Earning a belt buckle at the 2004 Steamboat Springs Professional Rodeo Series was no easy task.
"They had to work for it, and we want to keep that environment this year," said Brent Romick, chairman of the Steamboat Spring Pro Rodeo Series Board of Directors. "Winning a belt buckle from this rodeo series means a lot to these cowboys, and we are working to make it even more prestigious."
The titles go to the highest money earners in each event, and last year, the titles in ladies' barrel racing, steer wrestling and No. 7 roping were decided by $59 or less.
Cody Fox won the bareback riding title by $108, Lance Allen topped the team roping standings by $154 and, after getting off to a fast start, Ryan Greenlee held on to win the bull riding title by a $174 margin.
"Last year was a little atypical that way," Romick said. "But I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same in a number of events this year."
Fox knows first hand how difficult it is to win a title in Steamboat Springs.
After leading the bareback event for most of 2004, Fox needed to earn a check to beat traveling partner Dave Hoffman in the finale to secure his first professional series title.
Hoffman won the Steamboat finale, which put the pressure on Fox. But Fox got the check for third place, earning just enough money that night to hold on to the end-of-season title.
"We are good friends and he was the best man at my wedding," Fox said. "It didn't matter to me, as long as one of us won it."
The title is a prestigious one for circuit cowboys in the Mountain States rodeo circuit. Even though the title doesn't come with any additional money, it does carry a certain amount of clout.
"Cowboys talk about winning in Steamboat," Fox said. "It's something a cowboy can focus on during the season -- it's something to shoot for."
In 2004, the tightest races were in the steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing, where the titles came down to a single run.
Steer wrestler Bill Claunch of Monte Vista topped Wade Sumpter of Fowler for the belt buckle. Bonnie Austin of Cortez topped Gayla Schaefer of Fruita for the ladies' barrel racing buckle.
In the No. 7 roping event, Wyoming's Willow Nicholas and Aaron Raley edged Jeff Groom of Carbondale and Bruce Arbaney of Glenwood Springs for the buckle.
Cheyenne cowboy Allen topped Wade Kreutzer of La Veta and Brett Trenary of Salida for the team roping title by a narrow $154 margin.
After winning some big rodeos early in the season, Greenlee managed to hold off Kody Lostroh of Longmont down the stretch to win the bull riding title.
The Greeley bull rider took the Steamboat title with a $174 advantage over Lostroh after the final rodeo of the season.
But not every race was that tight.
Wyoming cowboy K.C. Jones won the tie-down roping title and pocketed enough money in tie-down and team roping to win the all-around cowboy award.
Ryan Rodewald, of Washington, D.C, won the saddle bronc title, and Brandon Munn took the 2004 Pat Mantle Memorial Saddle Bronc title.
Taking home top honors in the Pee Wee Barrels was Maybell's Denton Taylor. He edged Cutter Barnes by a single point.