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Why you didn’t see the Junior Posse at the War Bonnet rodeo this year

Idaho Falls

IDAHO FALLS – Those who attended the War Bonnet Rodeo in Idaho Falls may have noticed something was missing from this year’s event.

The Bonneville County Junior Posse has been an integral part of the rodeo’s kickoff event and performance line-up since 2017, but earlier this year the city of Idaho Falls opted to discontinue the program.

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Parks and Recreation Director PJ Holm tells EastIdahoNews.com there were multiple factors behind the decision, most of which were financially motivated.

“Where we’re subsidizing (the posse) with city tax dollars, we wanted to make sure that at least a portion of the participants were city kids,” Holm says. “When we found out that not a single participant or coordinator were city residents, it just didn’t make sense for us to continue this program.”

Holm explains the posse was costing the city about $6,000 annually for about 20 participants, who paid a “minimal fee” of $30, to use the arena at Sandy Downs twice a week for six months out of the year.

Part of that cost, according to Holm, included six to 10 hours of arena preparation every week, registering and insuring participants, along with funding trips to state and regional competitions.

“They were doing weekend rides and they were going on overnight pack trips. That’s a lot of liability for the city,” says Holm. “It just didn’t align with any other program that we did.”

Though Holm couldn’t justify the program continuing on the city level, he wasn’t unsupportive. Since all of the team’s members live in Bonneville County, he reached out to the county commissioners to see if they had the means to accommodate them.

“They actually did find a home out there and I think it’s a much better fit for the kids, for the program and for the county,” Holm explains.

But even though none of the posse members live in city limits, Josh Hatfield, the group’s instructor and co-founder, says that shouldn’t be a reason to drop the program.

“Whether they live in the county or the city, every one of us support the city of Idaho Falls (because we shop here),” Hatfield says.

Over the last six years, Hatfield says the group has worked hard to be part of the community and represent the city in various capacities.

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In 2020, the group held a fundraiser for a local woman with a rare disease and they’ve also won two back-to-back state championships.

jr posse at state
The Bonneville County Junior Posse following their first place victory at the state tournament in August 2021. | Facebook

Though Holm cites costs as a factor in dropping the program, Hatfield says each member of the team paid for everything, including travel costs, and each member of the group was willing to pay more fees to keep it going.

“That was brought up and that was offered to keep this group going, but PJ made it very clear … he wants to take it in a different direction,” Hatfield says.

It only cost the city $1,500 a year, Hatfield says, and the city took all the money they raised at competitions.

“We never went on one pack trip,” Hatfield says, and the fees were $90, not $30.

The only thing the city provided was a place to practice and an instructor, says Hatfield.

For some of the kids in the group, Hatfield says being involved with the posse has been life-changing because of difficult circumstances at home.

Each competition requires a great deal of discipline and concentration, Hatfield says, and helps the kids develop leadership ability and gives them a sense of belonging.

“One person can screw it up for everybody,” says Hatfield. “They blow the whistle and these horses have to move. If they’re not in sync with each other, they lose. They have to learn to work together … and if you walked out to my practice … they’d all tell you they’re a family.”

Even though the county has been supportive in providing them with a new facility, Hatfield says the situation isn’t ideal and he’s concerned about the group’s future.

“I don’t know what the future will be after this year. I don’t know if they’ll want to sign a new agreement. I don’t know if I want to sign a new agreement, but at least we were able to get through this year for the kids,” say Hatfield.

The Junior Posse in Bonneville County is the only one left in the state, Hatfield says, and after all they’ve done to support the city over the years, he feels like they were “kicked to the curb” and he’s disappointed in the city’s decision to let it go.

“If you look at the subdivisions, even the new people moving in, building houses, a lot of them now have one horse in the backyard. We come from a western heritage and it’s important to (support) these kids,” says Hatfield.

Hatfield is frustrated with the city for using pictures of the posse to promote the War Bonnet Rodeo on Facebook after deciding to drop them.

Holm says the decision to no longer sponsor the posse was not intended to express a lack of support. He sees the value of it and maintains it’s a better fit at the county level. Holm wants to see it continue.

“We have no ill feelings towards them. We are 100% happy to see that they’re still operating and that they still have a program they can be part of,” says Holm.

The posse is exploring options to keep the program going in a new arena. If you have suggestions or would like to weigh-in, email Hatfield at Hatfieldfarms2004@yahoo.com or call him directly at (208) 360-2244. You can also join the Bonneville County Junior Posse Facebook group.

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