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Cowboys Provide the Spills and Thrills

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than 3,000 people crowded into the rodeo arena at Conejo Valley Days on Saturday, where bucking bulls and rope-twirling cowboys brought a true Western flavor to the area’s annual country-Western festival.

The rodeo and a morning parade down Thousand Oaks Boulevard highlighted the fourth day of the five-day Conejo Valley Days carnival.

At the rodeo, about 60 professional cowboys took their licks in events such as bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping and bull riding as overflow crowds cheered and jeered during every second of every ride.

“People in this area love the rodeo because it brings out in them the sense of their Western heritage,” said Alan Guggenheim, chairman of the rodeo event. “These are horse people and ranch people in the Conejo Valley, so they can appreciate the animals.”

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Most of the spectators came dressed in full Western gear, sporting ten-gallon hats, boots and blue jeans.

Some even knew a lot about rodeos.

“This is a real good showing for a rodeo,” said Matthew Weeks, 21, of Simi Valley. “They’ve got good animals that know how to buck.”

“If they can ride them, then this is a bust,” he said, noting that few of the riders, ropers and wrestlers were able to gain control of the animals.

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In several cases after the chute burst open and the bull stormed into the arena, the cowboys were thrown to the ground almost immediately. That might be the norm for most rodeos, but some area residents said they had hoped to see the rides last a little longer.

“I like to see them really ride those bulls,” spectator Lisa Thorrilson said. “This year they didn’t quite live up to how things went last year. It wasn’t quite as exciting.”

But most on hand left the show smiling, happy to have seen the animals, the clowns and a local horseback drill team, the Conejo Riders.

“This really is a crowd-pleaser,” said Jeff Casey, a member of the Rotary Club sponsoring the event. “You could see it just by looking at the kids’ faces.”

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Earlier Saturday, hundreds of people lined Thousand Oaks Boulevard under overcast skies to watch Conejo Valley Days parade participants march, gallop, drive and float their way down Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

Onlookers applauded local marching bands, sang along with musical performers on floats, and cheered area firefighters who six months ago fought a ferocious wildfire just a few miles from the parade route.

“It’s not staged, it’s not produced and it’s a little bit hokey, but it is a bunch of people having a whole lot of fun,” Thousand Oaks resident Dianna Campbell said. “It’s nice to have a hometown parade.”

For some, such as longtime Thousand Oaks residents Joe and Lilly Mendolla, the parade is a can’t-miss event.

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“We’ve sat at the same spot every year since 1968,” said Joe Mendolla, who this year brought his 2-year-old granddaughter, Megan.

“We love everything about it--the horses, the floats and seeing all the important people,” Joe Mendolla said. “This really brings the whole community together.”

Others, however, found the parade a tad mundane.

“We’ve got parades just like this where I’m from,” said Wolfgang Horster of Stuttgart, Germany, who was visiting a friend in Thousand Oaks and stopped briefly to check out the parade. “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”

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But most parade-goers appeared delighted with this year’s effort, despite the fact that it was slightly smaller than previous years’ parades.

People cheered loudly for a cyclist on an old-fashioned bike, for a cadre of Vietnam War veterans and for a man who carefully traversed the parade route standing atop two horses that walked side-by-side.

Other entrants danced to country-Western music on the flatbeds of trucks, while local politicians chose the luxury of classic cars to make their way down Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

“The only problem with being in the parade is that you don’t get to see it,” Thousand Oaks Mayor Elois Zeanah said. “But it’s such a great day for the city. I just love it.”

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Conejo Valley Days organizers said they hoped the parade would increase interest in the carnival, which had faltering attendance its first two nights.

“This is really a key day,” said Gary Heathcote, chairman of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, which stages the carnival. “We’re looking for the parade to bring everyone out so we can make up for the first two days.”

While the attendance numbers from Saturday were not available, the park was full and even in the late afternoon cars lined up for about a mile to enter the venue at the Moorpark Freeway and Janss Road.

Friday’s attendance figures showed considerable increases from the previous two days, with 9,257 people taking in the event. That was up from 7,577 people on the third day of the 1993 festival.

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Today is the last day of the festival.

Conejo Valley Days Events All events held at Conejo Creek Park, Moorpark Freeway and Janss Road, unless otherwise noted. Carnival admission is $5 adults, $3 senior citizens and students, $2 children 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.

TODAY 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.: Carnival Noon to 6 p.m.: Western pit bar-b-que, $5.50 adults, $4.50 children Noon to 8 p.m.: Bingo 1 and 4 p.m.: Rodeo


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