Lehi » Two hours before the Lehi Round-Up Rodeo starts, a loose horse behind the grandstand scatters those who have arrived early for the night's action.
Nearby, contestants walk into a one-room concrete office and hand over their entry fees to grandmotherly rodeo secretary Connie Haslam, who wishes them luck, hands them a commemorative Lehi Round-Up baseball cap and enters their names in her laptop.
At a concession stand, where hamburgers cost $3, hots dogs go for $2 and the most expensive item on the menu is the $4 homemade beef jerky, workers fire up the grill and wipe down the counters.
Every summer in small towns throughout Utah, scores of rodeos are held. None are as big, lucrative or well-publicized as the annual Days of '47 Rodeo in Salt Lake County, but all produce the same type of entertainment, competition and esprit de corps among those who make them happen.
"I like the contestants and the people I work for -- the people on the various committees," said Haslam, who lives in Wellsville. "It's the favorite thing in my life, other than my family, of course."
As an employee of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Haslam is one of the few who get paid to work the Lehi Round-Up.
The others are mostly volunteers, including 82-year-old chairman Ralph Anderson, who has been around the Lehi rodeo all his life.
"It's the best one in Utah," he said.
"It just is," Anderson replied, in a tone that ends the discussion.
The Lehi Round-Up Rodeo, which was first held in 1937, is conducted over three nights. About 6,000 fans jam the arena for each session. This year, cowboys and cowgirls competed for $45,917 in prize money.
If the Days of '47 is a major-league rodeo, the Lehi Round-Up is Triple-A.
Jared Gray has competed in his hometown rodeo. He also works as a volunteer and his trucking company is a major sponsor.
"It's in my blood," Gray said. "Besides, this rodeo is good for everybody. The competition is good and the payoffs are good. ... It's got the good aspects of a big rodeo and the good aspects of a smaller rodeo."
Lee Rosser is a rodeo stock contractor from Marysville, Calif.
Rosser brought 3½ truckloads of stock to Lehi, compared with the "seven or eight" truckloads he brings to the Days of '47 and the 14 truckloads needed to supply last week's rodeo in Reno, Nev., which is one of the five biggest in the country.
For Rosser, the biggest rodeos mean bigger contracts. But they can also mean more headaches.
"We really enjoy going to Lehi and other smaller towns," he said. "When we go to the major rodeos, like Salt Lake, those jobs are more difficult for us because everything is portable. Those arenas are not really designed for livestock or rodeo."
In places like Lehi, Rosser said, "The committee members are usually more involved in agriculture, so they know more about what goes on with the livestock. As a result, the facilities are better. They are designed better, kept up better and, in most places, they are permanent. That makes our job a lot easier."
Rodeo announcer Andy Stewart drove his pickup 28 hours from Colliston, La., so he could work the Lehi Round-Up.
Every weekend from January through October, Stewart hits the road. Many of his jobs take him to small towns.
Asked what he likes best about rodeos like the Lehi Round-Up, Stewart said, "I guess it's the committees. When you go to big cities, there are large committees. It's more of a business-type atmosphere, which is fine because that's the way things work.
"But when you come to a place like Lehi, I mean, this is a community effort. Everybody gets involved. Everybody wants it to be successful. Everybody's demeanor is rodeo-driven. That makes small-town rodeos special."
The minor leagues
The smaller rodeos also provide an arena for young cowboys and cowgirls who are trying to carve a niche in the sport -- much like baseball's minor leagues.
"In my opinion, the grass-roots rodeos are the lifeblood of our association," Stewart said. "... Not everyone can get into the large rodeos. So these smaller rodeos are a place where kids can come and get started. ...
"The big rodeos are fun because they're loaded with the best talent in the business. But the smaller ones are fun because you meet the future superstars. Maybe you don't know their names yet, but you will."
On the second night of the Lehi Round-Up, plenty of big names show up.
Reigning world saddle bronc champion Cody Wright competed. So did bullrider J.W. Harris of May, Texas, who is second in the current world rankings.
Harris competes in most of the major rodeos, but he also enjoys stopping in places like Lehi.
"It's just down-to-earth rodeo," he said. "It's more fun. There isn't as much money involved, so there isn't as much pressure as there is in places like Cheyenne and Reno. You can relax and just enjoy it."
When he was 19, Harris won $1,200 at a rodeo in Henderson, Texas.
The memory makes him smile.
Nodding toward the arena, Harris said, "Rodeos like this, we have to have them. If we didn't, a lot of guys wouldn't be able to stay out on the road. ... Rodeos like this put money in a lot of guys' pockets."
Veteran stock contractor Ben German's favorite small-town rodeos in Utah:
1. Tooele Bit 'n Spur Fourth of July Rodeo
Dates: July 3-4
Why: They are really, really into the patriotic part of the holiday, and I like that a lot.
2. Duchesne County Fair Rodeo
Dates: Aug. 7-8
Why: The grandstand is so close. Everybody is right on top of the area. Very cool.
3. Kamas Fiesta Days Rodeo
Dates: July 23-24
Why: They have big crowds and great fireworks. That always makes it a lot of fun.
4. Morgan County Fair Rodeo
Dates: July 31-Aug. 1
Why: Just a great setting -- up against the mountains, under huge cottonwood trees.
5. Laketown Rodeo
Dates: July 31-Aug. 1
Why: Lots of city folks. They are enthusiastic and cheer everyone, no matter what.
July 10-11: Town Days Rodeo, Draper
July 17-18: Manila Rodeo, Manila
July 17-18: Golden Spike Stampede, Tremonton
July 23-24: Hinckley Rodeo, Hinckley
July 24: Cedar Fort Rodeo, Cedar Fort
July 25: Pioneer Days Rodeo, Fairview
July 31-Aug. 1: Orchards Days Rodeo, Santaquin
July 31-Aug. 1: Morgan County Fair Rodeo, Morgan
Aug. 6-7: Sevier County Fair, Richfield
Aug. 7-8: Duchesne County Fair, Duchesne
Aug. 14-15: Rich County Fair, Randolph
Aug. 14-15: Garfield County Fair, Panguitch
Aug. 21-22: Bluffdale Rodeo, Bluffdale
Aug. 28-29: Sanpete County Fair, Manti
Sept. 4-5: Iron County Fair, Parowan
Sept. 18-19: Jim Mascaro Memorial Rodeo, Herriman
July 9-11: Ute Stampede, Nephi
July 9-11: Dinosaur Round-Up Rodeo, Vernal
July 20-24: Pioneer Days Rodeo, Ogden
July 20-25: Days of '47 Rodeo, West Valley City
July 22-25: Fiesta Days Rodeo, Spanish Fork
July 30-Aug.1: Desertview Pro Rodeo, Castle Dale
July 31-Aug.1: Mountain Valley Stampede, Heber City
Aug. 6-8: Cache County Fair and Rodeo, Logan
Aug. 7-8: Summit County Fair and Rodeo, Coalville
Aug. 14-15: Davis County Fair and Rodeo, Farmington
Aug. 27-28: Box Elder County Fair and Rodeo, Tremonton
Sept. 10-13: Utah's Own Rodeo at the State Fair, Salt Lake City
Sept. 17-19: Lions Dixie Round-Up, St. George