High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
High Desert Rodeo
In 1990, Mr. Ross and a group of hard working folks formed the Ridgecrest Rodeo Association and became a PRCA Rodeo Committee for the purpose of promoting rodeo and western lifestyles in the Indian Wells Valley on a year round basis. A scholarship fund was set up, support was established for the local California High School Rodeo District 9 and a number of other activities for community support.
The picture at left shows the original Rodeo Arena owned and operated by Mr. Wolliford. It is located behind Padgett's Chevron Station on Inyokern Road. These were the first Rodeos brought to the Indian Wells Valley circa 1946. Unfortunately, Rodeo's did not do well in the valley and therefore within a couple of years Mr. Wolliford terminated Rodeos in this area. It wasn't until many years later (1980) that the Desert Empire Fair brought the Rodeo back to the valley. Because they didn't want to do this on a continuous basis an interested group of people headed up by Hap Ross. They began putting on PRCA sanctioned Rodeos at the fair every year.
The Ridgecrest Rodeo Association was responsible for the establishing of a number of precedents in the Indian Wells Valley. As a nonprofit association, the RRA put on fundraisers year round that included team ropings, barrel races, poker rides and participation as an association in supplying sponsor dollars and volunteer workers for the District 9 High School Rodeos. Members of the RRA would travel to High School Rodeos all year long throughout the district to help work stock, time events, organize help behind the chutes and put on clinics for the kids to hone their skills in various events. Monies raised by the RRA went back to the community in support of such activities outside the High School Rodeos and scholarship such as an annual Holiday Basket program at Thanksgiving and Toys for kids and Holiday meal baskets at Christmas, D.A.R.T. support, 4 H club support and also special requests for help from other organizations in the area when doing community projects. Because of his exceptional efforts to keep these activities going and expanding, Hap Ross was nominated AND WON the 1990 John Justin Standard of the West Award. This award is given each year after going through a selection process of nominees submitted by PRCA Rodeo Committees across the nation. Hap's exceptional efforts to promote rodeo in his community were rewarded by both the nomination by his fellow RRA members and the winning of the actual award.
The D.A.R.T. support also provided another opportunity in our community never seen before. This was the Exceptional Rodeo put on for all those great kids that are part of the D.A.R.T. organization. Much like the premise of the Special Olympics, PRCA has Exceptional Rodeos. These are usually organized and done during a regular PRCA rodeo. The PRCA national sponsors would supply us with many items to use as awards for these kids. In addition, we had our own program to make the rodeo experience real for them.
The Exceptional Rodeo would be set up in the rodeo arena. We would have dummy cows for them to rope, real horses to be lead around a barrel pattern, a dummy bull for them to ride, and other such events such as horseshoes to compete at. We had cowboy hats, bandanas and ropes for each contestant which were theirs to keep. Then our volunteers and rodeo contestants would assist (REAL cowboys and cowgirls who made a wonderful and lasting impression on these kids) in taking them through their events and teaching them a few of the basics. There are very few activities that I have been directly involved in that gave me so much joy as working with these kids. Their excitement and appreciation is amazing and you can't be involved in something like this without getting back a warming of your heart and smile on your face that you feel for a long, long time. We think we are doing this to bless them, but guess what. We are the ones who got blessed!
The Ridgecrest Rodeo Association produced many rodeos over the years and was finally dissolved in 1998. Our last produced PRCA rodeo was in May of 1997. We continued with western related activities and community support through 1998. The cost of producing one PRCA rodeo at that time was right around $25,000. This was a significant amount of money to be raised for a small group of volunteers. At that time those volunteers were working year round toward the promotion of both the PRCA rodeo as well as a local rodeo in the fall. It was a labor of love for most of us, but as many of our most active members moved out of the area, we found there were just weren't any folks to replace them. It takes a rare kind of commitment to work so hard simply for the pleasure of promoting and producing rodeos and rodeo related activities. With the rising costs of insurance coverage as well as stock contractors and other event costs, it became a feat that actually exceeded the manpower reserves, however committed they might be.
The loss of a viable vehicle for the promotion of rodeos, particularly in the way we did it in a community activism venue, has been very sad to me. It is my hope that someday there will again be enough people coming together to start this tradition again. The premise of a non profit organization formed for the purpose of year round western lifestyle promotion and producing rodeos turned out to be very successful. From the beginning in the early 1980's with such dedicated folks as Don Joe McKernan to the formation of the Ridgecrest Rodeo Association by Hap Ross, we actually had a good run of almost 15 years of rodeos. Even making enough money to build the rodeo arena at the fairgrounds, supply much of the hardware for chutes and panels and support numerous community activities. This is a success story regardless of the final necessity of dissolving the association. In all those years, rodeo supplied loads of smiles, demonstrated a lifestyle rich in values and tradition, helped a number of needy families, provided support to many kids heading off to college and brought a unique group of people together who have formed friendships which will last a lifetime. Yes, this IS a success story in every way.