As 'Rodeo Town USA', Sidney draws thousands annually for Iowa's Championship Rodeo

"This ain't my first rodeo" is an idiom (figure of speech) usually meant to convey that someone is not a novice or inexperienced at something.


For me, in literal terms, I really did attend my first rodeo in early August of 2019 in Sidney.


When I visited last summer for the 96th annual event, COVID-19 had not yet even started to rear its ugly head. Now, nearly a year later and despite many other things cancelling, Sidney is set to host the 97th annual event in late July and early August (as it is every year).

Sidney has dubbed itself "Rodeo Town USA" and for nearly 100 years has annually hosted Iowa's Championship Rodeo.

Sidney is the county seat (meaning where the courthouse is) of Fremont County, our state's furthest southwest county. This was, for what I can recall, my first ever visit to Sidney. Based on what I saw, I definitely need to get back to do some more exploring. As you can see, the town square has a lot of character and and I appreciate that they really lean into their western and rodeo roots.

Many of the buildings have gorgeous architecture or have had elements added to make them look more western-like. If you are going to proclaim yourself to be a rodeo town, you better look like it. Sidney succeeds here.

The Silver Spur looks like an interesting place and I did not have time to pop in, but will add it to the list for a future visit.

The historic Fremont County Courthouse anchors the downtown square.

There are a couple of big old spectacular trees on the grounds.

The downtown also includes a number of different art installations. The light poles include decorated boots and banners.

There are also other metal boot sculptures.

I especially like this one which is sponsored by the Fremont County Farm Bureau.

I am delighted to see that Sidney still has some cobblestone streets. Some towns in Iowa (e.g. Primghar even though the community celebration is called Cobblestone Days) are removing them and replacing them with concrete pavement. I know they may require some additional upkeep responsibilities, but they certainly do add more than a touch of character.

I spotted a sign directing me to where the rodeo arena is located. It is on the far western side of town.

Over several days of events and nights of rodeo performances, the event brings thousands of spectators from all over...and not just Iowa. To accommodate that many people, you need a large parking area. Keep in mind, Fremont County borders both Missouri and Nebraska.

There is also a distant area where a number of workers and rodeo participants park their rigs.

There are teams of people who help to direct and park vehicles.

Tractors with pedestrian wagons drive around to help move those who want a lift from the parking lot to the ticket counter.

The arena is near the town's water tower.

You can either get a ride or walk up to the ticket building.

I went with two of my friends and we had general admission tickets. Our seats were perfectly fine. That said, if you really want to see the bull riding up close, I'd spend the extra money for the higher priced seats as most of the action related to that happens on that end of the arena. You can buy tickets at the door or online.

Once inside, you realize that there is absolutely no shortage of vendors selling everything from food and drink to cowboy hats, cologne, and even cars. It's more than a rodeo event - it's got a festival or fair feel to it.

A couple of the food vendors appeared to be county area vendors. For example, the Fremont County Cattlemen had a food trailer.

Others food vendors seemed as though they were type that travel all over to festivals, fairs, rodeos, and other similar events.

I'd never seen this lemonade vendor before. It kind of looked like a lemon "clam".

Of course, there is also alcohol for sale.

If you showed up and wanted to get outfitted with all kinds of western wear, there were several vendors available to help you with that. From boots and belts to hats and handbags, I saw both some very stylish stuff...and maybe some slightly hokey stuff.

These particular hats were maybe more on the hokey side of things...but I can appreciate a little fun.

But even if you didn't need one of these wild bedazzled hats to look good, you could walk over to another vendor to buy some cologne to smell good.

A local automobile dealership (from Red Oak) also brought over some vehicles for attendees to take a look at.

There is also other entertainment options available. For example, younger kids could enjoy a few inflatable bounce houses.

A bale with a cattle head was set up for those who wanted to practice or show off of their roping skills.

Yours truly was interested in riding the bull and while pictures exist of this, they won't be published on here. A steady line of all ages signed up for this. I had fun and I think others did too.

When it is time to head in to the actual arena as opposed to just the concourse, you have to pass through an area where your ticket is verified.

Once inside, there are plenty of signs directing guests to where their seats are.

Plastic "comfort seats", compliments of a couple of local auctioneers, could be had for free for the night. I am glad I had one as otherwise the alternative is simply hard metal bleacher seats (at least in the general admission area).

Programs could be purchased for $5.00.

My friends and I decided to sit on the north side of the arena. In doing so, we passed some of the emergency vehicles that were stationed. In case you aren't aware, rodeos can be dangerous for participants.

We stopped to admire a few pens of calves who were waiting for their turn to be part of the show.

I also hopped up on a raised stage to check out the arena. Before all of the activity gets going, the dirt is very nicely manicured.

On the west side, there is an announcing box. Like a lot of sporting venues, there are advertising signs all over.

This particular lift box was position up over some of the advertising to give the cameraman a better view.

The bleachers go up probably at least 20 or 25 rows and all of the seats are nicely covered.

Underneath each side, you can find more food and beverage retailers as well as restrooms.

At one point in the evening, I did get hungry and grabbed a freshly grilled cheeseburger. It was quite delicious.

On one end, I spotted a bunch of RVs that maybe are used by performers or workers.

The north side of arena is right next to a farm field, lest you forget you are still in Iowa.

I attended the Friday evening rodeo and it was a beautiful early August evening. The stands were relatively full, but definitely not packed.

The crowd largely stayed to the very end and the lighting contrase with the old beams in the rafters makes for a neat sight.

At the beginning, there is a lot of pageantry. It's all quite impressive. The Friday night show every year is Relay for Life night and they encourage guests to wear pink or purple in support of finding cures for cancer.

The event's website has a very nice run down and summary of all of the evening's events. You'll get to watch "Bareback Bronc Riding", "Steer Wrestling", "Team Roping", "Saddle Bronc Riding", "Tie Down", "WPRA Barrel Racing", and "Bull Riding". There is also "Mutton Busting" for youth ages 5 to 7 who are under 55lbs who sign up that night.

As someone who grew up raising sheep, I was amused to see that this particular rodeo used closely shorn black face (suffolk-type) sheep for this particular mutton busting event.

Most serious mutton busting contests will use longer wooled white face ewes. As such, almost none of the kids stayed on for more than a second or two and it was a complete dud. Hopefully they have sheep more suited for this in the future.

Various Iowa communities play host to rodeos every year, but I'm not sure there is one that has quite the history, tradition, or stature that Sidney's does. In 2023, they'll celebrate 100 years and hopefully it can continue on for another 100+ after that.

Iowa's Championship Rodeo features high energy production and it is very professionally orchestrated. Not to mention, there's much more to see and do (or buy) as part of the whole event. I won't pretend to say I knew any of the rodeo contestants. I didn't fully follow how some of the scoring played out. It also took me a bit to figure out how the pertinent details and techniques of each of the events.


However, none of that really mattered as it pertains to enjoying the whole spectacle. The point is go to and enjoy the experience and learn something new.


Would I get on a bull that isn't mechanical without padding on the ground below? Absolutely not.


But another rodeo? Without a doubt I would.


Whether you are a regular rodeo fanatic or have never been to one (like me before this one), it's hard not to find the event to be fun. You just have to go and give it a shot.


As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Fremont County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.

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