After a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Desert Stampede rodeo makes its return to the Deschutes County fairgrounds’ First Interstate Bank Center in Redmond this week.

Rodeo performances are scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, starting at 7 p.m. each night.

The High Desert Stampede is part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) ProRodeo Tour, and is anticipated to be “one heck of a rodeo,” according to High Desert Stampede chairman Denis Fast.

“The show itself is going to be bigger and better,” Fast said. “We have a great list of entries, contestants from all over the country, and multiple world champions coming. The talent is as big as I have ever seen in the Northwest. It is going to be a great rodeo. I just wish more people could see it live.”

Due to COVID-19 protocols, attendance is limited to 25% capacity, Fast said. Tickets for the event are sold out for each night, but rodeo fans can watch the action on the Cowboy Channel (www.thecowboychannel.com).

Face coverings will be required, as will 6 feet of social distancing. The annual Redmond rodeo has been a big draw for Northwest rodeo fans since 2015.

But this year, many would-be spectators have been turned away due to the capacity limit.

“People really want to come,” Fast said. “But because of the safety plan, we have to limit (ticket sales), and that has been difficult.”

While the event will be downsized, the talent of the competition will not be. Some of the top rodeo riders from throughout the West are expected, as are cowboys and cowgirls from Canada, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Virginia.

“For those (rodeo competitors) in the Northwest, this is their first opportunity to compete,” Fast said. “The great Northwest talent gets to compete against the big boys.”

According to Fast, the total prize purse for the High Desert Stampede is $125,000, up from about $90,000 in 2019.

Blake Knowles, a steer wrestler based in Heppner, said that due to the pandemic most rodeo riders in 2020 did not come close to the 80 to 100 events they typically attend in a year, so they are eager to take advantage of every rodeo that is being staged.

“It has created a situation as a professional rodeo athlete you can’t overlook in the world we live in today,” Knowles said. “If someone is willing to go through the effort to have their event, as a rodeo competitor, we have to be there.”

Cowboys, like Knowles, missed out on most of the larger rodeos in 2020 because they were canceled due to COVID-19. In the past year, instead of competing, there was more of an emphasis on spending time with family while practicing and developing the horses, which cowboys do not have much time for while competing.

But after the time off, Knowles is ready to return to a more normal rodeo season.

“I’m excited to get back to good rodeo competition,” he said.

The High Desert Stampede kicks off the Columbia River Circuit rodeo season that will run all the way to Oct. 21, when Redmond will host the Columbia River Circuit Finals.

For more information, visit www.highdesertstampede.com.

Reporter: 541-383-0307, brathbone@bendbulletin.com

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