Columbus may be known for its Midwestern hospitality, Southern charm and European architecture, but on Monday night at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, it was all about the Wild West.
About 2,500 people packed the grandstands, and another 500 or so filled infield bleachers and stood along the fence and in the infield at Tony Stewart Speedway, which had for one night, been transformed into a rodeo arena. Roughly 200 competitors from nine states competed in eight events for a $20,000 purse in the first rodeo to take place at the local fair in around two decades.
“A lot of the county fair rodeos that I’ve been to, you’ll have people here and there, probably two or three bleachers full,” said Hauser graduate and rodeo veteran Mel Hasler. “But it was jam packed tonight, and honestly, my ears were ringing when they said, ‘Columbus, Indiana,’ and everybody started cheering.”
Hasler, who will be a junior at Purdue, and her sister Grace, a recent Purdue graduate, participated in Breakaway Roping on Monday. Both have competed in the National High School Finals Rodeo in western states and in events around the Midwest and Kentucky, but this was their first one in their hometown.
“I was so excited when I found out that they were coming back to Bartholomew County because we haven’t had a rodeo here in ages,” Mel Hasler said. “It’s awesome to travel around the country, but it’s so different when you have your hometown cheering for you. You can just feel the energy and the excitement. Yeah, you get that whenever you go out West and go to the big rodeos, but it’s different when the people cheering for you are the people who watched you grow up.”
Another Columbus family was happy to take part in a rodeo in their hometown. Ashley Ketron and her daughter Addalyn, 13, competed in Barrel Racing on Monday.
“I actually really love it,” Addalyn Ketron said. “I like going a lot of places with my mom, but I like it here because it’s not that far of a drive, and it’s really cool because it’s a bigger pen that everywhere else.”
Ashley Ketron is part of the Mid-States Rodeo Association circuit, which draws mainly from Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. She was the MSRA’s Rookie of the Year and finished in the top 10 overall last year and won a rodeo last week in Monticello, Illinois.
On Monday, she would have had the fastest time if not for a five-second penalty for knocking down the first barrel.
“I was a little nervous,” Ashley Ketron said. “I have a lot of people here. But it’s fun. This is the best rodeo company to put it on, so it’s awesome that they get to come here and do it. I hope they come back because they got a really good crowd, and it was a good rodeo.”
After Ashley and Addalyn Ketron were finished with their rides, they helped another Columbus girl, Reagan Mouser, 7, get settled in for an exhibition run in Barrel Racing. It was Mouser’s first time performing at a rodeo.
“It was fun,” Mouser said. “I like it that my family is here.”
While Breakaway Roping and Barrel Racing were female events, males competed in Bareback Riding, Saddle Bronc, Tie Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping and Bull Riding in the rodeo, which was put on by 3 Bar J out of Union City.
Trevor Taghon, 17, of Whitehall, Michigan, who is in his first year on the Mid-States circuit, was happy with his second-place finish in Bull Riding, an eight-second ride on a 2,000-pound bucking bull.
“There’s honestly no feeling like it,” Taghon said. “We do this day in and day out, but this one here is a lot bigger crowd to cheer us on. When that gate opens, it’s life or death. It’s the most dangerous sport on dirt. You have to be on top of your game in all aspects.”