From humble beginnings, Penn Valley Rodeo heads into 62nd year |

From humble beginnings, Penn Valley Rodeo heads into 62nd year

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to The Prospector


What: The 62nd Annual Penn Valley Rodeo

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Rodeo grounds, 10513 Spenceville Road, Penn Valley

How: Tickets and more information at, $10 in advance, $15 at the door, $5 children under 12, free for children under 6.

What began as a family get-together and ranch rodeo that included a number of Penn Valleys founding families has become a not-to-be-missed Nevada County tradition — as the 62nd Penn Valley Rodeo takes place this weekend.

Teresa Dietrich, Penn Valley Community Rodeo Association board member, sponsorship co-chair and mutton busting co-chair, said Penn Valley was originally a dairy community with a long and enduring history of being an agricultural center in Nevada County.

“Once a year all of the families would get together and have a ranch rodeo,” Dietrich said. “It was a big community celebration. All the women would bake pies and make salads. There would be a barbecue and all the local ranchers got together to show off their ranching talent. It was a big community picnic with a ranch rodeo.”

Over 60 years ago, those neighborly get-togethers became a formal rodeo and fundraiser for the Penn Valley Fire Department to raise funds to buy new equipment. At some point, they were unable to sustain the event and they offered it up to the public. Dietrich says is when community members stepped up and formed the Penn Valley Community Rodeo Association.

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Today the rodeo continues on the same iconic and historic grounds as those first neighborhood gatherings, now owned by the Penn Valley Fire Protection District.

Dietrich says putting on a good rodeo requires a good stock contractor, a wonderful announcer and an entertaining rodeo clown.

“We bring in four-star rodeo livestock as our stock contractor, and we have Don Jesser who has been our professional rodeo announcer for a number of years, and we have J.J. Harrison as the rodeo clown again. He is considered one of the top 10 in the nation as far rodeo entertainer.”

She says the role of the rodeo clown goes far beyond entertainment.

“The rodeo clown entertains between events, but he is also the barrel man. During bull riding, the barrel man must be able to get out there and distract the bull from injuring any of the cowboys that have come off the bull.

“So he is literally putting his life at risk every time he is in there because those bulls are about 2,000 pounds and by the time they get the rider off their back, they are a little agitated, so that clown is brightly colored to distract the bull and protect the cowboy. That is his job. He is also very funny and a great entertainer.”

The sanctioned rodeo is this Friday and Saturday. In addition to bull riding events will include bronco riding, roping, saddleback bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and many more.

Dietrich said, “The athletes who are competing in our rodeo are competing also for points for the whole series across the state of California.” The association has increased prize money to entice riders from competing rodeos.

The event begins with a coronation of the junior and senior rodeo queens. Opening ceremonies include the grand entry, with all the queens carrying flags, the competitors entering the arena and the often-emotional presentation of the American Flag and the singing of the National Anthem.

Dietrich said other popular events include a calf scramble.

“Any child that is at the rodeo can enter the arena and chase the cattle around and find the calf that has a ribbon on its tail. The kid that gets the ribbon, gets the prize.”

For the second year the Wild West Buckers, riders aged 6-13, will be featuring the sport of bareback riding and supplying mini bucking horses and ponies. And they will have muttin busting as well.

Saturday, a rodeo parade kicks off at 3 p.m. beginning at Western Gateway Park and ending at the Rodeo Grounds with Grand Marshal Bob Winters, along with a number of community organizations represented in classic cars, tractors, and riders on mules and horseback.

Except for Truckee-based Owner of Smokey’s Kitchen & Catering, all the food vendors are nonprofits and Smokey’s owner, Michael Lathury, will be donating a percentage of their proceeds, selling pulled pork, ribs, chicken and all the fixings.

The Nevada Union Football Boosters will have hamburgers and hot dogs at their booth, and Ready Springs School runs the Little Wranglers Snack Shack featuring pizza and other nuggets kids love to eat. Kare Crisis Nursery will be serving homemade delights in the pie booth. The Penn Valley Chamber will have refreshments for sale as well.

There are pony rides, face painting and other activities for the kids.

An after-rodeo dance party will be held each night featuring The James Slack Band.

Breakfast will be sold at the old firehouse, and Cowboy Church, with the Hale Family and Friends will also be taking place. Sunday admission is free with muttin busting at 10 a.m. and jackpot roping at 11 a.m.

Proceeds from the Rodeo go to support the Penn Valley Rodeo Scholarship program and other youth in agriculture programs as well as the Penn Valley Fire District with an EMT scholarship fund. For the full schedule of events and to buy tickets online see

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