Whether it’s a top stock contractor from Athens, Texas, a famous clown from Smithdale, Miss., or a rugged cowboy from Anywhere, USA, there’s one familiar link that binds them together for a brief time each year during Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale.
For more than a decade Stace Smith Pro Rodeo has provided the livestock for the Springdale event, which was again dubbed one of the top 5 outdoor rodeos in the country last year for the fourth consecutive time.
Smith is no stranger to awards himself, the Texas-based stock contractor produces more PRCA rodeos than any other stock contractor in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and has won PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year eight consecutive years (2004- 2011) a feat that has been achieved only one other time since the awards’ inception.
Rorey Lemmel and 15 others from Smith Pro Rodeo are busy this week tending to more than 150 of the top bucking horses and bulls working in the professional rodeo circuit, which is a full-time job in the sweltering heat and arid climate. Lemmel says its critically important that these high-dollar animals don’t get stressed.
He said the animals that make the trip to Springdale are chosen on a rotation basis as Smith Pro Rodeo has three other productions that overlap in Mississippi, Texas and Cheyenne, Wyo., this same week.
“We have about 15 workers who spray down, hydrate and lightly exercise these animals so they can have strong performances with those top cowboys who travel to this rodeo. The animal’s performance is half the score. These cowboys make this trip south each year because they can draw solid caliber stock and because of the nice price money for those who ride,” Remmel said.
Insiders refer to this week of year as “Cowboy Christmas” because there are 33 other rodeos being held across the country.
Lemmel said there are a great number of rodeos underway up north this week and making the trip to Springdale is a long way south for many of the cowboys.
“They come because of the big purse and the opportunity to draw champion stock,” Lemmel said. “It’s a great rodeo.”
He has worked the Springdale rodeo for several years and says it’s one of his favorites because it always draws top riders.
Tom Reed, president for local rodeo association, said the production and big purse wouldn’t be possible without a host of sponsorships and volunteers that step up to help each year. The local association will put $70,000 in added prize money into the purse this year. That is $10,000 extra for each of the seven PRCA events on top of the entry fees collected from the contestants.
At last count there were 393 contestants entered to compete this year, though not all of them will compete. The entry fees average $125 per event.
Steve Smith, vice president for the local rodeo association, was in charge of soliciting sponsorships for this year’s rodeo that make the big purse possible. He said the goal for this year was $100,000 and he’s been able to secure about $95,000 so far, which is 13% more than last year.
“We have a great community that wants to help put on this rodeo each year. As a nonprofit we could not do it without the help of our sponsors and army of volunteers,” Smith said.
Aside from padding the purse, local sponsors also help defray the costs of entertainment enjoyed by the patrons this week, which include three country music acts out of Nashville, John Payne, “The One Arm Bandit” who’s been the PRCA “specialty act of the year” 12 times and Rudy Burns a famous barrel clown comedian.
Burns is no stranger to Springdale. It’s one his favorite rodeos to work, says the 62-year-old.
He was named top barrel man in 1995 and 2000 and has worked rodeos all over in the country, including the PRCA National Finals in Las Vegas. The top barrel award is voted on by bull riders, cowboys and other various rodeo participants and something Burns considers to be his greatest professional achievements.
Burns, who will be 63 in September, says he has no plans to give up clowning.
Lemmel, once a bull rider himself, said pro rodeo is a close-knit community and once it’s in your blood you’re hooked for life.