White Bird Arena

Practicing at the White Bird Arena.

The White Bird Rodeo — now in its 31st year — isn’t the biggest rodeo. This year, it’ll be the season’s first — not just among local shows, but also among those sanctioned by the statewide Idaho Cowboys Association.

To make it happen every Father's Day weekend, it takes a whole bunch of volunteer effort and a whole bunch of sponsors, which have to be lined up months in advance. Usually that all gets done two to three months earlier than it’s happening this year, and as treasurer Toni Baker told the Free Press, she is usually able to get much of the work on the program book done in February and March.

Back in January, the 10-person committee’s plan called for the same firm commitment as always: Rain or shine, June 19-20 will feature a whole bunch of cowboys and a big crowd. The turnout has made signage in the arena at Twin Bridges south of White Bird — as well as the ink in the official program book that Baker makes each spring — attractive to advertisers and event sponsors.

But when the COVID-19 coronavirus broke out earlier this year, it put the program and the committee’s plans on hold. Indeed, the reopening that Gov. Brad Little has sketched out will come too late for many of the ICA rodeos this summer. Four of the five ICA rodeos that have typically been calendared before White Bird are cancelled, and the Bickelton, Wash., rodeo right before it in mid-June has been postponed, according to the ICA website, icarodeo.com.

Now Baker and the committee are rushing to get everything done, including the routine upkeep at the facility, and minor repairs such as remounting parts of the rodeo sound system. Luckily, she said, the rodeo had already secured the event insurance and the site lease. Unluckily, they had scheduled their queen tryout in March, and the governor’s statewide stay-home order shut everything down a matter of days before that happened. The queen tryout got done last Saturday — see the related article on 1A — and buckles for every main event have been ordered.

Baker said ICA's Matt Askew has been getting about eight calls a day from cowboys who have been itching to ride, including from some out-of-staters who have never hit White Bird before — mainly from Washington and Oregon, where seasons will start even later, if at all.

The lingering uncertainty stems from the same big unknown that kiboshed so much else this spring: If the reopening the governor has set out stays on track, on June 13, the reopening would allow big venues such as sports facilities to operate under “limited physical distancing protocols.” That’d come in the nick of time for the White Bird Rodeo to host its typical crowd of about 1,000 on the 18-acre site the committee has long leased from the Bureau of Land Management.

“We’ll have wash stations this year, and as always, people don’t have to sit in the stands,” Baker said. “People can wear masks, and there’s plenty of room to spread out.”

Baker told the Free Press the ICA people have told the committee to expect strong participation by Idaho cowboys.

The committee has advertised $4,600 in added money — same as last year — for the usual slate of pro rodeo events. Those include the rough rides of bareback, saddle bronc, bulls and ranch broncs, team roping, tie-down, steer wrestling, breakaway roping and barrel racing. The single biggest added money event is the $1,000 ranch bronc riding.

New this year is stock by Bar X Tucker Cool, who was recommended to the committee, having put on the CVRA Rodeo last year.

Main entries are June 8 any time before 6 p.m. MT online at enterup.biz.

Local events this year include limited entries in two age classes of local barrels — 10-and-under, and 11-17 — as well as team roping. Entry for local events starts June 11 till filled at 208-983-7701.

Also featured both days this year is Olson’s Miniature Rodeo Bulls; find details on Olson’s Facebook page.

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