ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A lack of major sponsorship and Expo New Mexico’s dismal financial condition mean the Bernalillo County 4-H Rodeo, for the first time in 55 years, will not be held in Tingley Coliseum.
Instead, the 100 or so youngsters will compete in a one-day rodeo on Aug. 4 at the outdoor Heritage Rodeo Arena in Moriarty — about 35 miles east of the fairgrounds.
“I’ve gone to a bunch of rodeos around New Mexico, and my favorite ones have been the ones in Tingley,” said 11-year-old Marisela Sandoval, a 4-H member from Bosque Farms who had been looking forward to competing there in August. “I’m disappointed they’re not going to have it there.”
Marisela, who competes in barrel-racing, pole-bending, breakaway roping and goat-tying, said Tingley is a special place for budding cowboys and cowgirls.
“During the State Fair, I see all the pros compete there, so it makes me feel special to be able to compete where they do,” she said.
The 4-H fair will be held separately from the rodeo, from Aug. 8-11, at Expo New Mexico.
4-H and Tingley
Since at least 1957, the Bernalillo County 4-H Fair and Rodeo have been held concurrently at the state-owned Expo New Mexico fairgrounds. The fair allows 4-H youngsters to showcase their projects, ranging from animal science and gardening to public speaking and rocketry, and to compete for coveted blue ribbons.
The rodeo, a key fundraiser for 4-H, lets kids test their rodeo skills in a variety of events grouped by age. It has historically been a two-night affair at Tingley.
Expo officials charge $5,500 per night to rent Tingley, Expo general manager Dan Mourning said.
In 2010, 4-H didn’t have enough money for the rental charge and announced it would move the rodeo to the county sheriff’s posse arena in Albuquerque’s North Valley. Then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s office stepped in with funding from the now-defunct New Mexico Rodeo Council.
Last year, Expo wanted to move the rodeo to its indoor Horse Arena, said D. McCall, president of the 4-H Fair Board. But after Mourning determined that moving bucking chutes and other equipment to the arena was too costly, he let the rodeo stay at Tingley.
As a state enterprise fund, Expo New Mexico is supposed to pay for itself, but last year a Legislative Finance Committee audit said Expo was “insolvent” and had operational losses of $17 million from fiscal year 2006 through 2010. It said Expo continued to operate by not paying key creditors — including the state.
Mourning, appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez last year, has been trying to get the fairgrounds on sound financial ground. He said 4-H did not have the money this year to pay $5,500 to rent Tingley — let alone the estimated $16,000 to move dirt into and out of Tingley — and Expo cannot afford to give the space away for free.
“Everybody’s complaining that the (state) fair is broke and doesn’t have any money,” he said. “But if I give something away, I have to make that expense up somewhere else.”
“I’m not trying to make anything on these guys, I just don’t want to lose money. If I do it for 4-H, then another organization can come in and say, ‘Hey, you did it for 4-H, why can’t you do it for us?’ That’s a slippery slope.”
McCall, who negotiated with Mourning for this year’s fair and rodeo, agreed Tingley is too expensive for 4-H.
“I think the State Fair and Expo negotiated as good as they could have,” McCall said. “The fair (Expo) is moving toward self-sustaining, and they can’t give it (Tingley) to you for free.”
Funding runs out
In the past, McCall said, 4-H relied on major sponsors to cover the cost of renting Tingley, but those sponsorships have been harder to come by during the recession.
The New Mexico Rodeo Council, created by Richardson in 2005 to promote rodeo and tourism, has not been funded for at least three years, said Scott Darnell, spokesman for Gov. Martinez.
“It’s kind of a bummer that for 54 years the fair and rodeo have been together, but due to financial and event limitations it just isn’t going to happen this year,” said 4-H county extension agent Cassidy Cordova.
The fair at Expo in August will cost $1,600 — the same as last year — and the rodeo in Moriarty will cost $250. Fortunately, 4-H will run the rodeo concessions and pocket the profit, she said.
Cordova said negotiations with Expo took longer than usual this year, and by the time they learned Tingley was off the table, “We were at the make-or-break point” to secure another facility.
McCall said Expo offered to let the rodeo use an outdoor arena, but the 4-H Rodeo Committee, which is separate from the 4-H Fair Board, declined. He said Expo offered to cover the $3,000 to $5,000 it would cost to set up in the outdoor arena.
“I think the Rodeo Committee decided they didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I told them that, as chairman of the Fair Board, I would rather try to go find $5,000 and rent Tingley for one night than go to Moriarty.”
Cordova said she was never told that Expo offered to set up the outdoor arena, and that by the time it was mentioned, the Rodeo Committee had already committed to the Moriarty arena. She said committee members hope the rodeo will still get the 100-plus entries it typically draws at Tingley, and that the rodeo might return to Tingley next year.
Cordova fears the 55-year-old rodeo might not survive without Tingley.
“We’ve been with Tingley for 54 years, and we would hate to have something with that much history die,” she said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal