By Srianthi Perera
Horse ranches, dairy farms, agriculture and the rodeo lifestyle were much a part of Gilbert during its “Hay Capital” days.
Nowadays, the town gets a flamboyant reminder of its roots with Gilbert Days, when thousands of spectators line the Heritage District to watch the parade or settle on the bleachers at Welcome Home Ranch to cheer the rodeo.
This is Gilbert Days’ 38th year. The events run to November 19 with a kickoff November 4 with the reenactment of the Pony Express. The Town of Gilbert is organizing the fun runs and the parade while the rest of the activities, such as the bull riding, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding, is put on by Gilbert Promotional Corporation. Earnhardt dealership is the title sponsor of the rodeo.
Although GPC comprises a small band of dedicated cowboys and cowgirls, its message has endured.
“These events are a part of history…and there’s still a good following,” said GPC President James Tree. Last year’s three-day rodeo was attended by 1,000 to 1,500 people each day.
“We’re so grateful the town of Gilbert has teamed up with us on our parade because they believe in the history of Gilbert Days and in keeping the Western heritage alive in Gilbert,” said organizer Pam Thelander.
Through the year, rodeo ambassadors—Gilbert Days Rodeo Queen Jaime Stack, 23, and Teen Queen Kennadee Riggs, 16—have been visiting schools and rodeos in Arizona with their presentations and campaign platform “Kicking Up Kindness.”
“There’s so much good that’s going around that people don’t really know about,” said Stack. “That’s something we do as royalty—we basically look for good deed detectives and we report all the good stories that we hear.”
The royalty provide presentations to youth on the history of Gilbert, farming, sport of rodeo, the values of cowboys and cowgirls such as respect, integrity, being kind to each other and working hard to accomplish their goals.
Organizer Julee Brady said that the rodeo is one of the traditional mainstays. Cowboys from the region compete in the Grand Canyon Professional Rodeo Association sanctioned rodeo.
Although very few children in Gilbert have horses of their own or routinely attend rodeos, GPC has found a way to make it relevant to them as well, she said.
“We try to have events that involve kids to get in the arena,” she said, referring to sports such as mutton bustin’ and barrel racing. “We don’t want them to feel like ‘that isn’t a part of what I can do because I don’t have a live horse.’”