OAKDALE — Horses grazed or walked slowly on the pasture next door to the Oakdale Saddle Club Arena on Wednesday afternoon while a few large motorhomes wheeled in nearby.
The countryside, normally quiet and serene, started its transition seen every April. Soon, horse trailers and the world's best cowboys and barrel racers will arrive for one of the local rites of spring the 62nd Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo beginning today.
A field of 474 cowboys and barrel racers, 106 more than last year, will make the pilgrimage to Oakdale to fast-track the West Coast swing. Entries normally triangulate between Oakdale, Pocatello (Idaho) and Logandale (Nev.) each year, but Pocatello is not on this year's schedule.
The fewer options worked in Oakdale's favor. Six 2012 world champions, featuring 7-time all-around world champion Trevor Brazile, will compete this weekend. Brazile, the best roper on the planet, won the Oakdale all-around title in 2010.
Others who claimed world titles at last December's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, also are on the way: Four-time steer wrestling champ Luke Branquinho, saddle bronc star Jesse Wright, team roping heeler Jade Corkill, tie-down roper Tuf Cooper and barrel racer Mary Walker.
Leading the local list is defending all-around champion Ryle Smith, who became the first Oakdale cowboy to take all-around honors in 11 years.
"This is my favorite rodeo. I always seem to win something here," Smith said. "If I can win this two more times, I can keep it (the Bowman Trophy)."
Saturday morning's parade in downtown Oakdale will be highlighted by grand marshal Jackie Conner, 81, an historian and secretary for the saddle club for nearly 30 years.
"I was caught totally off-guard when they told me," said Conner, a retired school psychologist and teacher for 57 years. "There are so many people who deserve it."
Action begins today at 4 p.m. with the first session of barrel racing at the saddle club arena. The rodeo hits full-speed with the first go-rounds of tie-down roping, team roping and steer wrestling during Friday morning's slack.
62nd Oakdale Rodeo
WHEN: Today through Sunday
WHERE: Oakdale Saddle Club Arena
WHO: 474 cowboys from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
HEADLINE DRAW: Trevor Brazile, 17-time world champion
STOCK CONTRACTOR: Flying U, Marysville
SCHEDULE: Barrel racing today at 4 p.m.; slack session Friday at 8 a.m.; slack Saturday at 8 a.m.; main performances Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
TICKETS: Advance, $15 adults and $10 children 12-under (6-under free); $20 and $10 at the gate.