Attendees react in awe to Cooper Clemens' bareback riding skills. Clemens scored 81 points by the end of his ride, earning him the first place spot. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

NOTE: Watch for photo galleries online and more photos in this week's edition of the Malheur Enterprise from the rodeo, parade and events in the park.

VALE - Halfway through the final night of the Vale Rodeo, Jetta Steele of Vale and her pony were locked in a battle of grit.

She had charged the barrels once, twice, three times - yet the pony resisted Jetta’s direction from the reins.

By the fourth attempt, even the announcer braced for bad news as the competitor, representing the 6 to 8 age range, rode a pony that got only more stubborn. It paced and drew anxious gasps from the crowd as it tried to shake Jetta off.

But - as the sunset cast the Shamrock Arena in Vale a rosy color - Jetta set her mouth in a determined line and made a final go, guiding her steed through the barrels and crossing the finish line to some of the loudest applause of the night.

After a year away, the annual Vale 4th of July Rodeo and Suicide Race and Oregon Trail Days were back. 

The festivities began with the Grand Marshal Rodeo Banquet on Tuesday and lasted through fireworks on Sunday. They came during a heat wave that made water and shade a sought-after commodity for participants and spectators. 

Friday evening, crowds gathered along the Malheur River embankment, eyes locked on distant specks on the hill. Others waited in the arena stands, the finish line for the suicide horse race that starts atop Rhinehart Buttes across the Malheur River from the arena.

As the start time grew near Scott Allen, the rodeo announcer, said, “25 minutes up, 3 minutes down,” as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” played.

Then, a plume of smoke appeared on the top of the hill followed nearly two seconds later by the crack of exploding dynamite marking the beginning of the race. The crowd squinted trying to find the lone competitor, Riley Prescott, and some lifted up binoculars or small children.

Finally, a shirtless rider in a baseball hat appeared, pushing his brown and white horse to full speed to cheers from the waiting crowd. They waded across the river and then sped over the embankment into the arena. 

The Suicide Race's lone rider, Riley Prescott, crosses the Malheur River while on his way to Shamrock Arena. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

While some said the race had lost its excitement compared to previous years, others were enthusiastic as they left the riverside.

Saturday’s events in Wadleigh Park kicked off with the tamest four-legged event of the weekend — the 7th annual Vale Dog Show. Pistol Pete, disguised as a red, white and blue butterfly, took home the award for “Best Costume” while Ladybug was crowned Vale’s “Cutest Dog.”

Rodeo-goers convened at park picnic tables Sunday morning to rehash the night’s events over a Lions Club hosted-breakfast. By mid-morning, the only thing cleaned better than their plates were the Mustangs, Challengers and Shelby’s rolling into the park for the Show and Shine Car Show. 

Joe Reed, who owns Wildthings Taxidermy, came with his 1972 Dodge Challenger to reclaim the throne of “Best Car.” Only five years ago, Reed bought the Challenger on eBay, tearing it apart and rebuilding it into the beauty it is today.

Later that day, a kids tent in the vendors’ space at Wadleigh Park held games and prizes, including a kiddy pool, a bean bag toss and a prize wheel.

Amy Fulwyler of Vale ran the tent to fundraise for her 9-year-old daughter Emma’s fees to join Gem State Gymnastics in Boise. Her 7-year-old daughter Charlie recently decided she wanted to tumble, too.

Emma provided glimpses of her routine by catapulting into the kiddy pool, wrist clacking with - by her count - 20 of the plastic zipper bracelets from the prize basket. She said she was most excited for the candy that would be thrown at the parade. 

Almost 250 years since the war for America’s freedom, another battle occurred on the corner of B and Holland Streets during Sunday’s Fourth of July parade. Water balloons, hurled by parade attendees, exploded upon impact with parade floats and drenched anyone within detonation range. 

But these parade participants weren’t your typical candy tossers. They returned fire with massive water guns, soaking their combatants and a few innocent bystanders. 

Parade participants engage in a water battle with onlookers along B Street in Vale. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

“The first couple years we didn’t come prepared. Now we do,” said Eric Fugate, whose family brought large buckets of water balloons. “It’s a fun way for everyone to cool off.”

The parade, which began at Vale High School and continued along B Street was led by Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe and featured local rodeo queens, Grand Marshals Gail and Connie Bateman and Smokey the Bear, courtesy of the BLM. 

It capped the 2021 Oregon Trail Day’s four days of fun that began July 1. 

During the rodeo that night, Tara Ryan passed on the crown to the 2022 Vale Rodeo Queen Brogan Bair of Vale. Bair cruised through trials of horsemanship, a speech and a 21-question interview, according to the announcer.

She sped through arena laps in her blue cowboy hat adorned with a silver crown, smiling and waving to the cheering crowd.

The Sunday rodeo included a performance by the Cowgirl Alliance from Molalla, expertly weaving their horses around despite strong winds that knocked a hat off and made carrying billowing flags a feat of strength.

Clare McKay and Anna Pozzi sang the national anthem, drawing praise from the crowd when they nailed a harmonized high note.

The rodeo’s finale included awe-inspiring resilience on thrashing steeds, as well as missed aims. The crowd supported each attempt with encouraging words and applause.

The wind died down and lightning flashed as bull riding began. Toward the end of the rides, a bull kicked a strap up into the power lines, prompting a spectator to call it the best rodeo night of the weekend.

Crackling fireworks lit up the sky as people filed out of the arena, marking the end of Vale’s weekend of rodeo and patriotic celebration.

CORRECTION: The women who sang the national anthem on Sunday were Anna Pozzi and Clare McKay. The Enterprise used incorrect spellings displayed on the screen at the rodeo. The Enterprise apologizes for the error. 

News tip? Contact reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected] or Joey Cappelletti at [email protected]

RELATED COVERAGE:

PHOTOS: The Vale 4th of July Rodeo kicks off to a rainy start

Rodeo royal navigates unusual, challenging but satisfying reign

Meet Taylor & Tequila: Rodeo partners against the odds

SAFEGUARD YOUR LOCAL NEWS

Take one action today to help the Enterprise grow and do more for the community through accurate, fair reporting.

SUBSCRIBE: A monthly digital subscription is $5 a month.

GIFT: Give someone you know a subscription.

ONE-TIME PAYMENT: Contribute, knowing your support goes towards more local journalism you can trust.