A long planned rodeo “play day” was rebranded as a protest by the East Mountain Cowboy Church, which feels that the governor’s public health order overreaches its authority with respect to the U.S. Constitution.

While a TV news report called Edgewood event an “anti-mask protest,” Pastor Curt Miller said emphatically that was not the case.

Miller said the protest was about the First Amendment and the fact that churches are not deemed “essential” under the public health order.

“I believe in the coronavirus,” said Miller, a chaplain for hospice patients. “I have dealt with it. I understand it.”

He said what the church was protesting is the way the churches are classified by the state under the public health order, and about the right to worship and freedom of speech. “With churches being deemed non-essential, I refuse to accept or comply,” Miller said. “We will not shut down. We are taking precautions. At the church, we are at 25% capacity according to the mandate, the chairs are all 6 feet apart.” He said the church is not forcing people to wear a mask, but has created several options for the congregation, including a weekly livestream on YouTube.

While TV news reported the phrase “red roan horse” was to be used at the rodeo in the event local police departments were called to enforce mask wearing, Miller said it was a broader safety signal, and was used during the event.

Miller said 3 or 4 minutes were edited from the video in which he discussed plans for any potential “security risks” during the rodeo.

“We have both sides of the spectrum at our church, when it comes to masks,” Miller said. “It was a joke thing. I have to use levity about all these masks.”

He said the use of the phrase “red roan horse” or “red roan” was a security precaution to keep the kids safe during the rodeo.

He said it was used the day of the rodeo, for a horse that got loose after being spooked, with a little girl riding it. The phrase alerted others to spring into action and grab the horse.

Miller said the church took precautions to make the rodeo a Covid-safe environment by handing out masks, requiring all people handling food to wear masks and gloves, and by holding the event outside on 60 acres.

The rodeo was focused on children. Miller said the church wanted to create an event that allowed kids to get outside in a safe environment to play.

He said some of the more serious 4-H kids have not been allowed to participate in the usual activity of the area, as all of it and all of the sports have been canceled due to the public health order.

The Cowboy Church funded the all-day event, providing three free meals, water for both people and animals, and all belt buckles and ribbons for prizes.

In addition, there were no entry fees. Some congregation members brought extra horses for kids who wanted to participate but didn’t have a horse.

Miller said they had several age categories, under 19. Events included Mutton Busting, Goat Tying, Pole Bending, Flag and Barrel Racing—in a home-made arena that members of the congregation finished building just days before.

Ralph Hill, a member of the church, said mostly children participated and that about 150 competed.

He said there were 600 visitors or more and the event ended up going all day, lasting about 12 hours. Hill was one of the members of the church who provided horses for kids.

“I think we blew parents away with the belt buckles. We gave away 15 and most of the kids got ribbons, up to 6th place.” He said the church band played music for several hours and that he was surprised and happy to see live music.

Bob Thompson, another church member who helped build the arena said, “The Rodeo Play Day was for the kids and we called it a protest because the governor indicated religious groups couldn’t meet or they could and be restricted, and we think she is overreacting.” He said turnout was bigger than the church was expecting. Thompson said both Edgewood Police Department and the State Police were at the event, and that they sat down and ate and talked with the pastor.

Miller said the church invited local police departments to the event, and had also talked to them prior to the rodeo about mask safety. Miller said they wanted to include local police departments because the church supports law enforcement, military, is against defunding police departments and in support of the right to bear arms.

In addition, Miller said, “We were worried about counter-protesters. I fully expected Black Lives Matter to show up.”

He said that a small group of young men did show up but left after being asked to.

Edgewood Police Department’s administrative assistant Nina McCracken said, “Edgewood Police Department was called out one time [to the rodeo] for an aggravated assault call but when officers arrived there was nothing to report.”

McCracken also said that it was possible that local police officers chose to go to the event as members of the community and confirmed that the church had invited them.

She was not able to confirm whether the rodeo event was in compliance with state restrictions and reported that no citations were given at the event.

State Police spokesperson Mark Soriano said his agency was aware of the rodeo.

Soriano said on July 28, State Police met with the pastor of the church with the purpose of educating the him on the public health order as it pertains to mass gatherings.

Soriano said on the day of the rodeo a state police officer who is stationed in Edgewood stopped by the event.

“State police officers live in the communities we serve and have a vested interest in fostering good relationships with community members,” he said.

He also reported that no citations for mask violations were given on that day by State Police.