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Kristina Barker/Journal staff Cattle from Gordon and Connie Howie's Holy Cow Ranch on display in Rushmore Hall during the last day of the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010.

The 2011 Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo begins a day earlier this year, starting on Thursday, Jan. 27, with an old-time wagon train, a cowboy poetry reading, a special trade show promotion and the first performance of an extra weekend of PRCA rodeo.

The wagon train, which is open to the public, will leave the James Kjerstad Event Center at the Central States Fairgrounds about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and make its way through Rapid City to Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Ron Jeffries, general manager of the Central States Fair, said he expects about 12 to 18 horse-drawn wagons to make the trek to the civic center. Anyone who wants to ride on a wagon is asked to call the Central States Fair/Black Hills Stock Show office at 355-3861. Central States Fair produces most of the nonpro-rodeo parts of the annual stock show, which is based primarily at the civic center and the fairgrounds event center.

Jeffries said the wagon train also will accept a limited number of horseback riders.

The wagon train will arrive in time for an old-time chuckwagon dinner, at $10 a plate, and the 5:30 p.m. start of the Jim Thompson Cowboy Poetry Show in the sale ring of Rushmore Hall in the civic center. Thompson, a longtime radio

personality, will host the poetry event, featuring poets Slim McNaught of New Underwood, Bonnie Krogman of White River and Robert Dennis of Red Owl.

Thursday’s opening also will feature a special promotion to help launch the trade show. People can play a vendor bingo game Thursday by finding vendors, and if they complete the bingo pattern, they will be entered in a drawing for $3,000 worth of vendor dollars redeemable at participating vendors, Jeffries said. Top prize is $500, and there will be a number of $100 prizes, he said.

The early start also will feature the first performance of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo Thursday night. Sutton Rodeo of Onida is providing two weekends of rodeo this year.

The stock show rodeo for many years was held over two weekends, but PRCA rules changes a few years ago made it more difficult for cowboys to compete over two weekends and then come back for a final performance on the last Sunday, according to civic center general manager Brian Maliske, so the Suttons scheduled rodeo performances just on the final weekend. They scheduled a PRCA Xtreme Bulls tour performance on the first Saturday of the stock show.

Last year, the PRCA reversed course somewhat, making it easier to hold performances over two weekends, with winners determined by the top scores and times, rather than by a final rodeo “short go,” Maliske said.

The change allows a PRCA rodeo Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday afternoon, Jan. 27-29, as well as the second weekend, Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 3-5.

The Suttons will still produce the PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour performance Friday and Saturday night, Jan. 28 and 29, and the South Dakota High School 20X Xtreme rodeo on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 30.

Maliske said it’s the best of both worlds because the rodeo and the Xtreme bulls often draw different fans.

“I truly believe with an extra day on the front end that our numbers will be up,” he said.

“It will be really fun that first weekend,” said Julie Sutton, matriarch of Sutton Rodeo. “You can watch both pro rodeo and Xtreme Bulls.”

The two-weekend format will allow the rodeo to accommodate an increase of 20 contestants per timed event over last year, said Kim Sutton of Sutton Rodeo. She said for a few years, the PRCA was encouraging smaller numbers of timed-event contestants on its major tour stops.

“Now, they say we want to have more people. Everything cycles back,” she said.

Maliske said the early start this year means the stock show and rodeo will end a day early, too, on Saturday, Feb. 5, rather than on the first Sunday of February, typically Super Bowl Sunday.

Finishing on Saturday avoids a conflict with the Super Bowl, he said.

Crowds on the final Sunday over the past couple of years were down from the days when the rodeo had a “short go” finals featuring the top 12 contestants in each event.

“Finishing up Saturday night, with the biggest crowd on the single busiest day of the year for us — that’s the way to finish the event,” Maliske said.

Jeffries said the early start offers some opportunities, although it will stress some vendors who have to pack up at the National Western in Denver and get here to set up. But, he said, “It is easier to build a Thursday than to salvage a (final) Sunday.” The trade show will end on Saturday, Feb. 5.

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The stock show has gotten an unofficial early start the past few years with the continued expansion of the American Quarter Horse Association Winter Classic show, held at the fairgrounds. That show started Monday and wraps up Thursday, Jan. 27. Jeffries said the switch to a three-judge format, allowing contestants to vie for three times the number of points that can count toward qualifying for the world championships later this year, should boost participation at the show.

Most other events during the stock show are scheduled at their usual times, with the two-day horse sale and Stallion Row on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 28 and 29, both in Rushmore Hall.

Jeffries said he believes the 158 horses offered for this year’s sale represent the best lineup in the past nine years at the stock show.

Youth Day Activities take place at the fairgrounds on Saturday, Jan. 29, culminating with the annual beef bust luncheon at the Fine Arts Building.

The first Saturday also features the Old West Collector’s Auction at 10 a.m. on the civic center theater stage and the World’s Smallest Rodeo for young children in the Rushmore Hall sale ring.

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On Sunday, the annual commercial heifer show is held at the fairgrounds event center at 10 a.m., followed by the sale.

Also on Sunday, purebred cattle start coming into Rushmore Hall to get ready for six days of shows and sales, starting Monday, Jan. 31, and culminating with the Supreme Row winners announced at the rodeo on Saturday night, Feb. 5.

Other traditional favorite events include the North American Sheepdog Trials, along with the Annual Mutton Bustin’ Championships, on Monday, Jan. 31; the Ranch Rodeo on Tuesday, Feb. 1; the annual Stockman’s Banquet & Ball on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at Best Western Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center; the Pioneer Awards Breakfast on Friday, Feb. 4, at the Ramkota; and the annual Black Hills Buffalo Classic Show & Sale on Sunday, Feb. 6, at the fairgrounds.

The Western Art Show is offered daily in the civic center theater lobby. It finishes up with a Western Art Quick Draw Contest and Auction on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 5. That event was added a couple of years ago.

Two other events added a couple of years ago have also proved popular.

South Dakota Outdoor Adventures, a group that conducts hunting experiences for youths, presents the Exotic Animals of the World Wildlife Display during the stock show’s first weekend at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn. This year’s show has an African theme, with animals from Africa joining the “horn and hide” display.

The other new event that has drawn big crowds is the Denim & Diamonds Quilt Show, which runs from Friday through Wednesday, Jan. 28-Feb. 2.

“We’re always looking for things to do that can broaden the base of people who come to the show and broaden people’s awareness of what is ag and the extent of what the ag business

really is,” Jeffries said.

Meanwhile, horse events continue throughout the show at the fairgrounds event center. Among the most popular are the two-day Ranch Horse competition on Sunday and

Monday, Jan. 30 and 31; Open 4-D Barrel Race on Wednesday, Feb. 2; Best of the West Barrel Slot Races on Thursday, Feb. 3; and Open Team Roping on Friday, Feb. 4.

The fairgrounds horse events complement the horse sale at the civic center, said stock show horse coordinator Jill Swanhorst. People not only can sell a horse, they can compete in the AQHA show for points and stay to show off their horses in the Ranch Horse competition.

Steve Miller is a free-lance writer based in Rapid City. Contact him at wrwriter@rap.midco.net.

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