Steamboat Springs Organizers of the Steamboat Springs Derby Classic cutting horse competition say they aren't coming back next year for their eighth season.
Show manager Jan Emison said Monday her company can no longer put on the event because of constraints at Romick Arena. The cutters had to break down their facilities and move their trailers during their stay here in order to make room for the Friday and Saturday night performances of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series.
"In cowboy talk, we've been sucking hind tit, and we just can't do it anymore," Emison said. She added she doesn't have a problem with the local rodeo, but said Western Cutting Series, the company she runs with her husband, Ben, can't make a profit if it can't grow. And the mid-event disruption at the rodeo arena is making it impossible to do that.
"We don't have anything against the rodeo," Emison said. "We understand they've been there a long time. But these cutters spend so much money in stores, restaurants and condos. The rodeo people don't do that."
Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the future of the event really has more to do with economics and the capacity of the Howelsen Hill area to host an expanding equestrian event, than it does with the rodeo schedule. Evans Hall said the cutting horse organizers had an option to underwrite the expense of suspending the rodeo for a weekend this summer and did not exercise it. She said local representatives will get back together with the Emisons in early November and compare numbers to see if they can get together on a plan for the Derby Classic to return next year.
The Derby Classic was held here Aug. 9-17 in Romick Arena, which is part of the city park system at Howelsen Hill. Emison said this year's event was twice as large as last year's, based on the number of temporary stalls that were erected at Howelsen Hill. But she could not provide the actual number of entries to support her characterization of the size of the event.
In a cutting horse event, western-style riders mounted atop specially bred, very expensive quarter horses separate or "cut" individual cows from among a small herd in the rodeo arena. The rider has to let the horse do the work. The purchase price for the horses involved in the event ranges from $75,000 up to $800,000, Emison said, but there was at least one horse competing in Steamboat that "you couldn't touch for $2 million," she added.
The value of the horses translates into affluent tourists horse owners and riders who come to Steamboat to compete in the event. The Derby Classic has been a mid-August boon for a number of local businesses.
Barb Silva of the Old West Steakhouse said people associated with the cutting horse event don't blink an eye at spending $50 a plate for dinner. In fact, she said, during the week of the Derby Classic, her dining room served more of the $29.95 16-ounce rib eye steaks off the menu than in the preceding three weeks combined.
"They are great customers; they produce a ton of money and they cause no problems," Silva said. "I cannot understand why we aren't doing everything possible to make them happy. Let me tell you, they are high-dollar people."
Silva hastened to add that she loves the rodeo as well.
Evans Hall said after meeting with the Emisons, her understanding is that even with 479 stalls erected in temporary stables at Howelsen this year, they said they were still losing money and need to increase the number of stalls next year. That would help them increase the size of the purse available to the contestants. This year, Western Cutting Series had an added purse of more than $217,000 matching a roughly equivalent amount from the entry fees.
One of the problems, Evans Hall said, is that Chris Wilson, the city's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation, feels Howelsen will only be able to comfortably host 350 stalls next year, down from the 479 that were erected this year. That is due in part to the fact that some of this year's stables were set up in an area that will serve as parking for the alpine slide next summer. Evans Hall said Western Cutting Series would have to consider putting some of its stables off site, if it hopes to continue growing in the future.
Wilson said this year's experience with the Derby Classic was made more difficult by the fact that more people than ever before were lodging in the rigs they used to haul their trailers here. And the participants were not advised in advance they would have to move their trucks and trailers to make room for the rodeo. Wilson added that the city staff went to great lengths to find alternative parking places for the participants.
Evans Hall added that final notification of the dates of this year's Derby Classic came too late to adjust the stock contract for the horses, cattle and bulls that are needed for the pro rodeo series. The Derby Classic organizers were given the option of paying a fee to offset lost gate income at the rodeo and the cost of moving the rodeo stock.
"They had the choice of blacking (the rodeo) out," Evans Hall said. "That was their choice and they understood the consequences."
The Derby Classic began on a Wednesday, but Emison said most of the competition set-up including the office and fencing, had to be removed by 3 p.m. Friday to allow the rodeo to take place. The derby organizers had to comeback early Sunday morning to set up for the final two days of competition. Another major inconvenience, she said, was the need to move the many horse trailers parked in the rodeo area. Some of the rigs pulling the air-conditioned horse trailers resemble a rock star's touring bus. Others look like smaller versions of the tractor part of tractor-trailers.
As the former executive vice president of the Steamboat chamber, Dean Vogelaar, is intimately familiar with the challenges involved in hosting the cutting horse event.
"Everyone understands how much money the cutters spend while they are in town," Vogelaar said.
But the community must come up with about $45,000 to bring them here, Vogelaar added. And, increasingly, that burden has fallen on the city and the chamber, with no cash contribution from many of the businesses who benefit most. The community must write Western Cutting Series a check for $20,000 and the lodging properties provide rooms valued at $20,000, he said.
Vogelaar said the first time the cutting horse organizers threatened not to return was following the event in the summer of 1997. He said he received calls from 25 or 30 concerned businesses, and took their case to City Council. Council agreed to contribute $7,500 above and beyond the money it provides for summer marketing.
The timing of the event places a great strain on city staffers working in the parks and recreation department, Vogelaar said. They have to change the surface of the rodeo arena from the sandy mix preferred by the cutting horses to the rodeo surface and back again, Vogelaar pointed out.
The ability of the community to adequately host the cutting horse event was hampered by communication problems this year, Vogelaar said. The city had no advance information that the event would grow dramatically. Many of the problems that resulted could have been avoided with better communication, Vogelaar added.
Emison said the cutting horse competitors aren't pretentious rich people.
"We're not uppity, uppity, we're just down in the dirt getting muddy, although we have CEOs and doctors. They didn't mind the heat or the down time the day that it rained. They understand stuff like that. They love Steamboat and they like being outside because most of our events are in indoor arenas."
Emison said the final decision about coming back to Steamboat doesn't become critical until March or April, but she really doesn't expect to be back and has begun looking at Santa Fe, N.M., as an alternative site.
"I think it really comes down to economics and what makes sense," Evans Hall said. "It really comes down to the capacity of that site."
To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org