Pro Rodeo Series kicks off this weekend

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— A 1,700-pound jewel sits secluded in the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena.

It gets its daily exercise and food, but 17 Panda is not allowed to mingle with the other bulls slated to appear on the opening night of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series.

"He has a slight attitude problem and has to stay by himself," owner Dona Vold Larsen said.

Larsen has served as the stock contractor for Steamboat's rodeo for the past five years, and 17 Panda has emerged as the fans' and cowboys' favorite bull.

Stubbornly gentle with its owners, 17 Panda is notoriously stubborn and tough in the arena, knowing when it's time to buck a cowboy off its back.

"He's one of our shining jewels," Vold Larsen said.

The object of bull riding is to stay on the bull for eight seconds. The final score takes that accomplishment into account along with the animal's overall reputation with regard to difficultly in riding it.

Vold Larsen said Cody Custer is the only cowboy to have ridden 17 Panda in Steamboat. As part of the Professional Bull Riders event, Custer scored an amazing 94 points. Panda was not pleased. Vold Larsen said her bull went back into his pen and slammed into the wall repeatedly with his horns.

"They are proud when they buck the cowboys off," Vold Larsen said. "He's still mad."

Fans and cowboys will get their chance to see 17 Panda and a number of other bulls such as L63 Hard Copy, L63 Kid Curry and L600 Alex Jhent with the opening of the Pro Rodeo Series Friday and Saturday nights at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena.

"We have a string of youngsters that have proven themselves at the college national finals," Vold Larsen said. "We hoping they can prove themselves here."

Chairman Brent Romick, for whom the arena is named, guessed six out of 10 newcomers to rodeos cheer for the cowboys, while the rest are hoping the bull shakes the cowboy of its back. If he had to pick, bull riding would be his favorite event.

"It's such an uneven match," he said. "It's like my 10-year-old son fighting Mike Tyson. It's great when people cheer for the bull, but it's also great to cheer for the cowboy."

Romick has played an integral role in the development and maintenance of the local rodeo and is eager to take a back seat in this year's series.

"There's a real sense of pride," he said. "The heaviest amount of work has been done since the rodeo last year. I have to tip my hat to the board. They do a super job. I used to be careful at delegating authority. Now it's so easy and almost enjoyable."

The Pro Rodeo Series will run on the weekends from June 21-Aug. 24 and will feature a variety of events. Spectators can look forward to watching bareback riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, team roping, saddle bronc riding, calf roping and bull riding.

In addition, other entertainment options have been lined up beginning with Friday's show. In what has become a short-lived tradition, rodeo clown Scotty Messina will be on hand to dazzle the crowd on opening night.

"If I told you what I thought Scott would do, he would do something entirely different," Romick said. "One of the reasons we employ him is because he doesn't have predictable acts. He keeps people coming back."

A pre-rodeo barbeque and concert are also options fans might find enticing. The Alpine Posse, formerly Led Stetson, will be playing on the Jack Daniel's Stage beginning at 6 p.m. the same time as the barbeque. The rodeo starts at 7:30 p.m.

President John Shipley said hitting up the barbeque and concert is a "good way to avoid the rush at the gate."

Presale tickets are available at a variety of locations around town. Adults are $10 and youths ages 6-12 are $5.50. Tickets at the gate are $11 for adults and $6 for children.

The rodeo has been a successful summer attraction in Steamboat for years, and Shipley said there are obvious reasons why that's the case.

"There's a heck of a lot of hard work from the committee and stock contractor that goes into it," he said. "We've worked hard to raise the entertainment value with better stock quality and better production."

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