Rodeo Season Kicks Off in Riggins

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There are only a handful of events each year that I take the whole family to—the whole family being the motorhome (Svetlana), travel trailer (Thomas) and limousine (Guillermo). The Riggins Rodeo is one such event. With seven friends in tow, I headed out for the otherwise quiet Central Idaho river community of Riggins in southwest Idaho County.

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Don’t be fooled, the Riggins Rodeo is as much about the social experience as it is legitimate rodeo competition. I have made the trip four out of the last six years and average about 50 percent attendance to the actual rodeo events. While many people are there on official business, guys like me tend to spend most of the time roaming around town, conversing with folks who offer a unique perspective on a more rambunctious side of life in Idaho.

The residents of Riggins welcome an eclectic mix of people for one weekend every May. There are old-school hardcore rodeo patrons, families, college kids, city slickers, cowboys and cowgirls, and everything in between. The first regional rodeo of the 2011 season, Riggins celebrated its 63rd iteration this year, and the rodeo grounds on the main Salmon River were as lively as ever with events including all of the normal rodeo happenings: calf roping, saddle bronc, team roping, bull riding, bareback riding, wild cow milking and barrel racing.

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While many attendees find accommodation in town, a large, rowdy camping/RV contingency assembles at Shorts Bar—a sand bar about two miles up river from the rodeo grounds. Complimentary public buses escort patrons all around the Riggins area during daylight hours, so its fairly easy to get around provided that you don’t mind making some new friends. On our second trip to town, we were greeted by two characters I’m not likely to forget soon: a liquored-up cowboy and a platinum blonde rodeo princess.

Cowboy: “You don’t lose your girlfriend here, you just lose your turn.”
Rodeo Princess: “You’ve got two choices, city boy: sing for me or arm wrestle me.”

As might be expected, there were some fights—I spoke with one gentleman who had tussled with some cowboys the night before. His zest for the Riggins Rodeo had not been soured by his matching black eyes and missing teeth.

“Just part of the scene. I was mouthing off and it didn’t go my way,” he said.

Though the weekend is about the actual rodeo, there are always a couple of events that have little to do with horses. On the hillside adjacent to the rodeo grounds, there are cooler races, typically reserved for only the most intoxicated and shirtless in the crowd. Watching these gentlemen (and the occasional lady) saddled to a Coleman is truly something to behold.

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Apart from the rain, the Riggins Rodeo was predictably fun and entertaining in 2011. There are several other upcoming rodeos in the area that are certainly worth attending if you feel like witnessing—or partaking in—the rowdier side of life: Jordan Valley (Oregon), Owyhee County (Homedale) and Pendleton (Oregon) to name a few.

Upon our departure back to Boise, one of my friends suggested that walking through the hundreds of camps at night was like “scouring Sodom and Gomorrah,” with large bonfires, people engaging in all sorts of silly and illicit behavior, country music blaring from lifted diesel pickups and alcohol flowing at powerful levels. I cannot say that I disagree.

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