Cowboy monkeys hit rodeo grounds

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— Tim Lepard's rodeo specialty show typically features border collies saddled and ridden by white-throated Capuchin monkeys, which herd a group of sheep onto Lepard's signature "Wild Thang" Dodge truck.

But today and Saturday, Lepard is pulling out all the stops for his one-of-a-kind performance at the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo.

"I'm the type of guy that likes to go far and beyond," Lepard said. "There's nobody in the world or rodeo history that's ever had three dogs and three monkeys. This weekend, there might just be a fourth."

Lepard said his desire to up the ante was because his older brother Rick, who lives in Denver, will be coming to Steamboat to watch his brother's performance for the first time since Lepard acquired his first monkey and began the shows in 1989.

"My brother told me, 'whatever you do, give it a hundred percent and do it for your country,'" Lepard said.

Lepard moved from riding bulls to entertaining crowds as a bull fighter and rodeo clown after a 1980 bull ride left him hospitalized with a broken collar bone, three broken ribs and a torn ACL.

With numerous awards and TV and magazine appearances under Lepard's belt, the 44-year-old Gainesville, Fla., resident now takes his show across the country, pulling a 36-foot trailer with four monkeys, eight dogs and six rams.

"The sheep are the hardest part -- they're the dumbest animals in the world," Lepard said. "With the monkeys, it's just like a baby that never grows up. They're America's No. 1 team -- the 'Ghost Riders.'"

Once clothed in their miniature chaps and ornate costumes, Lepard said the monkeys "climb on, get adjusted and hang on." He said the monkeys will be tethered to the collies to prevent a bucked Capuchin, known for their "organ-grinding" abilities, from running amuck into the crowd.

Because Lepard is making a huge detour -- between St. Paul, Minn., and Atlanta -- to bring the Ghost Riders for this weekend's special performance, this will be his only Steamboat appearance of the summer.

Lepard also will provide rodeo clown comic performances tonight and Saturday night. The performances start at 7:30 p.m. at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena at Howelsen Hill.

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