BENSON — The sport of rodeo is alive and well in Cochise County.

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. Smith competed in the kids’ rodeo at the 2020 Benson Butterfield Rodeo, with dummy roping topping his list of favorite activities.

The Benson Butterfield Rodeo, a sanctioned Grand Canyon Pro Rodeo Association event, celebrated its 20th anniversary last October with an exciting line-up of rodeo action.

Despite COVID concerns, Butterfield drew a large crowd to the Arena Bar in Benson for a packed weekend of family fun. Both days started with a kids’ rodeo where young cowboys and cowgirls tried their hand in mutton bustin’, calf riding and dummy roping, followed by the pro rodeo competition.

After months of event cancellations due to COVID, the grandstands were filled with families hungry for opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities. They cheered contestants onto victory, browsed through vendors’ booths and applauded the quirky antics of rodeo clown Nate “Shotgun” Reed.

“The turnout this year was incredible,” rodeo committee President Heather Floyd said. “After 20 years of producing this rodeo, I believe our community enjoyed it more than ever. People want to get out and do things again.”

The Butterfield Rodeo is preceded by a four-day Rex Allen Days celebration in Willcox, with a two-day rodeo as the anchor event. Like Butterfield, this is a sanctioned pro rodeo that attracts top competitors from all over Arizona and neighboring states. Held the first weekend in October, Rex Allen Days got its start in 1951 as a two-day event that featured the rodeo, parade and an appearance by Rex Allen himself. Over time, the celebration was extended to four-days of entertainment, gunfight re-enactments, an annual Cowboy Hall of Fame banquet, and much more.

The 2021 Rex Allen Days Rodeo in October will mark the event’s 70th anniversary.

Wendy and Jeff Hooper, whose two sons compete in junior rodeo throughout Arizona and New Mexico, follow the junior rodeo circuit wherever their sons’ competitions take them.

“My son, Caden has qualified for the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo for the past two years, when he was in sixth and seventh grade,” Wendy said. “Landon, our younger son, also is a rodeo competitor and loves the sport.”

New rodeo events are popping up all over Cochise County, said Wendy, adding that the competitions draw crowds and are entertaining for the whole family.

“There’s bull riding in Tombstone, Benson holds regular team ropings at the Arena Bar, and there’s the Willcox West Fest in April with a ranch rodeo competition.”

Wendy attributes the sport’s family-oriented atmosphere to its growing popularity among young people, as well as the support youth receive from organizations like the Willcox Junior Rodeo Association. Established in 2013 to provide kids with an opportunity to participate and grow in the sport of rodeo, the association’s membership has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years, Wendy said.

“Cochise County’s rodeo culture is booming. Rodeo is a great family sport, and it’s a sport for all ages.”