Idaho's Rodeo Culture
Behind the Scenes of Idaho Rodeos
Salmon High School rodeo team members, R.J. Cotant, left, and Justin Kohntopp, prepare for the calf-roping event at the District 1 High School Rodeo in Challis.
While rodeo is, by definition, a sport that tests the skills and speed of cowboys and cowgirls, it is also an iconic part of Western culture. The first professional rodeo documented in North America was in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1872. Since then, the sport and its traditions have been passed down through generations, especially here in Idaho, where cattle, horse and ranch work have a rich history. Today, there are over 100 rodeos each year in the Gem State. The season begins with high school events in April, followed by the collegiate and professional rodeos that run through Labor Day weekend. Competitors travel throughout the state during the season ready to compete for winnings in places like Riggins and Mackay, Salmon and Shoshone, as well as many other unique, small towns throughout the state. Here we’ve rounded up some behind-the-scenes shots of Idaho’s rodeo lifestyle.
Backdropped by the Lost River mountain range and the tallest peak in Idaho, Mt. Borah, rodeo fans play a game of beer-pong during the annual Mackay Rodeo at the fairgrounds in Mackay. Billed as “Idaho’s Wildest Rodeo,” more than 2,000 fans travel to the small town of Mackay every June to enjoy the festivities of the event. The weekend begins with a parade through Mackay town followed by a two-day rodeo, camping and partying.
Cowboys inspect the stock at the 63rd annual rodeo in Riggins. Located at the confluence of the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers in west central Idaho, the town of Riggins has hosted the event during the first weekend of May since 1948.
Right: Matthew Lopez, a sophomore from Salmon, sits for a portrait after competing in the bullriding event at the District 1 High School Rodeo in Arco.
Left: Belt buckles are worn with pride by any cowboy, like this cross buckle worn by Matthew Lopez in Salmon.
Matthew Lopez hangs on for as long as possible during his bull-riding heat at the District 1 High School Rodeo in Leadore. With a population of 105, the remote ranching community of Leadore sits in the Lemhi Valley between the Lost River and Beaverhead Mountain ranges along Highway 28 near the border of eastern Idaho and western Montana. The Leadore Rodeo is the third event of the season for athletes in District 1. In total, there are six rodeos throughout the District 1 circuit. Cowboys and cowgirls compete in Challis, Mud Lake, Leadore, Mackay, Arco and Salmon before finishing the season at the high school state finals in Salmon.
Kayla Gutman waits for her heat before competing in the barrel-racing event at the District 1 High School Rodeo in Mackay. Although only a first year contestant, Kayla is one of the top qualifiers in the district.