Greeley Tribune –¬†Zeb Carabello¬†

With the mounting problems that face many of today’s youth in America: drugs, gangs, school violence and guns — kids are still drawn to the distinctive style of the cowboy.

At least that is the philosophy that Penny Conway has used to build her Rodeo Education And Children program.

“Kids have always been fascinated with cowboys, so we try to use that to motivate them to adopt high ethical and moral standards that are associated with the rodeo,” said Conway, who developed REACh 10 years ago while she was an elementary school teacher in Payson, Ariz. “Adopting these standards can help kids battle all of the dangers they face today.”

Conway and her nationally renowned stick horse rodeo made its first appearance at the Greeley Independence Stampede Sunday, attracting an estimated 90 participants.

During the rodeo, the 3- to 6-year-olds competed in bareback-bronco riding, bull doggin’, calf roping, barrel racing and bull-riding events. The kids rode stick horses for the bronco and bull riding portions; hay bails simulated the bulls and calves for the other events.

“This is just a great way to introduce kids to the sport of rodeo,” said Conway, a Limon native who placed in the Stampede’s all-girl rodeo team roping competition earlier in the week. “This might spark an interest and a dream of a professional rodeo career. Everybody seems to love it.”

The stick rodeo came to Greeley at the request of Stampede Committee members who witnessed the popularity of the rodeo in Denver at the National Western Stockshow in January.

“Even though we normally teach in schools, we come to a couple of the larger rodeos around the country,” Conway said. “I’m glad we got to come to the Stampede this year because growing up in Colorado, it has a special place in my heart. I would say it has been a huge success so far.”

This year, Conway’s rodeo will travel to the Houston Livestock Show, the California State Fair, the National Western Stockshow in Denver and the Stampede, Conway said.

Conway and the six-member staff of REACh have made their presentation to more than 750,000 students across the country, from kindergartners to eighth-graders. Leaving the stick rodeo for the younger kids, REACh relies on its “Cowboy Up” and “Code of the West” presentations to motivate older students.”With Cowboy Up and Code of the West we teach at risk children that they need to mirror cowboys and be strong on the inside,” Conway said. “These lessons will help them resist peer pressure.”

So far, 85 percent of the schools and rodeos REACh has visited have asked the program to return.

“I practiced for two days,” said Ryan Rushold of Windsor, a 5-year-old who won the bucking-bronco event of the stick rodeo with a perfect score. “I want to do the mutton bustin’ next year.”