Spurred by a legacy of fearless feats on bucking broncs or wide-eyed wrecks from atop 1-ton bulls, the Wing Rodeo celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
During the 6 p.m. rodeos Friday, July 8, and Saturday, July 9, entrants will tug on their boots, tighten the cinch and vie for the prize in conjunction with Wing Community Days.
“Every single one of these committees has a story to tell. It takes a lot of grit to be able to keep things afloat year after year, and it takes a lot of dedication from the committee,” says Melanie Hertz, vice president of the Wing Horse Club, which organizes the rodeo each year.
A committee of five people gathers other volunteers to spearhead the rodeo, which brings up to 500 contestants into town to continue a cowboy tradition.
“It puts our little town of 153 on the map. It’s something the entire community looks forward to every year,” Hertz says. “This is so important for our community to be able to say we put on a rodeo of that caliber. It has absolutely put us on the map. It gives everybody a reason to come together once a year.”
The rodeo started in 1947, when the Glanville family donated the property to the Wing Horse Club. The rodeo has been held in the arena south of Wing on the east side of Highway 14 every year since.
“There was always some kind of rodeo that took place each year,” Hertz says.
The faint trace of a grass racetrack is still visible on the west side of the grounds. The track was last used probably in the 1970s, Hertz says.
“They used to do a horse race during the rodeo, and if you look closely, you can actually see the old racetrack,” she says. “They had people as the fence lining the track. That was one of the things that they did that was kind of fun.”
Now sanctioned by the North Dakota Rodeo Association (NDRA), which itself was founded in 1953, the Wing Rodeo faced some challenges during the past two years.
When the pandemic disrupted activities in 2020, the Wing Horse Club decided to proceed with a rodeo. It partnered with a local telecommunications cooperative, BEK Communications, so the rodeo could be televised to spectators.
Then, in 2021, Mother Nature struck.
“In 2021, it downpoured for about three hours on that Friday morning of our rodeo. The committee met at the grounds and we looked at each other and said, ‘There’s not another date.’ The arena was an absolute disaster,” Hertz says.
The rain stopped by about 10 a.m. that Friday, and the community went to work so the rodeo could continue that evening. Trucks and other equipment hauled in sand and the arena was tamped back into shape.
“We put on a heck of a great show,” Hertz says. “We ended up putting together a really nice rodeo again for our community. The entire community came together to get everything put together so it was safe and just a nice event for everyone.”
The rodeo went so well that the Wing Rodeo was named the Rodeo of the Year in 2021, repeating the honor from 2000. Contestants vote for the recognition and those contestants are the focus for the Wing Rodeo, Hertz says.
“It is absolutely our job to take care of our contestants, first and foremost. They’re the athletes. They’re never guaranteed a paycheck, so taking care of our contestants is really high on our scale of how we decide what we’re going to do, and trying to make it as safe as possible was a really big priority for us for that reason,” Hertz shares.
The Wing Rodeo also strives to bring the region’s top cowboys and cowgirls for the 10 events. Twelve compete in each event during the evenings, while the rest compete during the slack performances Saturday afternoon.
“If it’s sanctioned by the NDRA, you’re going to get a lot of top contestants from across the state who maybe just don’t travel quite hard enough to make it to the NFR (National Finals Rodeo), but they’re still very serious about rodeo and competing, so we get a really nice quality contestant,” Hertz says. “We’re very grassroots in that way, trying to put the spotlight on some from our own backyard.”
The rodeo also tries to bring top stock for the events.
“We’re very well-known for bringing some of the very best stock in the industry to our rodeo. It’s a string of stock that goes way, way back to a gentlemen by the name of Calvin Nelson,” Hertz says. A line of bucking horses bred by the late Calvin Nelson of Kenmare still enters the arena today, brought by C’N Stars Bull Co., owned by Shane Gunderson, North Dakota, who brings the bucking stock.
“If they’re going to travel and spend money to get down the road, they want as fair a shot as they can possibly get to get a good score, and having the best stock out there at our events is going to give them the best chance to pull a check, so we do try to align with the best,” Hertz says.
