Originally Published: July 2, 2015 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Seven-year-old Jolie Knott's blonde braid tied in a red, white and blue ribbon bobbed up and down as she rode a hand-operated bucking steer, "Wooly Bully,' in the Prescott Frontier Days rodeo arena.
The raindrops dampening her blue jeans didn't give her pause. She was all about the jerky ride.
"I'm not scared ... I feel like a real cowboy,' Jolie declared as she stepped off the miniature replica bull.
On the opening day of the "World's Oldest Rodeo" at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds, the Happy Hearts Rodeo for Exceptional Children offered a group of 15 children between 5 and 12 a chance to experience first-hand some of the rodeo events later performed professionally by real cowboys and cowgirls. Happy Hearts set up five child-friendly rodeo events: lassoing the horns of a plastic bull; riding the hand-operated bucking steer; mounting a real horse and parading around the rodeo grounds with the help of adult guides; tying a ribbon on a pretend goat's tail and participating in a stick horse barrel race.
Twelve-year-old Beth Vicory, a rider with Horses with H.E.A.R.T. (Hands-On Equine Assisted Riding Therapy) since she was a toddler, was one of the first to promenade with one of the rodeo horses. She was all smiles as she sported a brand new white cowboy hat with purple ribbons draped off the top.
It came in handy as the rain pelted the group, muddying the ground beneath them. A few of the boys seemed to like stomping their boots in what turned thick, loose dirt into an earthy molasses type mix.
Drake Kellogg, 9, was able to ride the bull and pull the ribbon off the goat's tail before the organizers had to escort the children to shelter as rain turned into a thunder and lightning storm.
"He got wet, but he had fun,' said Drake's father, Kevin, as the children headed into one of the buildings where they were treated to pizza and goodie bags that each contained a rodeo T-shirt, a bandana and tickets for them and their families to attend the evening's official rodeo festivities.
Leah Wolford, 7, wished she had been able to spend a little more time perfecting the rope trick.
"I kept missing it,' Leah said.
She promises she'll be back to try again next year.
Nine-year-old Breanne Petty said she was able to wrap the rope right around the steer's right horn. "It was easy; my grandpa taught me how."
Breanne said she would have liked to try it a few more times, but the bad weather interfered.
"I didn't like getting wet," Breanne admitted.
Back inside, though, the children reveled in rodeo fanfare.
They tied on the bandanas they found inside their goodie bags, cracked open peanut shells and played made-up cowboy/cowgirl games with family and newfound friends. Contestants for the Miss Teenage Rodeo visited with them, and saluted their efforts. No one was willing to let the angry skies ruin their special day at the rodeo. Joeli and her family were clear the storm was part of the adventure.
"The lightning came in like waves, and the rain was like ocean water,' Joeli described as outside the window the thunder clapped and jagged bolts of lightning illuminated the night sky.
"This is a vacation for them, and for their families and caregivers,' said Happy Hearts Director Becky Cochell. "As long as they all had fun, that's what's important."
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter@HutsonNanci Reach her at 928-445-3333 Ext. 2041 928-642-6809
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