Joe Dilley, a member of the Soldotna Equestrian Association and an organizer of the upcoming Progress Days Rodeo, said that while cattle ranching is not as visible in Alaska as it is in other western states, it is nonetheless part of the state’s culture.
“We don’t have a ranching history that you would see driving from the road, but we kind of do,” Dilley said. He named several cattle-raising families on the Kenai Peninsula, and said it is a lifestyle that may have been brought to Alaska by homesteaders.
Where there is ranching, there are rodeos. The Soldotna Progress Days Rodeo, which Dilley said is a tradition that has continued since the late 1970s, is set to return once again to the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds from July 24 to the 26.
“We really want to make this show huge,” Dilley said of the rodeo. “We’ve got a lot of people in town, with the red fishing and kings opening up. We really want to pack our stands.”
Both children and adults will compete in the Progress Days Rodeo — the junior rodeo, beginning at 2 p.m on Saturday, will feature young children “mutton-busting,” or riding bucking sheep, and older children riding calves.
For the adult contestants, the rodeo will begin on Friday at 7 p.m with an event called “Beauty and the Beast” — which will alternate barrel racing with bull riding — and continue on Saturday at 6 p.m and on Sunday at 2 p.m with a women-only mounted lassoing competition, a two-person cattle roping and tieing event called “double-mugging,” saddle-back and bare-back bronco riding, and bull riding.
Chelsea and Scooter Hackett, owners of Soldotna’s H5 Bucking Bulls, will supply a dozen bulls brought up for the summer from Idaho. Chelsea Hackett said that although the bulls have spent the season traveling to rodeos throughout Alaska, only two have been successfully ridden. Dilley described the bulls as “fantastic athletes.”
“The cowboys up here are having a heck of a time with them,” said Chelsea Hackett, who is also the rodeo’s secretary. She said that the strongest bull may be HolyCowRanches.org, who is named after the website of a ranch-based charity partnered with H5 Bucking Bulls. The bulls will be matched with riders through a random drawing about an hour before the show.
Based on past rodeos, Dilley estimated that the Progress Days Rodeo could have about a hundred contestants from all over the state. He said that most will be experienced riders who began with sheep and calves as children and progressed through junior bulls to mature bulls. However, he said the rodeo sometimes attracts first-timers as well.
“Every once in a while, there’s somebody that their buddies dare them, and they’ll get in there,” Dilley said.
Seventeen-year-old Austin Boren, who has been bull-riding since he was 13, said he got “slammed pretty hard” by his first bull.
“It sucked,” Boren said. “But it was worth it … most people got to use illegal drugs to get the same feeling you can get on a bull. It’s insane. Best thing in the world.”
Boren said he hadn’t completed a bull ride until this year, after he had gone to a bull riding school and lived and trained with Chelsea and Scooter Hackett. He has since ridden four bulls. Bull-riding, Boren said, is “90 percent mental.”
“It’s all in your head,” Boren said. “You got to be there, you got to be calm. But you can’t be too calm. You want to be hyped-up, but you can’t be too hyped-up. You just got to be a cowboy, is all I’ve got to say.”
Chelsea Hackett’s husband Scooter, a former bull rider, will participate in this year’s Progress Days Rodeo in a bull-riding event called “Unfinished Business,” in which older bull riders — “35 and over,” according to Chelsea Hackett — will return for another ride on Saturday night.
“We (H5 Bucking Bulls) are providing all those guys a belt buckle with their name and the bull’s name on it,” Chelsea Hackett said. Two riders who manage to stay on their bulls for eight seconds or more will also win .45-70 rifles.
“It’s going to be really good watching them,” Chelsea Hackett said.
As for Boren, he said that when his name is drawn for a bull, he wants to get HolyCowRanches.org.
“One day I want to be the best, and to be the best you got to get on the best,” he said.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.