Long-time Pony Express Rodeo announcer dies week before event
For 10 years, the Pony Express Rodeo in Eagle Mountain has kicked off summer activities for the city, and served as the start of the “Wilderness” circuit for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, or PRCA. This year, a week before the event, tragedy struck.
Legendary rodeo announcer Chad Nicholson, who has announced the Pony Express PRCA Rodeo since its inception, died unexpectedl y in a four-wheeling accident in California.
Nicholson’s death sent shock waves through the tight-knit rodeo community. In addition to announcing hundreds of rodeos over the span of 23 years, Nicholson voiced monster truck shows, the Herriman rodeo and the Utah State Fair, and did voice over work for various radio and TV projects, including commercials for FarmersOnly.com.
Wendie Flitton, one of the owners of Bar T Rode o which provides horses for the Pony Express Rodeo, remembers Nicholson as patriotic, passionate about rodeo and very talented at what he did.
“He would give you goosebumps,” she said. “He had such a good voice. It was fun to watch Chad ... he’s one of the only announcers I’ve seen do (vocal warm ups). It was just fun to watch him because he was just so into his work.”
Flitton’s mother, Evelyn Kerby, said Nicholson was always kind and happy to talk with the people he worked with.
“He was a very uplifting person,” Flitton agreed.
Jared Gray, the organizer of the rodeo and president of Pony Express Events, knew Nicholson well after spending years on the rodeo circuit working with him. In addition to working at the rodeo, they would golf together on their days off — both Gray and Flitton noted that Nicholson was an avid golfer.
“Every rodeo, he found somebody to go golfing with during the day. He loved golf,” Flitton said.
After Nicholson’s death, Gray said other announcers with the PRCA reached out to him to offer their services — for free, and then donate the extra money to Nicholson’s wife, Jennifer. Announcers living as far as Florida offered to hop on a plane and fly to Utah for the Pony Express Rodeo.
“I had a lot of people calling and saying they wanted to help out,” Gray said.
Gray said he and Nicholson would often be working the same rodeos, which is why they became close and played so much golf together.
“We were together a lot,” Gray said. “I knew him well, for the last 10 or so years. It’s a tough thing. Just trying to get through the weekend.”
To honor Nicholson, Gray and the rodeo board made some additions to the weekend’s events. On Saturday morning, during the Mascot Miracles Foundation Exceptional Stick Horse Rodeo which celebrates kids with special needs, the organizers always honor kids who have passed away. This year, they honored Nicholson as well.
In addition, Gray said it’s a tradition for rodeos in the Midwest to do a tribute to those who have passed away at the beginning of the rodeo each night called “the riderless horse.” A man or woman riding horseback will lead a second horse that has a saddle, with some cowboy boots in the stirrups turned backwards, and no rider.
Taking Nicholson’s place this weekend is rodeo announcer Reed Flake. Flake has never worked the Pony Express Rodeo, but the two men often crossed paths on the rodeo circuit, Gray said.
“He always (would say), ‘If you ever need some help let me know, I’m not trying to get Chad’s job, but if you ever need somebody, let me know,’” Gray said. “When (Nicholson’s death) happened, he was one of the first guys I thought of.”
Flake said he texted Nicholson’s wife to let her know he was covering the Pony Express Rodeo and was honored to do so in Nicholson’s place.
“I felt like I have some pretty big shoes to fill here, because he had been here for 10 years and done such a great job,” Flake said. “They all loved him.”
Tickets for Monday night’s rodeo are still available to purchase. Prices begin at $12 for adults and $8 for students, and $6 for children age 11 and under. Tickets can be purchased online by visiting the Pony Express Events website.