A three-day weekend at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds can mean a lot of different things to different folks.
For some, the first rodeo weekend of the summer is a good way to get back into the swing of things. For others, it is a teaching tool to young family members, providing examples of how to live responsibly.
Then, for a very few, it is an outlet of adrenaline as they attempt to tame a wild bull.
Friday evening greeted fans with spectacularly sunny weather for the first rodeo of the summer, and it stayed that way through Saturday night. The weekend, the first of four rodeos on the Kenai Peninsula, will end today with events beginning at 2 p.m.
For some of the ropers, this is a first-time experience.
Not for Karen Jensen. The 54-year-old Soldotna resident grew up ranching, and knows the tricks of the rodeo arena. Jensen showcased it Friday evening during practice runs with a deliberate and successful cattle roping demonstration.
“It’s just a good way of life,” she said. “It’s kind of bred into us. We take each moment as if it’s our last.”
Jensen grew up on a ranch in North Dakota and has spent the last 28 years of her life in Alaska, where she and husband, Randy, raised four children, all of which competed in rodeo.
Jensen said the lifestyle in which they raised their kids helped instill the best values in them.
“We raised our children to have respect for the animals,” Jensen said. “All of our children I think are greatly respected in the community and two are doing (rodeo) in college now.”
Jensen rode out Friday on her 24-year-old horse, Harley, as she put on a display of cattle roping that shined above most other contestants.
Megan McDonald, one of the organizers of the Soldotna rodeo, said she had been looking forward to the weekend for most of the spring, and said the audience turnout always keeps her coming back.
“It’s really just for fun,” McDonald said. “These are family-style rodeos, and it’s a little less fast-paced.”
McDonald, 25, is a board member on the Soldotna Equestrian Association and for Last Frontier Barrel Racers, and said this opening weekend is big for the SEA, which will host a total of four rodeos this summer.
“This is one of the oldest rodeos in the state,” she said. “We do it every year.”
Among the most anticipated events of 2018 are the Redoubt Riders Pony Club Horse Show June 9 and August 4, the Tough Enough to Wear Pink rodeo July 27 to 29, and the final weekend of the summer, the 9/11 Tribute rodeo Sept. 7 to 9, which is scheduled to be the most important one, McDonald said.
Friday night saw contestants mostly going through practice runs in barrel racing and cattle roping. McDonald said that competitive times are sorted into divisions, based on ability level, with the best time leading the way in 1D. Any rider that finishes within a second of that time is included in that division.
From there, riders fall into three other categories — 2D, 3D and 4D — based on where they fall in one-second intervals from the top time.
McDonald said the 12 years she has competed in rodeo events have kept her coming back for more, just like her fellow riders.