BENSON — The sport of rodeo is alive and well, at least in Southeastern Arizona.

Just ask six-year-old Ryder Smith. The youngster is already making a name for himself in the world of dummy roping, with big plans of becoming a professional roper some day.

The Benson Butterfield Rodeo, a sanctioned Grand Canyon Pro Rodeo Association event, celebrated its 20th anniversary Saturday and Sunday, thrilling rodeo fans of all ages with a fast-paced lineup of rodeo action.

Both days started with a kids’ rodeo where young buckaroos tried their hand in mutton bustin’, calf riding and dummy roping, followed by the pro rodeo competition. Families hungry for opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities after months of COVID-caused cancelations, filled Benson’s Arena Bar grandstands where they cheered contestants onto victory, browsed vendors’ booths and applauded the antics of professional rodeo clown Nate “Shotgun” Reed.

“When you look around at the crowd, it’s obvious that folks are happy about getting out and involved in events again,” said Patricia Anderson, a spectator from Tucson. “I’m here with my husband and two girls and we all enjoy rodeo, so decided to drive to Benson for this one. We’re having a great time.”

From spectators, to competitors to rodeo organizers, similar comments resonated throughout the weekend.

“The turnout for the rodeo was incredible,” Butterfield Rodeo Committee President Heather Floyd said. “Saturday’s attendance exceeded last year’s and Sunday’s attendance was right on par with last year.”

Floyd said after talking to several attendees, all were happy to have an event they could take their families to. “After 20 years of producing this rodeo, I believe our community enjoyed it more than ever,” Floyd said. “People want to get out and do things again.”

When the all-woman Butterfield Rodeo committee got its start 20 years ago, the event was held on a dirt lot behind Lion’s Park, said Ashley Floyd, Heather’s daughter.

“I was 5 years old when Butterfield first started, and my mom has been involved with this rodeo from the very beginning. So, I’ve been raised with Butterfield,” said Ashley, who serves on the rodeo committee as the queen coordinator.

Butterfield drew competitors from five different states, including Hawaii.

In a venue jam-packed with talented athletes, Jay (Jalen) Joaquin stood out as the top saddle bronc rider. Joaquin led the saddle bronc competition on Saturday with 81 points and returned on Sunday with 75 points. In 2017, he was the Saddle Bronc World Champion at the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and is a College National Rodeo Finals qualifier.

Dylan McGuire led the bull riding competition with a score of 85 points, followed by Hunter Kelly with a close 84.

“Rodeo is such an exciting sport,” said spectator Jennica Gilbert. “From the rodeo queens who do that fast lap around the arena carrying flags, to the bronc and bull riders, I have so much admiration for all the contestants. Win or lose, it takes a tremendous amount of athleticism to do this. It takes athleticism on the part of the contestants and the animals.”

While standing among the crowd watching the events, Preslee Rush, Butterfield’s 2018-2019 rodeo queen, said what she enjoyed most about her role as rodeo royalty was working with the kids.

“That was by far my favorite part,” she said. “Above everything I did as a queen, I loved fostering the love of rodeo with younger generations. I really believe that’s what our role as a rodeo royalty is all about.”