OGDEN -- The Weber County Junior Posse program, which has been around since 1954 as part of Ogden's Western heritage, is making a comeback.
In what was believed, even by its leaders to be a dying tradition, Saturday's annual Jamboree pits 11 junior posses in competition at the Ogden Pioneer Stadium.
The Jamboree brings groups from all over Weber County and one from Davis County.
"I figured we had about five years left and then we would be done," said Dale Anderson of North Ogden, who took over as the leader of the Weber County Junior Posse program seven years ago when there were 250 members.
He said he thought at the time that if the number of participants dropped significantly, he would transform the program into a single riding group.
And three years ago when only 105 riders attended the Jamboree, the end of the posse program seemed near.
But the program has made a comeback. This year, there are just under 200 riders.
Anderson said he took over the program when he went to run the state high school rodeo program.
The new leader thought he'd pitch in for only two years. But he stayed and the program stayed too.
This year, he said local posse leaders Kurt Williams, Todd Grandstaff and Ross Larue all have told him that they had a handful of kids show up at the first practices, but each week a few more kids show up to their respective posses.
"There are kids who want to have fun in the summer but they are not as willing to go through the rigors of 4-H, like record keeping and such," Anderson said.
He said he watches in amazement how the program works to teach kids horsemanship.
"You see them when they are 7 or 8," he said. "They are scared of their horse."
But the next year the same kids are trotting and galloping. "Then the next year, get out of his way."
Anderson's wife, Julie, has been secretary for the program for 20 years.
"You watch a kid come their first year and there's this look of absolute terror," she said. "To watch them go from that to the day when you see their face full of joy as they get that Coca-Cola belt buckle or that queen belt buckle. You realize that this program works."
Julie Anderson said she's seen the program take shy children and develop them into a competent riders.
"You watch them in high school rodeo or professional rodeo and you say 'I knew them when.' "
She said she went to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this year and felt rewarded to see Jodi Sheffield in her first opportunity to barrel race there after having seen her grow up in the program.
"You just have to make sure the program is there for them," she said. "It's important to me to make sure that every kid has an opportunity."
And Dale Anderson said the program has reached many in the community who have participated at some point over the years.
"Even Matthew Godfrey said he was in a posse," he said. "I can't help but think it has contributed to how well our high school rodeo kids have done and how many of these girls have gone on to Miss Rodeo Utah and Miss Rodeo America."