Barrel racers faced conditions that challenged the agility of horses. PHOTO BY JERRY BALDOCK
Barrel racers faced conditions that challenged the agility of horses. PHOTO BY JERRY BALDOCK

Sisters Rodeo’s return made a big splash — literally. As in the sight and sound contestants and animals made as they splashed about in a wet, soggy, yet exhilarating event.

J.J. Harrison, rodeo clown, made the best of it, with antics ranging from belly flops on the soaked field to mud bathing.

Wednesday night’s Xtreme Bulls started out with a roar in overcast but dry conditions with two arena records set. The raging bulls may have had the better of the night, however, sending three riders limping off the field and a fourth so dazed he had to be propped up and pointed to the exit.

There was stunned silence on the third ride, when bullfighter Logan Blasdell took a full-force, direct hit to the face from the hind leg of a bucking bull. The ferocious kick resulted in a fractured cheek. In true cowboy fashion, Blasdell was back in action the next day.

Bullfighters, often dressed in clownlike costumes, as was Blasdell, are the two cowboys on foot who get between the bull and the rider when the rider has been tossed off.



That same night, J.J. had to retreat to his padded barrel no less than six times as angry bulls knocked over his safe space, occasionally rolling him as if for the sport of it. Likewise, one of the two pickup men was knocked from his horse after a marauding bull hit his horse full speed from the rear. As both were moving, the horse escaped damage, but the crowd held their breaths for what seemed like minutes.

“In all my years (30-plus), I’ve never seen bulls this wild,” said Bonnie Malone of Sisters. That was the sentiment of many veteran rodeo fans as well as Jerry Baldock, well-known Sisters photographer, who has covered Sisters rodeos for decades.

“That was wild, nothing ever before like it,” he marveled in the media gallery.

Friday night was uneventful by comparison, essentially dry. The crowd, like Wednesday’s, was large with few if any tickets remaining. They roared with approval as cowboys and cowgirls delighted them with strong performances.

Saturday afternoon was set to drenching rain. Both performers and spectators took it in stride. Rain didn’t alter the schedule, which starts with the wild horse race. Ten or more teams of three cowboys, each with their own job, attempt to saddle the untamed horse and ride it across the finish line.

The mugger’s job is to keep control of the horse’s head, so it doesn’t rear back. The shanker holds the lead rope so the horse doesn’t run away, while the rider must saddle the horse and race it around the field. The first team to successfully ride the horse across the finish line wins.

There were audible gasps as several horses fell in the rain-soaked arena, one falling completely over on its back. Concern for the horses — none for the riders — was rewarded as cowboy after cowboy was dragged through the mud, soaked to the bone. A winner was eventually declared.

Saturday night, a sellout, remained wet, the arena floor largely a pond. The crowd was nonetheless enthusiastic. A new arena record was set for saddle bronc riding and one of the 10 best-ever bull riding scores.

Rain or shine, special attraction Felix Santana and his Lusitano and Iberian warmblood cross, Gallahan, gave impressive demonstrations for all performances. The duo performed a series of movements with roots in classical horsemanship, also known as haute ecolé or Alta Escuela training. Horse and rider behaved as if they were working on Astroturf.

A number of barrel racers withdrew Saturday and Sunday for fear of injury. Horses for this speed event typically sell for $100,000 or more.

“It’d be like driving your Porsche in a demolition derby,” mused Hank Lambert from Chemult, Oregon, making his 12th Sisters Rodeo. “I don’t blame them one bit.”

There are over 600 rodeos in the U.S. every year, nearly 15 last week. The payout for the Sisters Rodeo topped $200,000, a new record and the highest payout of any rodeo for the week. Ted and Lucy Garner from Tillamook who were taking in their eighth Sisters Rodeo, took note of the roster of entrants.

“Sisters Rodeo is the real deal,” Lucy said, with Ted elaborating: “You always get some of the best cowboys in the game. We can count on it.”

Indeed, among this year’s entrants was Stetson Wright of Milford, Utah, ranked number one all-around through Sunday with $211,738 in winnings so far. He’s number three in saddle bronc riding with a take of $105,821.

His neighbor, Spencer Wright, entered with $69,926 as the fifth-ranked saddle bronc rider. Team roper Wesley Thorpe of Throckmorton, Texas is the number-five-ranked team roper. John Frost, another Utah cowboy is the number-two bull rider, pulling in $122,434 in 2022. And the list went on, with nearly a dozen top-10-ranked cowboys in the lineup.

As the curtain came down Sunday, the sun teased the glad audience, and the performers headed for the laundry.