Four rodeos. Three weeks. Almost $1 million in prize money.
Nine-time all-around world champion Trevor Brazile will take that challenge, as will Cheney bareback rider Ryan Gray, starting today with the Horse Heaven Round-Up at the Benton Franklin Fairgrounds.
The Horse Heaven Round-Up is the newest member of the Big 4 Rodeos, which also includes the Walla Walla Frontier Days, the Lewiston Roundup and the Pendleton Round-Up.
The Big 4 Rodeos Association, which has been going strong since 1953, lost the Ellensburg Rodeo after last year. After careful consideration, the Horse Heaven Round-Up was added.
"Ellensburg was involved for years, but they chose to leave," said Dennis Hunt, president of the board of directors for the Pendleton Round-Up. "We wanted to have someone in it to remain the Big 4. We approached the Horse Heaven Round-Up and they showed interest in it. We didn't look at anyone else. We didn't consider anyone else."
Hunt said members of the Big 4 met with the Kennewick group on a couple of occasions before it decided to join.
"I think the interest in Kennewick was their proximity to the Big 4 and their time frame wraps right around us," said Pat Reay, who is in charge of the rodeo at the Walla Walla Frontier Days. "There is no gap in time. I think they are a rodeo that is up and coming."
The Big 4 has a solid reputation in the rodeo community, but the there is no big monetary gain for being a member.
"We were up front with Kennewick that this wasn't going to put fans in the seats," Hunt said.
It's all for the cowboys.
In addition to the regular rodeo prize money ($965,374 between the four), cowboys can earn points at each rodeo, and those who compete and earn money in all four are in the running for an extra $4,000 bonus at the end of the year. Saddle bronc rider Cody Wright of Milford, Utah, won last year.
Mike Casey, vice president of the Benton Franklin Fair and Rodeo, is in charge of the Horse Heaven Round-Up and the Xtreme Bulls competition. He said it's an honor to earn a seat at the Big 4 table.
"It's a very good feeling," Casey said. "It's nice they thought so highly of us. It adds prestige to our rodeo and it's good for our contestants."
Brazile, a native of Decatur, Texas, who has picked up the bonus check a few times, said he will rope at all four rodeos.
"I go to Kennewick every year, so this doesn't change my plans any," Brazile said of the changing of the guard in the Big 4. "It's a great time to be in the Northwest. It's a great atmosphere and I love the fans up there."
The Horse Heaven Round-Up runs today through Saturday, while the Walla Walla Frontier Days is Aug. 31-Sept. 2. The 78th Annual Lewiston Roundup is Sept. 6-9, and the Pendleton Round-Up is Sept. 12-15.
The Horse Heaven Round-Up purse is $9,000 per event and pays out to the top six placers.
Thursday is Tough Enough to Wear Pink night, with a $200 bonus going to the top time or score of the night in each event -- provided the contestant is wearing a pink shirt.
The rodeo is free with your fair admission, but reserved seating can be purchased for $10.
* Annie Fower: 509-582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org