Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photos
The Casper Baca Rodeo Series features tie-down and roughstock events for all ages.


As the Casper Baca Rodeo Series concludes its 2023 run this weekend in Belen, concern has grown about the future of the decades-long event at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse arena.

Could it be the last go-round in the Hub City after 41 years?

A disagreement over the quality of the facility and the amount of rent paid by the rodeo company is causing friction between CJ Baca, who operates the rodeo company, and the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse.

Barrel racing is among the events held at the Casper Baca Rodeo Series in Belen.

“My hope for this community and this county is to see progression and move forward,” Baca said. “I hate to say it, but here at the Posse Arena, it has gone stale for awhile.”

Baca argues “basic needs” should be addressed, including seating, livestock pens and restrooms.

“We have to rent outhouses to bring here — It’s 2023. Let’s make people comfortable,” Baca said

Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse Chief Phillip Baca (no relation) sees it from a different perspective.

“CJ doesn’t leave me enough (rent) money to put improvement into the facility,” Phillip said. “If I had the money to put in new pens, new corrals and all that they think needs to go in there, it would be no problem. But until that money comes across, there’s no way.”

Phillip says the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse charges $2,200 for the three weekends of the rodeo series. While an effort was made to raise the rent this year, some members of the posse pushed to keep it the same.

“I have my members who feel we need the show. We don’t want to take our kids to Farmington, Las Cruces or Socorro,” Baca said. “We want to have it here. So then I cave in.”

CJ, who now lives in Belen, took over Baca Rodeo after the death of his father, Casper, four years ago. He says in addition to renting the arena, he has a list of expenses that include payroll and advertising.

“I have to put a lot of extra effort, extra money into getting these facilities up to par and being able to sustain an event like this.”

The Casper Baca Rodeo Series moved to Belen around 1982.

One thing both sides agree on is that more sponsorships would be a big help.

“That way we have more money to turn back into the kids and still put in repairs to the facility for the improvements that it does need,” Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse member Catherine Chavez said.

“It’s a big event. We need bigger community support — and help this posse moving forward. Help them out,” CJ said.

The posse also puts on the Valencia County Fair Rodeo and events focused on young people, such as 4-H, FFA, youth rodeos and the Valencia County Rodeo Queen contest.

“Our priority is the youth,” Chavez said.

Pete Baca started the rodeo company in 1979 on a ranch in San Fidel, near Grants. Pete’s son, Casper, took over the series, which moved to Belen about 1982. Ropers and riders have been a part of it year after year.

“We kind of consider this the spring training of rodeo in New Mexico,” is how CJ looks at it.

Contestants come in all sizes, shapes and ages, from kids riding sheep to grizzled veterans, perhaps reliving the glory days in a sport they love.

One cowboy competing on opening weekend was Camilo Rios, a native of Mexico who now lives in Clovis.

Camilo Rios, of Clovis, was at the Belen rodeo to prepare for the busy summer season.

“The reason why I come to this rodeo,” Rios offered, “is to get myself ready, and my horse ready,” for the more lucrative pro rodeos during the summer. They’re not expensive. That’s why were coming to these little rodeos — to make a little money, too.”

All of the entry fee dollars go into the jackpot for the cowboys and cowgirls.

“The money I won last night in the jackpot, I paid the entry fee and the fuel to go back (to Clovis.) What I’m trying to do now is just make more money,” Rios said.

According to CJ, some of the biggest names in rodeo started in the Casper Baca series, including Tuff Hedeman, Cody Lambert, Travis Briscoe and Lane Frost.

“That’s how big this event is and it needs to be appreciated,” he said. “This is a big thing for the community to have and they need to do their best to keep it here.”

That remains to be seen. Phillip Baca and Chavez say members of the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse are frustrated by what they believe are constant demands from CJ.

“When the complaining becomes too much, then to me, it’s not worth having him there,” Phillip said.

“We don’t want to make the community sad because they do look forward to the bull riding series,” Chavez said. “So the posse tries its best to work out a deal to make the show go. When the complaints come in, it makes it frustrating when we thought as a posse we did our best to work with the guy.”

When asked if he would like to work it out, Phillip says, “Yes, I always do — at the end of the day I will make it work. But I get the feeling now that he (CJ) feels like we’re indebted to him.”

“Let’s keep it going,” CJ says. “This is the hub of rodeo in New Mexico, right here in Belen. It’s the Hub City for two reasons as far as I’m concerned, and we need to do our best to keep it that way.”

(Editor’s Note: The Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse is listed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office as the “Valencia County Sheriff Posse,” a domestic nonprofit corporation.)

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.