By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PENDLETON — For the past several Septembers, members of the Pendleton Round-Up Board of Directors and representatives from the Pro Bull Riders association watched the PBR Tour flourish during Pendleton’s annual rodeo. They jointly noted the reaction from the community and the riders and looked for a way to expand on that.

“Quite often the Round-Up and Happy Canyon folks are asked, ‘Isn’t there more that you can do for the community than once a year?’ ” board member Randy Thomas said. “But it’s all volunteer, so you’re asking more of them.”

But with a largely volunteer-based workforce, the risk of adding another event kept the idea sitting on a shelf. Bringing in the PBR for a mid-summer blowout would be great, the directors thought, but it felt like just a pipedream.
Until now.

The PGG Independence Day Celebration will feature two days of Round-Up-like rodeo action this week, starting Tuesday at 7 p.m. with the first of two PBR Challenger Series bull riding performances. Wednesday night will see another run of bull riders at 7 p.m., but the day’s events start much earlier than that. The Let’er Buck Fun Run 5K kicks things off with an 8 a.m. start time — cut offs to sign up at the Round-Up Grounds office are at 7:45 a.m. — with barrel racing then at 9 a.m. in the Round-Up Arena. A Fourth of July parade and a celebration at the Indian Village will follow.

The PBR Challenger Series coming to town won’t likely feature many of the same riders that rodeo fans can expect to see come September. The Challenge Series could be considered the Triple-A version of the Built Ford Tough Series’ major leagues, but the choice by the PBR to bring in the Challenger Series was based on arena capacity, said Carl Culham, the Round-Up board of director’s secretary and treasurer.

The Happy Canyon Arena seats 4,200 spectators, below the Built Ford Tough Series’ requirements

Jeff Robinson of Robinson Pro Rodeo will provide the majority of the stock for the bull riding with others coming from Chris Wentz Bucking Bulls, Gary Long, Kelly Bowcutt and Mossy Rock Cattle Company.

 Much like their riders in the Challenger Series, there is usually a slight difference from the top-shelf stock at the Built Ford Tough Series, said Dave O’Neill, livestock director for the Round-Up. The bulls are younger and at the beginning of their evolution as buckers.

But that’s usually.

“We’ll have a very strong, even pen,” O’Neill said. “But what really stands out, this will be the best short-round set of bulls we’ve ever had at a PBR event to date.”

Wentz Bucking Bulls will bring the bull to watch. The company’s beast Bucky, which is in contention for PBR bull of the year this season, highlights a field of consistently strong-scoring stock.

Riders will earn series points for a season championship with their Happy Canyon Arena rides as part of the tour.

The bull riding may be the main event, but the barrel racers get a chance to run through the expansive Round-Up Arena as the appetizer. Fans can watch Tuesday as the barrel racers practice the unique Round-Up barrel pattern and again when they run it for real on Wednesday — both times free of charge.

The Round-Up directors knew interest would flood in if the arena opened its doors to another event outside the September rodeo for two reasons, Culham said. That’s the Round-Up barrel pattern and the event’s timing.

The local pattern is three times the usual with 288 feet between barrels compared the normal distance of 90 feet. And with these Pendleton rodeo events occurring on “Cowboy Christmas” during the week of July 4, plenty of racers will be looking for entrys as they patrol the countryside.

“The jackpot race on the Fourth of July offers the opportunity to ladies who don’t ride on the circuit to ride in the pattern,” Culham said. “And with a little added money, we might get some (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association) members that might stop by on the way to other rodeos.”

Gates for the PBR open each night at 5:30 p.m. For tickets, call 1-800-457-6336

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Contact AJ Mazzolini at ajmazzolini@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0839.

 


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