By Brent Frankenhoff
The Amherst Fairgrounds will again be the site of the Little Britches of Wisconsin (LBW) Rodeo Saturday, August 21, with finals on Sunday, August 22. Organized locally by the Tomorrow River Lions Club and the Amherst Boots and Saddle Club, with all proceeds going back to those two groups, the event is overseen by the LBW and has some strong local ties dating back to the early 1970s. Among them is having Amherst as the last of the original Little Britches Rodeo locations, while another is having Amherst’s Jason Blenker as the current LBW state president as well as a member of the Boots and Saddle Club. Jason’s wife, Jenny, oversees the queen competition.
That local connection permeates throughout the event with many of the workers being members of both the local Lions and Boots and Saddle Clubs, including Amherst LBW President John Cowden, who serves as president of the local rodeo committee and works as arena director during the event. He told the Spirit that, while the Wisconsin LBW runs the rodeo itself and brings in the rough stock such as bulls and bucking horses, his committee “coordinates all other activities such as the queen contest, the food stand, the grounds, entertainment at night, preparing the arena for the rodeo, etc. We are also the team that gets our great sponsors that have been so generous over the years. We truly could not run this event without them.”
Competition starts Saturday at 9 a.m. with the grand entry parade and ends around 4 p.m. with bull riding. Jenny Blenker said that the early start shows the growth of the program. “We used to start competition at 11 a.m., but the sheer size of the event has forced us to start earlier,” she added. More than 1,000 runs will be held during the day.
Cowden said that the participants in LBW are 6 to 18 years old and participate in one of three categories: Pee Wee, Junior, or Senior. The events include:
Boys: Tie down roping, team roping, senior steer wrestling, bareback broncs, saddle broncs, bull riding, junior chute dogging, and junior goat tying.
Girls: Barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, team roping, and breakaway roping.
Pee Wee (boys or girls): Barrels, poles, goat undressing, and “bull riding” (actually a little animal).
Following the official events, Cowden said that there’s a special event where local “celebrities” ride bulls. Two to four people get the opportunity to ride the bull, and each rider is given the task of collecting as many donations as possible, with all donations given to Amherst’s Tomorrow River Area Community Kitchen (TRACK) program. “Over the years, we have given the pantry around $20,000,” he added.
Also on Saturday night, the public is invited to watch local band The Oxleys perform starting at 7 p.m. Amherst’s Cray Rieckmann is the lead singer, while Sam Brunelli is its keyboardist.
Cowden said that the rodeo finals are on Sunday, where the top 20 finishers from each of Saturday’s events compete for the LBW state title. “Each Saturday event’s points count toward making the finals,” he added, “so every participant is giving their all to get those last points.”
Prior to the weekend competition, the LBW Queen Contest is held on Friday. Coordinated by Jenny Blenker, the contest has young women vie to be crowned the Amherst LBW Queen. (A letter from each candidate can be found pages 21 and 22.) Each candidate must give a speech on how rodeo has helped them, answer rodeo-specific questions, and perform horsemanship patterns. “The candidates also sell tickets to the rodeo” Cowden said. “They really represent what rodeo is about with their dedication and sportsmanship. Scholarship money is given for furthering their education. They also receive many other great gifts including horse tack, and the winner receives a saddle, as she will represent Amherst Rodeo at all other LBW events, carrying the flag during the grand entry parade.”
Rodeo is definitely a family affair for both Cowden and the Blenkers.
Cowden said that his daughter, Pistol, “started rodeoing with LBW when she was 8 years old after Todd Peterson and his daughters persuaded her to try. She’s now 19 and rodeos at UW-River Falls. It has been an unbelievable experience for her and us as a family. We have been blessed to meet and make friends from all over Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota because of LBW events like the one in Amherst.”
Jason Blenker told the Spirit, “Our family have been active members of LBW since our oldest son, Jesse, started rodeoing six years ago. I am of the belief that if you are going to be a part of something, you need to be an active participant, I started out helping in the arena, got elected to the LBW board, spent a year as vice president, and last year was voted President.”
