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‘It’s our Grand Slam’: The National Western Stock Show finally arrives in Denver

This Article is Written by Sage Kelley of the Denver Gazette

Nick Cragen stood next to his daughter, Amelia, and their Miniature Hereford cow on Saturday morning, preparing to show the small cow off to a panel of judges. 

Amelia was born with Pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN), a neurological movement disorder that drops a person’s average lifespan to eight or nine years.

Amelia is 12, and her entry into the Miniature Hereford Junior Breeding Competition during the first day of the National Western Stock Show will mark her sixth year competing. 

A few hours later, Amelia took home this year’s Grand Champion title. 

“It’s everything,” Nick said. “When she enters that ring, she just lights up.”

These stories and these communities are part of the Western-based lore that visitors will find at the National Western Stock Show, which kicked off its 118th year on Saturday, starting the 16-day event full of rodeos, concerts, show competition and classic cowboy (and cowgirl) fun.

“That right there is what it’s all about,” Isaac Wiley, a rancher at 4 Wiley Farm in Ohio, says, looking at Amelia.

4 Wiley Farm sponsors the Cragens, picking up Nick and Amelia from Indiana for their two-day trip to Colorado. 

“It was probably the most special thing we’ve ever been involved with,” Wiley says of Amelia’s previous competition in November. “Just being able to help bring them out and do this with her.”

Nick always had beef cattle, and Amelia always showed interest in them. So, Nick got her a miniature. She fell in love. 

In honor of that newfound love, Nick started Amelia’s Dream Farm in Indiana. The farm allows children with special needs to come learn how to take care of the cows — brushing and bathing them.

Coming out to the big show in Denver is a dream come true. Winning is pretty good, too. 

Wiley also competes with his two mini cows, winning a competition in Louisville in November. He calls the National Western Stock Show the biggest competition they go to. 

“It’s our Grand Slam. It’s our Super Bowl,” he said. 

The horses and cattle arrive

The stock show — a Denver staple since 1906 — is estimated to bring in over 706,000 visitors, represent all 50 countries and accumulate an estimated $171 million economic impact, according to a study released last week by the Common Sense Institute.

On the first day, those estimates seemed justified.

Crowds of people filled the various halls, stockyards and arenas at the National Western grounds, 4655 Humboldt St., when the doors opened at 9 a.m. Visitors came for the goods, rodeos, food and other shows taking the modern metropolis back to the days of the Old West.

Many people come for the Western goods, with vendors lining the halls of one of the buildings.

“I love it. All the people are so friendly. Everyone will come and look. Some will spend an hour looking before buying anything,” Crystal Hey said. 

Hey owns Hey Crystal Hey Designs. She coats cutting boards and other wooden objects with resin, creating one-of-a-kind designs. 

2024 marks Hey’s second year at the show, coming all the way from Nebraska.

“It’s a family,” she said. “It’s only my second year but I couldn’t wait to get here and see the people that I know. It’s a great support system for all of us artists.”

Vendors laughed and talked to each other across stalls like longtime friends. 

“Some of these vendors have been here since I was a kid,” said Josh, a member of the Colorado Beef Council from Brighton, said. “It’s just that family culture.”

Along with shopping and shows, those in the industry get to come together and share information and goods. Those interested in the livestock industry get to learn, too.

“It brings all of Denver in the public in to share all the culture and the lifestyle,” Josh said. “You can take away from it whatever you want. Whether it’s meat or husbandry, you can learn it all here. The biggest thing is the care. People can see how much the producers really care about the animals.”

Vic Anderson, a former Montana cowboy and bucking horse rider, has been coming to the stock show with his wife since they moved to Colorado 25 years ago. They haven’t missed a year.

To Anderson, the National Western is the epicenter of that cowboy culture he grew up with.

“The very first chuck wagon delivered cattle to this area back in the 1800s,” Anderson noted of the 1866 chuck wagon that came through Colorado on the Goodnight-Loving Trail.

“It’s just that history. There’s so much history here. It’s important. It means a lot to the community.”

This article is reprinted with permission from The Denver Gazette

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