Old West Fest

The Top Hands rodeo drill team (above) performs this weekend in the Ouray County Fairgrounds’ arena. (Courtesy photo)

Telluride offers a festival devoted to automotive horsepower this weekend.

If you want the real thing, come to Ridgway.

Today (Friday) through Sunday, the Ridgway Old West Fest celebrates the feisty, irrepressible spirit personified by actor John Wayne in his star turn as crusty, big-hearted U.S. Marshal J. “Rooster” Cogburn in the film “True Grit,” filmed in downtown Ridgway and the surrounding countryside.

The horse was the primary “vehicle” — not to mention getaway vehicle — in those days, as was the train (it just so happens that the 18th annual edition of Ouray County Railroad Days is running concurrently with the Old West Fest in downtown Ridgway this weekend). And while the second edition of “Old West” will reprise many events from the 2019 iteration of the fest today through Sunday, fair to say the horse, and at least one mule, is at the symbolic heart of all of it — just as horses and cattle were at the center of ranching life back in True Grit’s time (and remain so, in at least some of Ouray County today).

The mule stars in an event at the Ouray County Ranch History Museum Saturday morning at 10 a.m., when local Tom Heffernan will demonstrate how to pack one — “rides available,” the fest’s program says — for a trip to Cow Camp. The horse, or rather horses, arrive Friday, when a parade of riders arrives for a “welcoming parade” through Hartwell Park, at 4 p.m.

They’re not just any riders. They’re trick riders — The 1st Colorado Top Hands rodeo drill team, from Woodland Park — here to stage a rip-roarin’, 90-minute show Saturday afternoon at the Ouray County Fairgrounds.

Named for the top “ranch hands” who used to convene and demonstrate their riding prowess for fun, the events “were kind of a predecessor to rodeos,” the fest’s organizer, Ed Bovy — who wrote a book about the making of “True West,” and will sign copies Saturday in Town Park — explained.

The Top Hands group “teaches riding skills to horse-crazy teens, and then pushes it up a notch in perfection.”

At the fairgrounds Saturday, the group’s “founder, captain and choreographer,” Ginger Patrick, will lead her riders in a demonstration that features not only trick riding and pageantry but “skits, mounted shooting and a lot of surprises,” as Patrick puts it in the show’s program. “Under my holler, it’s a rollicking, running ride. When the Top Hands come and the sun hits their rhinestones, well … goosebumps.”

So far this season, the group has appeared at the Collegiate Peaks Rodeo, the Westcliffe Stampede PRCA Rodeo, the Fourth of July Parade in Monument and the Park County Fair in Fairplay (they’ve also ridden in the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, and at the 100th celebration of John Wayne’s birthday).

“She promised us it won’t be boring,” Ed Bovy said of Ginger Patrick. “I guarantee nobody’s going to leave this show early. It’s like a play in seven or eight acts, with all this western-themed stuff. Several of the girls traveled out here three weeks ago and took a look at the fairgrounds in advance; they were very impressed with it, and by the scenery here. They’ve begged, borrowed and bought a lot of wood and lumber, and are building a 200-foot-long, western village backdrop for the performance.”

The other highlight of this weekend’s events will also unfold at the Ouray County Fairgrounds, this time in the barn, when award-winning country music performer Carin Mari, a Colorado native (she’s from Buena Vista), offers a Western music concert Saturday night.

Mari, winner of eight Colorado country music awards, has appeared on Michael Martin Murphey’s album, “Tall Grass and Cool Water,” and is the lead guitarist for his band. “Joan Chismire, of the Ranch County Museum, alerted us to her,” Bovy said. “It’s great to get somebody local to Colorado who’s also played so many national tours. She’ll give a whale of a concert.”

For a complete list of the dozens of events on offer Friday through Sunday, and to purchase advance tickets, visit ridgwayoldwestfest.org.