Community-driven, the Wing Horse Club sponsors other events during the year, such as play days, youth rodeos and barrel racing, to give youth more opportunity to participate in the sport – and spur the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls.
The club also awards a scholarship or two each year in the local community.
“It takes a lot of money and a lot of work to put on a rodeo, so nobody’s getting rich by putting these on, but we do manage to put together enough funds to stay afloat each year and give back to our community with our scholarship program.” Hertz says.
A 40-page program filled with sponsorship ads, along with volunteers rolling up their sleeves to help during the rodeo, have helped keep the event alive in the small community.
The club also tries to continually improve its rodeo grounds, Hertz says, ranging from adding accessible bathrooms to lights to replacing the livestock pens.
“Every year, we work on a service project inside the grounds, something to update the grounds,” she says. “Lots of different enhancements to our grounds to keep things updated. It helps to push us to continue growing as an organization.”
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.
Roughrider Days Rodeo draws top cowboys
by Luann Dart
Explore the western edge during the Roughrider Days Rodeo in Dickinson. Rodeos will be held at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25, and 4 p.m Sunday, June 26.
The rodeo has been a 51-year tradition, now held in conjunction with Roughrider Days June 22-July 4. The grand entry is 15 minutes prior to the rodeo start time each day. Two slack performances will be held following the evening performances, with the rodeo drawing more than 400 contestants. The three-day rodeo is hosted by the 16-member Roughrider Commission, which relies on volunteers and sponsorships to continue the tradition.
Sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the Roughrider Days Rodeo performances feature some of the best in the Badlands Circuit, including National Finals Rodeo (NFR) contenders and past world champions.
“We also get a lot of circuit cowboys. People seem to recognize them,” says Lori Vernon, Roughrider Commission secretary. “We do get big-name contestants here, too.”
The rodeo has been held at other locations, but now has a home at the Stark County Fairgrounds just south of Dickinson, with the stock provided by Korkow Rodeos, owned by the Jim Korkow family, Pierre, S.D.
“Rodeo has a long history with the community and western North Dakota. That’s what everybody does and enjoys out here. Every little town around has a rodeo,” Vernon says.
“We are happy to volunteer our time and put on that event,” she says. “You meet lots of different people and lots of people who come every year and you make all kinds of friends, too. You call it your rodeo family and it really is. It’s a lot of fun.”
To learn more, visit www.roughriderdaysfair.com.
Plan to visit these North Dakota rodeos this summer
28 • Bowman County Fair and Rodeo, Bowman
4-5 • Elgin Saddle Club Rodeo, Elgin
5 • Chutes-N-Boots, West Fargo
10-11 • Lake Region Stampede, Devils Lake
17-18 • New Town Rodeo Days, New Town
18 • McKenzie County Fair and Rodeo, Watford City
24-26 • Roughrider Days Rodeo, Dickinson
25-26 • Beaver Valley Horse Club Rodeo, Strasburg
2-4 • Mandan Rodeo Days, Mandan
3-4 • Towner Rodeo, Towner
3-4 • Killdeer Mountain Roundup Rodeo, Killdeer
4 • Sheyenne Stampede Rodeo, Sheyenne
7 • Pembina County Fair Rodeo, Cavalier
7-8 • Dickey County Fair, Ellendale
8-9 • Wing Rodeo, Wing
10 • Championship PRCA Rodeo, Steele
5-6 • Morton County Fair Rodeo, New Salem
6 • Hettinger Rodeo, Hettinger
6 • Home on the Range Champions Ride, Sentinel Butte
6-7 • Ashley Rodeo, Ashley
12-13 • Medora Rodeo, Medora
14 • Wayne Herman Invitational Xtreme Broncs, Golden Valley
20 • Grant County Fair and Rodeo, Carson
20 • Golden Valley Shootout, Golden Valley
28 • Slope County Fair Rodeo, Amidon
3 • Badlands Iron Cowboy Rodeo, Killdeer
4 • Wild Rides Rodeo, Killdeer
23-24 • NDRA Finals Rodeo, Watford City
24 • Wild Rides Rodeo, Dickinson
(Dates from NDRA and PRCA websites; may be subject to change.)