It’s Colorado Springs’ second oldest event behind the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, marking 81 years in 2022. But origins date to 1913 (or 1911, depending on who you ask), when the region’s first known rodeo was organized. Although that event fizzled in the late 1920s, Spencer Penrose opened a 10,000-seat stadium in 1937 on The Broadmoor Hotel grounds and the sport rode high once more.
From 1973-2001, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo was held at the 71-acre Pikes Peak Equestrian Center before it moved indoors to the World Arena for a few years. In 2005, the rodeo returned outdoors to the Norris Penrose Event Center, where it is still held today.
“If we’re not teaching people about our western heritage, no one is going to do it. … It’s kind of that honor thing. Being true to your word,” said Mike McKiernan, president of the Pikes Peak Range Riders, a group of horsemen organized decades ago to promote the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.
But Pikes Peak or Bust is more than roping, riding and wrestling. It also includes an annual ride through downtown Colorado Springs by the Range Riders, the beloved Western Street Breakfast, performances by the Rangerettes drill team and more. It’s all about preserving our western heritage and supporting service members and their families in the Pikes Peak region.
WHAT’S NEW IN ‘22: MORE PRIZE MONEY, MORE PRESTIGE
Two major changes are in store for 2022:
First, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) is moving its circuit finals championship from Florida to Colorado Springs. The inaugural NFR Open (formerly the National Circuit Finals Rodeo), will increase the purse at Pikes Peak or Bust from about $300,000 to $1 million and make it one of the most prestigious rodeos of the season.
“The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo and the Colorado Springs community check all the boxes needed for an event like this,” Tom Glause, CEO of the PRCA, said in a news release. “A great rodeo, with a lot of community support.” The July 13-16 event will feature more than 200 contestants and culminate with the crowning of national circuit champions— key for those trying to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
PPOB Rodeo President Dan Ferguson said the addition of the NFR Open will mean “more prize money, more prestige” and that the Cowboy Channel will broadcast every event.
Secondly, they’re also adding an event: women’s breakaway. roping. That will boost the total number of events from seven to eight.
“People are able to do the television binge watching,” Ferguson said. “Rodeo is such a unique sport. They all reflect the individual communities.”
It also will mean having rodeo’s best stock in town. “The stock are really the other half of the equation,” Ferguson said, adding that the animals are equally elite athletes bred for generations to perform at the same level as the rodeo humans.
One thing unlikely to change is the number of spectators—typically more than 27,000. The rodeo has had sell-out performances previously and sell-outs are expected across the board, so if you plan to attend, buy your tickets early.
“It’s going to be incredible,” Ferguson said.
LINGO & LINEUP
Performances start with the precision riding of the Pikes Peak Range Rider Pivots and Rangerettes drill teams, followed by the mounted color guard and these events:
Bareback Riding: The rider sits directly on the horse, holding onto only the rigging.
Steer Wrestling: The contestant tries to wrestle the steer onto its side with the animal’s four legs pointing in the same direction.
Team Roping: A “header” and a “healer” throw loops around a steer’s head or horns and the steer’s hind legs, then pull the ropes taut.
Saddle Bronc Riding: The cowboy’s only handhold is a six-foot braided rope.
Tie-down Roping: The cowboy throws a loop over the calf’s head, then lays the calf down and strings together three legs with pigging string.
Breakaway Roping: The cowgirl throws a loop around a calf’s neck. The rope is tied to the saddle horn with a string, which breaks under the calf’s momentum.
Barrel Racing: The rider races against time in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels.
Bull Riding: The rider grasps a flat braided rope, which is wrapped around the bull’s chest just behind the front legs and over its withers.
“Everybody loves the bull riding,” Ferguson said. “It’s the last event. It’s an extremely athletic and dangerous thing.”
The top eight from each event advance to the semi-final round, called the Gold Buckle, with all previous scores and times thrown out. The top four move on to the final round–a sudden-death competition.
And don’t forget fan favorite mutton bustin’, a fun event in which four- to nine-year-old kids who weigh less than 50 pounds try to ride sheep!
“We have a Saturday matinee,” Ferguson said. “We’ve always been a very family friendly event. There’s a lot of additional events. Get there early.”
There are also pony rides, petting zoo, roping demos, and old west shows.
