For the Suttons, rodeo is a family business.
Steve and Kim Sutton even met at a rodeo. Kim was competing, and Steve, a fourth-generation rodeo man who had a rare weekend off, went to enjoy the festivities as a fan. A friend introduced them, and they quickly hit it off.
“I should have figured out that if I married him, we were never gonna not be at a rodeo,” said Kim with a chuckle. “Because he had a weekend off, and he went to a rodeo.”
Years later, the Suttons do in fact spend the majority of their weekends at rodeos. Along with their three children, Steve and Kim operate the national powerhouse Sutton Rodeo and live on the same ranch in central South Dakota.
According to Steve, the Suttons are in the “ranching and rodeo business.” Steve and Kim’s eldest child, Amy, handles bookkeeping and the financial aspects of the business along with all of the social media. Brent, the middle Sutton child, and Bryce, the youngest, spend the majority of their time managing the livestock and farming on the Sutton Ranch. Each of the Sutton children is a full partner in Sutton Rodeo, weighing in on decisions of which bids to accept for the next Sutton-produced rodeo.
The Suttons have four times been awarded the PRCA Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year award, most recently winning the honor last year for the 2021 Rodeo Rapid City. The event has been nominated for the award 20 times and has also won three other times.
“[The Large Indoor Rodeo] category is the number one category as far as I’m concerned,” Steve said. “Our competition was Dallas, Arlington, San Antonio, Denver—bigger venues. The number is between 750-800 rodeos in a year that they pull from.
“Some of them big rodeos probably have 2,000 people either volunteering or on their committee,” Steve added. “Our volunteers and committee all fit around the kitchen table. It’s our family.”
Steve took over day-to-day operations of Sutton Rodeo from his father, Jim Sutton Jr., who was recently inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
The Suttons have been hosting rodeos in South Dakota since 1926, when Edwin Sutton, Steve’s great-grandfather had one on the family ranch. In the first few years, people parking cars in a circle would form the arena as they gathered to watch neighboring ranches compete.
“Basically, the start of rodeo was ‘my ranch cowboys are better than your ranch cowboys and can ride and rope better,’ and on a Sunday they would call each other out and get together to see who had the best cowboys,” Kim said.
The spirit of rodeo remains the same today with cowboys competing to show that their riding and roping skills are superior. All that has changed is the venue, as the arena is no longer formed by parking cars in a circle.
The large indoor rodeo that today is known as Rodeo Rapid City began in 1977 when Jim Sutton Jr. talked the mayor into putting dirt into what was then known as the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. It was a tough sell to convince the powers that be to truck dirt into what was then a nearly new building.
Getting dirt into the brand-new Summit Arena was not nearly as difficult.
“They just put up a fabulous new building and didn’t hesitate a bit about filling it with dirt already,” Steve said.
Since Sutton Rodeo began and evolved from those original rodeos on the ranch in the 1920s, every generation of Suttons has been born into a life of ranching, competing in and putting on rodeos.
“We’ve got three kids, and they were all at a rodeo before they were a week old,” Steve said, adding that two of his grandchildren were at Rodeo Rapid City before they were a week old. “There’s 52 weeks in a year, and everybody says you have a Sunday off, but we’ve had a rodeo every Sunday all our lives.”
“From the ground up, you learn every part of it, and that’s what Steve and our kids have done,” Kim said. “You learn the ground up from working the ground, preparing an arena, setting up an arena, breeding the livestock.”
And maybe it’s a genetic drive to that ranching and rodeo life, but each of Steve and Kim’s children independently chose to enter the family business.
“I tried to get them to all go away,” Kim said. “They all went to college and got degrees, and I’m like, ‘Go get jobs! Be doctors! Be lawyers!’ And they all came back to the rodeo company and the ranch, and they love it.”
The relationship between the Suttons, Rodeo Rapid City and the Rapid City Rush has grown over the years. And while Steve is quick to point out that he is a novice when it comes to his hockey knowledge, he and his family can often be seen at a Rush game in the lead-up to Rodeo Rapid City while they are in town preparing for their signature indoor event.
“We’ve been rooting for the Rush ever since they came into town,” Kim said. “We usually get to about three games while we’re out here this month working on the rodeo. And we always, since [the Rush] started, take the whole crew to the Saturday night game before we start setting up.”
And, of course, that relationship has deepened over the past two seasons with the introduction of the Rush’s Rodeo Night, which was considered a highlight of the 2020-21 season. The Rush were awarded ECHL Theme Night of the Year for last year’s edition.
“We want to have an event that people want to be associated with. We feel like we won Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year, but we want everyone to feel like that’s part of their win,” Kim said. “Just the Rush having a Rodeo Night, you were part of that last year. And all of those little pieces make an event that can win Rodeo of the Year. We didn’t do it by ourselves.”
Rodeo Night, presented by Gold Buckle Beer, is at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22. There will be a pregame party, sponsored by Texas Roadhouse, starting at 4:30 p.m. in Rushmore Hall, featuring live music from He Said She Said. Tickets and the special Rodeo Hat Trick Package are available via rapidcityrush.com.