The La Junta Kids Rodeo started in 1938, likely the second oldest community rodeo in Colorado, and the only kids rodeo with racing.

The La Junta Kids Rodeo started in 1938, likely the second oldest community rodeo in Colorado, and the only kids rodeo with racing. Kevin Waggoner gave a brief history of the event as he spoke at Community Conversations on Thursday. It is a unique event in the Arkansas Valley, said Waggoner, with people once coming from other states. The founder of Little Britches, now an international organization, observed the La Junta Kids Rodeo as he made his plans.

The La Junta Kids Rodeo is a ranch rodeo, featuring skills that kids need to know to work on a ranch. Its founder, Leonard Stroud, was the Roy Rogers of his day, except he was a real cowboy, said Waggoner. Its heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s. "It was a big deal then," said Waggoner. "Now there are other things." Nevertheless, the Kids Rodeo is one of those events that make La Junta unique. "The Kids Rodeo is a national treasure," said Hassan Mirakhor, a big supporter of the rodeo in recent years, "and so is La Junta." In the 1960s, the rodeo drew 300 riders in a record-breaking season.

Bill Fry told the group how the Kids Rodeo and ranch activities had helped him and his wife Ruthie raise their kids. Brad, his son, became such a horseman he rode all the way to Washington D.C. with the bicentennial wagon train, won enough money to pay for his veterinarian degree and got a trip to New Zealand (from which he brought back a bride).

Both presenters agreed the City of La Junta has done a lot to help the rodeo, but they would be very pleased if the rodeo grounds got the same amount of attention devoted to the baseball fields in town. La Junta was instrumental in getting the rodeo grounds new dirt a couple of years ago, which has made the arena attractive to the most fussy of rodeo performers, the barrel racers. "Those horses are valuable," said Waggoner. "They need a good, safe surface." The Otero Junior College rodeo program uses the arena during the fall, winter and spring months.

Waggoner thanked all the local businesses who support the Kids Rodeo by providing the prizes for the kids. The rodeo is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, with all proceeds going back into the operation of the rodeo grounds. "We couldn't exist without all the help we get," said Waggoner.

The Ace of Spades riding club acts as a sponsor of the rodeo, planning the event and looking after the grounds. The wooden fences have been replaced section by section with steel pipe, until the gates and fences are all sturdy now. The next project at the rodeo grounds is a shade cover for the stands, since a lot of the activity takes place in the peak of summer heat. Waggoner has found the blueprint for the shade and is having it updated to save on engineering costs. It is a goal for next year, the 80th anniversary of the Kids Rodeo. When Glenn Parker asked how we can help them, this is the project both Waggoner and Mirakhor backed.

This year's rodeo is scheduled for Aug. 5, 6, 7 and 8. The parade will be at 10 a.m. on Aug. 6, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Entry forms may be picked up at the Chamber office, 110 Santa Fe Ave., said Chamber Manager Angela Ayala.