STIRRUPS, STEERS & SYRUP
It takes a dizzying number of organizations and volunteers to make Pikes Peak or Bust a success.
The work behind the scenes takes place all year long, but kickoff to the season really begins with the Western Street Breakfast, a massive event held annually to promote downtown and the rodeo. It costs $5 per person and kids five and under eat free. In 2021, volunteers served a whopping 10,000 guests. At 1 am, the volunteers roll in with their cooks, gear and food to start preparing 1,100 pounds of pancake batter, 1,500 pounds of eggs, 500 gallons of coffee and more.
The event began in 1936 to feed rodeo volunteers. As volunteer numbers grew and the street breakfast was opened to the public, Fort Carson volunteers joined in to cook and serve the food. Now Air Force volunteers help, as well.
In 2022, the event will be held June 15 from 5:30-9:00 am at Pikes Peak and Tejon. Proceeds are donated to local military causes. More than $500,000 has been raised and donated over the last 50+ years, said Katherine Toman, street breakfast manager.
Some come for the food. Others come to watch dozens of horsemen riding through the streets of Colorado Springs.
In 1949, the Pikes Peak Range Riders were formed and 38 riders began their now-annual trek on horseback to promote Pikes Peak or Bust. The second year, their starting venue became the street breakfast, a tradition that continues today on a larger scale with more than 200 riders departing on horseback and riding through downtown.
What does it feel like?
“I don’t know that you can verbalize that,” McKiernan said. “The emotions that swell inside you. Pride for your community and your organization. It’s exhilarating.”
A LOVE OF THE AMERICAN WEST
After the breakfast, the Range Riders ride out of town for five days of tent camping at a remote location—usually a different place each year. It’s all about being together and “spending some real good quality time in nature,” McKiernan said.
Among the group? Military generals, surgeons, judges and others representing nearly every facet of Colorado Springs. And no matter who they are, no one gets into the Range Riders without earning a spot. Each prospective member must ride with the group as a guest for three years before even being considered for membership.
Tony Clement, broker/owner of RE/MAX Properties in Colorado Springs, has been a Range Rider for a decade.
“We all have different levels of riding experience,” he said. “Some guys ride almost every day, where others such as myself only get to ride a few times a year.”
He enjoys the Western Street Breakfast, but his favorite part begins once they arrive at the Range Rider camp.
“It’s not often anymore that you find yourself out of cell phone range, which brings me a real sense of relaxation, and enjoy the ‘getaway’ part of the trip,” Clement said. “Our daily trail rides are a lot of fun, but the camaraderie around meal time and evening bonfires is right up there in my list of favorites.”
When the Range Riders formed about seven decades ago, some of the men had daughters with horses. That led to an offshoot eight years later: the Rangerettes drill team, a group that helps girls aged 12-20 develop horsemanship, sportsmanship, responsibility and precision riding. They perform throughout the year, including at Pikes Peak or Bust.
Some Rangerettes have even been selected as “Girls of the West” rodeo ambassadors. The first Girl of the West was chosen in 1922. A century later, the competition includes speech, horsemanship, personality and appearance.
While many rodeos are military friendly, Pikes Peak or Bust goes all out. After World War II, local organizers committed to dedicating proceeds to military causes.
“There was just kind of an upwelling of desire to step it up in thanking our military families,” Ferguson said.
That tradition continues. Since 1946, the rodeo’s proceeds have gone to help support service members and their families in the Pikes Peak Region.
“Our community really takes it to another level,” Ferguson said. “The rodeo traditionally has been a vehicle for welcoming families. For saying ‘Thank you for being here. We appreciate you.’ It’s more than just a love of rodeo. It’s an opportunity and vehicle for appreciating our military.”
Pikes Peak or Bust and affiliated events have donated about $900,000 to military causes over the last decade, Ferguson said.
Each night of PPOB is dedicated to a different group:
July 13: Fort Carson Night
July 14: Military Defense & First Responders Night
July 15: Space Night
July 16 – matinee: U.S. Air Force Academy
July 16 – evening: NORAD / USNORTHCOMM Night
Want to gear up before the rodeo? Colorado Springs is home to the ProRodeo Hall Of Fame And Museum Of The American Cowboy. Swing on by to brush up on your rodeo history!