IDAHO — The National Finals Rodeo is the season-ending championship event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association held in Vegas each year. It's the top rodeo in the U.S., and they've only had one drill team perform as the opening act.
That is Idaho's very own Snake River Stampeders, and they've been invited to perform not once, but four times.
"I had never been to Vegas before and we went back in 2018 and it was so much fun to be there when it is a cowboy town for starters, but then to be doing it at that level which is the Superbowl of rodeo was really a dream come true," Kade Ruby said. "Something that is really once in a lifetime."
The team was started 25 years ago when The Stampede was moved from outdoors to the indoor arena.
"The rodeo secretary decided they needed a new exciting part of the program and because it was indoors someone mentioned well why don’t you put lights on a drill team," Paula Vanhoozer, Snake River Stampeders Coach said. "And she made it happen."
As if riding a horse in the light isn't hard enough, The Stampeders do it while running full speed on their horses in the dark.
“It’s a drill team so we do synchronized maneuvers and a lot of the maneuvers are based on military-like they used to do with the cavalry or military type things they do with police horses, but they do it all synchronized like synchronized swimming,” Vanhoozer said.
A true one-of-a-kind performance that you won't find anywhere else.
“To do something that is really kind of insane when you think about riding around at full speed in the dark, but to be able to do it is just such a blast," Ruby said. "It is hard to do in the light of day but it’s even harder in the dark of night.”
The team is comprised of 16 women and 16 horses.
"It’s a lot of trust in each other and our horses," Ruby said. "It’s really nice to be in a group of really exceptionally talented women all in their own disciplines and then to all come here with our horses and work together."
The team hand selects the women after tryouts in early April.
"Some of them have drill experience and some of them don’t and some of them have been with this team for a long time so getting them all on the same level so we can put the show together and make them work properly is fun to watch that come together," Vanhoozer said.
They perform at The Stampede each year, have been invited to the NFR four times, and rode at the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“It’s a huge honor," Vanhoozer said. "We are able to go and represent the Snake River Stampede and show off to the country what this rodeo is all about, so that is nice."
You can watch The Stampeders perform every night at the Idaho Ford Center through Saturday.