Prior to their children’s involvement, both Blenkers helped out at the Amherst rodeo, and Jason added that Jenny did a few rodeos when she was in school as an LBW member. “She’s had horses her whole life,” he said, “and I’ve been around them since I was 16. We figured one day our kids might want to give it a try.”
That prediction was borne out when Jesse and his sister, June, joined LBW and began competing at rodeos throughout the year. Jenny said that while their son Jakob, “is still too young to join, I have no doubt he will want to when he can. We love to train with our horses at our farm practicing barrels, poles, goats, roping, and chute-dogging.”
Encouraging the next generation is something both the Blenkers and Cowden are passionate about.
Cowden said he’s seen how membership in an organization like LBW helps teach sportsmanship. “You will see all kids helping each other to perform,” he added. “Although it’s a competition, the kids learn to work with each other and truly support what each of them is doing. The older kids are often coaching and helping the younger kids on how to do something and supporting them through their event. It teaches kids how to work with and take care of animals and the dedication it takes to make sure your horse is well taken care of and loved. Most of all, it’s a great way for kids to meet other kids from all over the state that they would not have a chance to meet any other way.”
Jason Blenker echoed Cowden’s sentiments and said, “I’ve seen growth in our kids with their accountability and responsibility of learning to take care of another animal and having to figure out where to be at the right time. I think seeing the kids cheer each other on each and every week is really cool. Most of them understand they are really competing against themselves.”
Interested in joining the sport?
Getting started in rodeo is easy, according to Cowden. “Just talk to anyone at the rodeo, and they will point you in the right direction,” he added. “You can also go on the LBW website (lbwrodeo.com) and click on the ‘how to join’ tab.”
Cowden also encouraged those interested in getting into the sport to reach out to Jason Blenker, who said, “Come to a few rodeos; see what it’s like behind the scenes. Understand that just like any other sport, you still need to set aside time to practice outside of the event. Get the best horse you can afford to start, but don’t break the bank. Understand the commitment involved; you can’t just put it on the shelf when you’re done. Don’t be afraid to find a good mentor or coach and cut the learning curve down.”
Come to the rodeo!
The Blenkers added some additional encouragement to the general public to attend this year’s event. Jason said, “It’s a great opportunity to see America’s oldest sport and learn how the old cowboys and cowgirls have done it for generations. It is not a professional rodeo; these are kids that are still learning. Come watch the smiles on their faces, the bonds they build. These kids aren’t afraid of hard work. They are the ones that are motivated to be better each day and put in the work to get there. It’s a unique sporting event that not everyone gets a chance to see. These are amazing animals and kids working together as a team.”
Jenny Blenker said, “More folks should attend because they would be amazed at how well these young athletes perform and have such magnificent bonds with their horses. These young athletes work extremely hard toward goals they set for themselves. It is a fun family event with a lot of local cowgirls and cowboys from Amherst competing.”
Cowden added, “Come out and support our community and watch these young cowgirls and cowboys compete and have fun!”
For more information or to join the Amherst Boots and Saddle Club, please contact Ben Kizewski at (715) 498-8725 or visit the Little Britches of Wisconsin website www.lbwrodeo.com.
What, Where, & When
What: Little Britches Rodeo
Where: Amherst Fairgrounds
When: August 21 and 22
Hours: 9 a.m. Both Days
Admission: Tickets available at the gate and from any queen candidate.
Additional Entertainment: The Oxleys, Saturday at 7 p.m. Free to the public.
Presented by: Tomorrow River Lions and Amherst Boots and Saddle Club
Little Britches Rodeo information
According to its website (lbwrodeo.com), the Little Britches of Wisconsin Rodeo (LBW) is “a non-profit organization created to help young children reach their goals, develop their skills, and promote the highest level of conduct and sportsmanship in the sport of rodeo.”
Membership is required, and details can be found at the website. An official rulebook is also available for download.
Qualifying events with various roping and riding contests for both boys and girls ages 6-18 are held around the state throughout the summer, with the finals in Amherst each August.
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