $2,640
Bull Riding, 2, Dustin French, 74.5, $1,760
Ranch Bronc Riding, 1, Nate Nieslanik, 74, $1,025
Ranch Bronc Riding, 2, Tanner West, 73, $615
Ranch Bronc Riding, 3, Rocky Nix, 72, $410
Mini Bulls, 1, Cade Chatham, 82, $275
Mini Bulls, 2, Dalton Willis, 74, $165
Mini Bulls, 3, Jonathan Malovich, 72, $110