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Experiencing the Wild West: Painted Pony Rodeo in Lake Luzerne

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A Wild West Experience in the Adirondacks

Painted Pony Rodeo in Lake Luzerne

The Painted Pony Rodeo in Lake Luzerne. Photo Courtesy Painted Pony RodeoOf all the many exciting things to do this summer, the experience of seeing the Wild West show at The Painted Pony Rodeo is an affordable adventure not to be missed.

The western tradition is very much alive when the sun begins to set over the Adirondack Mountains and things heat up at the old corral. As if taking a step back in time in the North Country, The Painted Pony Rodeo, located in Lake Luzerne which has been around since 1953, offers food, country music behind the swinging doors at the saloon, and live entertainment. The oldest weekly rodeo in the country puts any show on TV to shame.

“We offer full family entertainment,” said Shana Graham, marketing director. “We offer a Texas-style barbeque feast. Real cowgirls and cowboys are trying to make the year’s end finals.”

For cowboys and cowgirls from across the country to compete, they enter through a central entry, according to Graham, under the sanctions of the American Professional Rodeo Association.

The Painted Pony Rodeo brought the first Saddle Bronc Horse named Shasta from New York that made it to the Wrangler National Finals in Las Vegas. Of the awards they received in 2009, the American Professional Rodeo Association nominated the Painted Pony Rodeo’s bareback horse of the year.

The two types of competitions in the rodeo are timed events and roughstock events.  Timed events include roping and tying contests, steer wrestling and barrel racing.

Breakaway roping allows the contestant on horseback to rope a fleeing calf. While the calf runs forward, the catch rope ‘breaks away’ from the saddle.  This action, according to Lynn Campion in Rodeo: Behind the scenes at America’s Most Exciting Sport, stops the time clock.  The contestant whose rope breaks away the fastest wins.

“Steer wrestling is rodeo’s quickest contest and also a timed event,” Campion wrote.  “The world record is 2.4 seconds. This contest requires two riders and a steer. The object is for the steer wrestler to stop a running steer and topple it to the ground as fast as possible.”

The most popular since riders are at high risk of injury, roughstock events include saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and bull riding. Riders must endure the rough ride for 8 seconds; they gain points based on the difficulty level and the style they use to control the animal.

“The biggest crowd pleasers are the bull riding and the cowgirls barrel racing,” Graham said. “The grandstand has been our biggest improvement.”

Naturally, the star attractions are the livestock. Painted Pony purchases their livestock through the Born to Buck program associated with the World’s Toughest Rodeo and its stock contractors.

“We have pastures that are local and we rotate the animals,” Graham said. “We bred them or purchased stock that has top blood line.”

Shawn Graham is the proud owner who purchased The Painted Pony from longtime friend Jack McQue in 2001. Graham has done a lot of work to the facilities, rebuilding the Longhorn Saloon that had been lost to a fire, improving the grounds and covering the grandstands.

Striving to make the experience a thrill and for audiences to feel relaxed and at home, Graham has worked hard with 200 heads of animals to get the best of the livestock for their show.

“The best horses know when it’s show time,” said Ty Murray, nine time professional world champion bucking bronc and bull rider. “They come out of that chute wanting to rear up and rip you off their back.”

For more information about The Painted Pony Rodeo call 518-696-2421 or visit 

Diana Denner is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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