ASHLAND — Ada Skelton, 4, waited all summer to wear her cowgirl outfit, her mother, Annie, said.
"I have the hat and the boots and the jeans and the shirt," Ada said as she pointed to each item.
Ada's father, Matt Skelton of Hartsburg, has brought his family to the rodeo for the past four years.
"It's a family tradition. I come with my wife and two kids, and we meet my mother-in-law and father-in-law and their three kids here," Skelton said.
While Ada showed off her cowgirl attire, her little brother Ian sat quietly in a stroller. Skelton said even Ian gets excited around the horses, cows and bulls.
"There's activities for the kids. They really love the horses and the animals and all of the excitement with the cowboys doing their thing," Skelton said.
The smell of grass, horses and barbecue lingered in the air as the band Str8Arrow played country music while guests filled the grandstands at the 37th annual Cattlemen Days Rodeo in Ashland.
Behind the rodeo gates, where the cowboys prepare for their events, Casen Cash Corcoran, 2, sat easily in his father's saddle. Casen's father, Dave Corcoran, was adjusting the saddle for himself as he readied to compete in calf roping. Corcoran has competed in rodeos for at least 10 years and is in his fourth year of calf roping at the Cattlemen Days Rodeo.
Corcoran plans to keep rodeo a family trade with young Casen, who was smiling as his father listed Casen's early career accomplishments.
"He loves it. He has his own pony and ropes his own fake calves," Corcoran said.
Children younger than 12 will have a chance to compete in the Kiddy Roundup at 6 p.m. Saturday, Rodeo Committee Chairman Bruce Glascock said.
All of the excitement brings anxiety for some of the performers.
"I'm actually kind of nervous. This flag is huge," said Ivy Littles, who was responsible for opening the rodeo by riding her horse around the arena as she waived an American flag above her head.
"I love the adrenaline rush," Jeremy Kempker of Eugene said. "I used to get nervous, but it became a goal to get over that fear. You get used to certain things, you forget about the fear. I don't think about riding the horse, I focus on roping the calf. I love it. It's a passion; it's a job."
Kempker has been in rodeos since his dad taught him when he was 5 years old. Kempker competed against his brother, Jared Kempker, in the calf roping competition.
"It's a family tradition. He wins; I win; it's a toss-up," Jeremy Kempker said.
Jeremy Kempker has been coming to the Cattlemen Days Rodeo for three years.
"It's kind of a hometown rodeo," he said.
Bruce Glascock has been the committee chairman for 33 of the rodeo's 37 years.
"I rodeoed in the mid-'80s. It's a good community activity," he said.
The Cattlemen Days Rodeo is a fundraiser for the Cedar Valley Riders Saddle Club and the Ashland Optimist Club.
"The Optimist Club does great things for the community. They fund Little League sports and they operate a community swimming pool," Glascock said. "The Saddle Club keeps the rodeo grounds operational and helps the community as well."
The Cattlemen Days Rodeo continues Saturday with a parade through downtown Ashland, starting at the rodeo grounds. The Kiddy Roundup begins at 6 p.m., and traditional rodeo events begin at 8 p.m.. Musical Performances by Str8Arrow will continue until the conclusion of the event at 1 a.m., Glascock said.
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