This week, Abilene, Kansas is rodeo central.
That’s because over 325 cowboys and cowgirls will descend on the town, for the annual Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo.
One cowgirl won’t have far to travel.
Sarah Irvine, from Chapman, will compete in the barrel racing during the Saturday, August 6 night of rodeo.
It’s not the first time for her to run in the Abilene rodeo arena.
The daughter of Steve and Sherry Johnson, she got her start in 4-H rodeo and competed in the “novice” division of Abilene’s pro rodeo, the Bankes barrel racing, several years.
Three years ago, she bought her permit membership in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association, but hasn’t had a chance to compete as a pro in Abilene, due to the rodeo’s cancelation in 2020 because of Covid and a pregnancy in 2021.
Irvine doesn’t compete full time; she has a fulltime job and is a mother of a nine-month-old son. She goes to the rodeos close to her, and often travels with her mom and sister, who take turns babysitting.
It’s a hobby for her. “I don’t do this for a living,” she said. But it is something she enjoys.
Irvine realized she might have a good enough horse to compete professionally the year, as a Bankes barrel racer, when she had a good enough time to have placed with the professional barrel racers, had she not hit a barrel (and got a five-second penalty.) “I knew I could be competing with these cowgirls if I could keep the barrels up.”
She’ll be riding a fifteen-year-old horse named Jetsmiah. He’s bred for barrel racing and a good horse for the sport. He has his share of idiosyncracies, but she can overlook them. “He’s really quirky but you put up with a lot when they’re the good horses,” she said. Purchased by Irvine as a five-year-old, he was trained for the barrels; she put the finishing training and seasoning on him.
She enjoys the rodeo lifestyle, the travel and the equine part of it. “I like taking care of my horses, and going places. It’s an adventure with my mom and my sister and husband, and going somewhere for a fifteen or sixteen-second run. It’s the whole entire part of it. It’s fun.”
For Irvine, it’s not the money or the buckles. “Eighty-five percent of the time you don’t win a check, so it’s not for the money. It’s the memories and the competition and the friendships.”
Returning to defend their 2021 Abilene rodeo titles are tie-down roper Caleb Smidt (who is also the 2021 PRCA world champion), team ropers JC Yeahquo and LJ Yeahquo, and bull rider Jeff Askey.
Abilene will play host to six of the top sixteen bull riders in the world standings: Jeff Askey (ranked third); Trey Kimzey (seventh); JR Stratford (seventh); Maverick Potter (eighth); Creek Young (eleventh) and Trey Holston (sixteenth in the world.)
The Abilene rodeo kicks off Wednesday night with Bulls, Broncs and Barrel Racing, and continues through August 6. Performances begin at 7:30 pm nightly.
Tickets are $10 in advance and $13 at the gate for adults; children’s tickets are $5, whether in advance or at the gate.