For the fans who witnessed the 2004 Dressage Olympic Trials at the Oaks Blenheim Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., earlier this summer, something a little different will surely blow them away this weekend.
The Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo, which is set to begin its fourth edition on Saturday, is sure to provide spectators with the best the sport has to offer with one of the top paydays, too. As the trials displayed the top Olympic hopefuls for the games in Athens, the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo is somewhat of the same only the top competitors in each event are competing, and many will take center stage later this year at rodeo's ultimate event, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
"It's a really good rodeo with a different type of crowd," said Cash Myers who, incidentally, calls Athens Texas, not Greece home. "A lot of them haven't seen rodeo as much, and it went over real well. Everything was portable and we rodeoed right there on the same fields."
Born in 2001, the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo is ProRodeo's richest two-day event, doling out a whopping $12,500 of added money per event for a total purse of nearly $140,000.
"Every third cowboy gets a check," said Gilbert Aguirre, the executive vice president of ranching operations at Rancho Mission Viejo. "We've been fortunate that the cowboys have supported us. They know the money they can win here can go a ways."
Although the rodeo may still be in its infancy, the territory sure isn't.
Rancho Mission Viejo is the largest family-owned landholding and the oldest existing large-scale cattle ranch in Orange County, Calif. Since 1882, Rancho Mission Viejo has been under the stewardship of the O'Neill/Moiso family and members of the family still ride the ranges and annually brand the cattle that graze there.
At one time, Rancho Mission Viejo was one of three large ranches owned by the O'Neill family. Together, the Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores, Rancho Trabuco and Rancho Mission Viejo stretched 230,000 acres from Aliso Creek to Oceanside. Through the War Powers Act, in 1942, the Department of the Navy commandeered the Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores to establish Camp Pendleton. At the end of Word War II, the two remaining ranches were combined under the name Rancho Mission Viejo and totaled 52,000 acres - all in South Orange County.
The event is dedicated to celebrating the golden age of early California history, the American West and the cowboy way of life. As one of the last remaining California Ranchos, Rancho Mission Viejo is proud of its ranching heritage and strives to hold dear to the authentic and honest values held by every American cowboy.
"The [O'Neill/Moiso] family wants to keep the rodeo heritage and the cowboy way of live alive, and this is a good way to do it," Aguirre said. "And we do it first-class. Four years ago, we decided we wanted to keep those traditions alive."
ProRodeo Hall of Fame stock contractor Cotton Rosser of Flying U Rodeo Company has supplied not only livestock each year, but also a portable arena as well.
"I went to college with Dick O'Neill [part of the family-owned landholding at Rancho Mission Viejo] at Cal Poly years ago, and he always wanted to start a rodeo," Rosser said. "We're able to take our portable arena to this big jumping horse field. We bring in two roping chutes, and rope calves one way and team roping and bulldog the other, and we also have 12 bucking chutes. It's all portable. The folks here bring in the portable seats."
Rosser (Marysville, Calif), who has been a PRCA stock contractor since 1957, has raised many outstanding bucking horses, including Buckskin Velvet, the 1982 PRCA Saddle Bronc of the Year. He also has provided livestock to the Wrangler NFR since its inception in 1959.
Proceeds from the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo, which could break the $400,000 mark during the event's brief history, benefit the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and the Cow Camp Caridades fund. This fund evolved from the old cowboy tradition of "passing the hat" in support of a sick child or needy friend. One of the recipients was Mikel Moreno, Cotton Rosser's 17-year-old grandson who is battling leukemia and recently had a bone-marrow transplant.
"We want to have the best rodeo in the country," Rosser said. "With the limited number of cowboys, we're able to bring an animal for everyone here. It's a great rodeo and the people enjoy it."
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