Pick up trucks flanked the side of Spencerville Road, wheels turned into the dirt and dry grass like hoof marks left in ridges of dried mud. Last year the rodeo was postponed due to mother nature’s wrath, but this year’s Penn Valley Rodeo proved a perfect blend of spring sunshine, athletic livestock and friendly cowboys and cowgirls gathered in gold country to celebrate Western culture.
Penn Valley Community Rodeo Association (PVCRA) produced its first rodeo in May of 2005, but the Penn Valley Rodeo can trace its roots back to 1956. A small band of California ranchers created a one-day rodeo to help fund Penn Valley’s volunteer firefighters. To this day, the rodeo still takes place behind the fire house in Penn Valley, California.
The family-friendly, two-night rodeo, brings together neighbors, newcomers and old-timers to carry on the Western tradition of riding bulls and racing barrels in a weekend of spirited competition. Smells of barbecue and corn on the cob, blend with the aroma of spilled beer and a faint whiff of horse manure lingers in the warm evening air. After all, cows, horses, ponies and sheep are why we are gathered here in Nevada county. The PVCRA offers two scholarships to local high school students who intend to study agriculture.
While I love the excite that fills the air when the rodeo queens and drill team riders enter the arena, at a full gallop on horseback, I do hold my breath and tend to look away when a cowboy flies through the air and lands with a thud on the dirt after being thrown from a bull. Thank goodness for the humor and athletic abilities of the rodeo clowns. Dusty Barrett added levity and entertained the crowds with his dog and pony show. His ponies were so well trained as he stumbled and fell against these patient ponies in his comedic equestrian routine. It takes the talent of a vaulter and gymnast combined to do what he did on horseback!
One of my favorite rodeo events is mutton bustin. Children, ages 4-7, 55 pounds or less, attempt to ride a lamb out of the chute and as far across the arena as possible. When I watched this kid-friendly activity at the San Antonio Rodeo, I was pleasantly surprised to see this adorable little five-year-old cowgirl enjoy the longest ride. She was grinning ear to ear when they told her that she’d won the muttom bustin’ ride. I think it’s a lot easier to fall from sheep than from the back of a raging bull.
I have to wonder what goes through a bull rider’s head seconds before he nods his head for the cowboy’s to open the metal gate and let him or her rip. I find myself rubber necking like on-lookers after a car accident when a cowboy is bucked off. Will he get the wind knocked out of him and not make it out of harm’s way? What if the bull’s horn gores a rodeo clown or the bull rider? Please bring on the barrel racers, team ropers, drill team riders and rodeo queens. I much prefer the pageantry and show over the agony of defeat. What are your favorite sports at the rodeo? Team roping looks quite difficult to me, as does bareback and saddle bronc riding.
Need to know: The rodeo takes place every third weekend in May and includes a Saturday afternoon parade. There is also live music each night. You’ll save $5.00 on the entrance fee if you purchase your ticket in advance.
If You Go: Penn Valley Rodeo
10513 Spenceville Road (behind the fire house)
Penn Valley, California 95946
Penn Valley Rodeo review and photography by Equestrian Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. When she’s not sitting at her computer, Nancy can be found on a horse, practicing her rodeo queen wave. Follow Nancy D. Brown on Instagram.