USING OTHER HORSEPOWER: Wahoo Saddle Club Member Larry Swanson mows the grass outside the rodeo arena Saturday morning. Final preparations for the rodeo are underway this week. (Staff Photo by Lisa Brichacek)

WAHOO – Sixty-five years is an anniversary many events don’t get the chance to celebrate, but the Wahoo Saddle Club PRCA Rodeo is still going strong after all those years.

This year, the three-night event will take place Thursday, July 25 through Saturday, July 27 at the arena at the Saunders County Fairgrounds in Wahoo. Performances will begin at 8 p.m. each night.

    This year is the 65th rodeo and Wahoo Saddle Club President Kirk Landgren said that it’s the people who’ve been involved that really made the event’s rich history possible.

“I think it says something about the people involved, that we’ve been able to keep it going for all these years,” he said. “It’s been a professional event the whole time, and it’s still going strong. That’s pretty impressive”

The history of the Wahoo Saddle Club actually dates back to the 1940s. In those early years, club members sponsored horse shows and horse racing.

But in 1954, the Saddle Club brought in top cowboys from the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA) to compete and the rodeo tradition in Wahoo began. Later, the competitors started coming from the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (P.R.C.A.).

No matter where they come from, though, Landgren said that they have always done their best to give the people of Wahoo a great show.

    “That’s one of the things you can count on,” said Landgren. “They really give it their all.”

    The same can be said for the volunteers that are always on hand to make sure the event runs smoothly. That adds up to a lot of people over the years, noted Landgren.

Wahoo Saddle Club Member and Past President Larry Swanson has some fond memories. He was one of the saddle club’s members when that first rodeo took place. One of the things that stands out in his mind was the pageantry that was once involved with the rodeo.

“For years, we used to have a member dress up as Chief Wahoo,” explained Swanson. “They would ride in the rodeo and fair parade and would be a part of the grand entrance at the rodeo.”

And while some aspects of the event have changed over the years, Landgren said that the community spirit involved with the event remains much the same.

“It’s really a strong tradition, both here in Saunders County and in the wider region,” he said.

While it’s hard to be certain how far the rodeo’s reach extends, Landgren said it tends to attract people from farther away than many might suspect.

“We went out one year to try and count, just from the license plates, and I think we had cars from something like 35 counties in Nebraska and five or six other states besides,” he said. “And, those are just the people coming to see it.”

The competitors have also been known to come from quite some distance to compete.

“We get everything from the occasional local competitor to people from states away,” he said.

And while he won’t know who will show up for certain until each night’s competition, Landgren said that the 65th annual rodeo has the potential to attract even more talent than usual, due to the way it’s scheduled.

“We’re about a week later this year. That’s just how the calendar fell, and that puts us on the same dates as some other events, like the rodeo in Burwell,” explained Landgren. “So, we might see some people that are traveling to compete there also stop to compete here, either before or after they go to Burwell.”

No matter who shows up to compete or watch, Landgren said the success of the rodeo is largely due to the efforts put into it by the club members, both past and present.

“It’s a lot of work, but as long as there are people willing to do it, and as long as the community keeps coming out to see it, we hope to keep doing it,” he said. 

One of the traditions this year’s rodeo will embrace is the practice of recognizing a different segment of the community each night. Thursday will be 4-H night, where all 4-H’ers wearing their 4-H shirt and accompanied by an adult will be admitted for free.

Friday night is military night. All active duty and retired veterans will be admitted free of charge after showing their military identification, Saturday is senior night. Seniors age 65 and older will be admitted for just $10.

    And for the young rodeo fans not content to simply watch the show, there will also be a variety of events they can participate in as well. Starting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Young rodeo fans 10 years old and younger will be able to mount up on a trusty stick-horse and race their way through a series of obstacles. The top three racers in each age group will compete during the intermission of the Thursday night rodeo performance.

Also among the special attractions will be the return of “Mutton Busting,” which will take place each night during intermission. Pre-registration was required for the mutton busting, and all of the slots have already been filled.

    LaRue’s Little Horse Ranch will be on hand giving pony rights throughout the rodeo’s three-day run, and the ever popular nickel toss will take place during each evening’s intermission.

Admission for this year’s rodeo will be $15 at the gate for adults and $6 for kids 6 to 12 years old. Children under 5 will be admitted for free. Any remaining box seats will be available for $20 at the gate. Patrons may also purchase three-night rodeo passes on Thursday night at the rodeo arena ticket office.

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