Rid­ing Out­side the Cir­cle

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

I SPENT THE past 20 years or so as a mag­a­zine edi­tor, ob­serv­ing and writ­ing about horse­man­ship, rodeo, and cow­boy cul­ture. When that phase ended, I de­cided that rather than write about peo­ple do­ing in­ter­est­ing things, I wanted to do in­ter­est­ing things.

The first and best op­por­tu­nity I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced is as a mem­ber of a ranch-rodeo team. My fam­ily’s ranch joined up with a neigh­bor­ing out­fit to form a Work­ing Ranch Cow­boys As­so­ci­a­tion-ap­proved team, with the goal of earn­ing a spot in the WRCA’s World Cham­pi­onship Ranch Rodeo. WRCA came into be­ing 22 years ago to show­case ranch cow­boy skills, pre­serve cow­boy cul­ture and the West­ern way of life, and raise money for cow­boys and their fam­i­lies who were fac­ing tough times. Since then, their WCRR has grown into the must-at­tend event for the Great Plains ranch cow­boy cul­ture. Spec­ta­tors pack the Amar­illo Civic Cen­ter to check out the hand­i­est cow­boys at work, as well as shop the best pure-cow­boy trade show in the West.

To com­pete at the WCRR, ranches must qual­ify by win­ning one of 23 sanc­tioned rodeos across six states (our ticket to Amar­illo). The WRCA sets it­self apart by re­quir­ing that teams are from ac­tual work­ing ranches and team mem­bers are le­git­i­mate work­ing cow­boys—no PRCA ringers al­lowed. Two ranches may com­bine to field a full team of four to six peo­ple, and each team must com­pete in five events: ranch bronc rid­ing, stray gath­er­ing, wild cow milk­ing, team pen­ning, and brand­ing.

Find­ing the Right Fit

Dur­ing my writ­ing ca­reer, I was blessed to at­tend the gamut of horse-re­lated events, from lo­cal clin­ics to colt-start­ing con­tests to ma­jor breed as­so­ci­a­tion or dis­ci­pline shows to pro­fes­sional rodeos. As much as I love to watch highly trained horses at work, af­ter a half hour at a show, my at­ten­tion drifts.

For my tastes, the WRCA-sanc­tioned ranch rodeos—in­clud­ing the WCRR— pro­vide the ideal con­ver­gence of com­pe­ti­tion, com­mu­nity, and en­ter­tain­ment, even with­out the rock-and-roll at­mos­phere of a pro­fes­sional rodeo. Ei­ther in the bronc rid­ing or the wild cow milk­ing, spec­ta­tors are treated to at least one “tell your friends about it” wreck. And if wrecks aren’t your cho­sen con­ver­sa­tional topic, you can sure talk about the how well the cow­boys are mounted. The ranch horses these cow­boys ride in the stray gath­er­ing and the sort­ing can only be con­sid­ered among the best of the equine world. Even when I’m com­pet­ing against oth­ers on a team, I rel­ish watch­ing our com­pe­ti­tion’s cow­boys and horses as they work. If I’m not com­pet­ing, you can bet I’m trans­fixed on the ac­tion.

That is, un­less I’m vis­it­ing with friends or fam­ily. The com­peti­tors and

spec­ta­tors at these ranch rodeos are a tight-knit group. My wife and chil­dren have de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships that’ll last a life­time with mem­bers of not only our team, but oth­ers in the WRCA com­mu­nity. With­out fail, at ev­ery ranch rodeo we at­tend—and es­pe­cially at the year-end event—I rekin­dle a con­nec­tion that had been lost or make a new one. (And I didn’t even need Face­book or LinkedIn to do it!)

Be­ing on a team also gives me a chance to scratch my com­pet­i­tive itch. Grow­ing up rid­ing cut­ting horses, I grew ac­cus­tomed to the show pen, and I en­joy it. I should pause here, how­ever, and men­tion that I’m clearly the least im­por­tant mem­ber of our team. Af­ter 20 years sit­ting be­hind a desk, my team­mates aren’t look­ing for me to rope the wild cow. My du­ties are eas­ily re­place- able; but if it came to it, I’d hap­pily step up into any role—ex­cept rid­ing the bronc! Yet as a mem­ber of the team, I am counted on to do what’s re­quired of me—hold the line in the sort­ing, milk the cow, and brand the calves—as quickly as I can with­out break­ing the rules.

What Was Miss­ing

So while I’ve found the WRCA ranch rodeos a very ful­fill­ing di­ver­sion, the most in­ter­est­ing dis­cov­ery I’ve made through the ex­pe­ri­ence is the long­ing I have to be on a team. I be­lieve we were cre­ated to be part of a larger story—to act in the name of some­thing big­ger than our­selves. One way that’s pos­si­ble is through team­work. There’s a bit of an­cient wis­dom lit­er­a­ture that com­pares team­work to the hu­man body. Para­phras­ing, the text says, “The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ There can be no di­vi­sion in the body, rather the parts should have equal con­cern for

each other. If one part suf­fers, ev­ery part suf­fers with it; if one part is hon­ored, ev­ery part re­joices with it.”

It’s that one­ness of work­ing with oth­ers to­ward a com­mon goal that’s been so re­ward­ing. For two years our team tried to qual­ify for the WCRR. We had some ter­ri­ble show­ings—and we all suf­fered to­gether. But over time, our team grew close and we all be­came more com­fort­able with our roles. Then, at the first rodeo of the sea­son this year, ev­ery­thing clicked. We won and now we’re headed to Amar­illo in Novem­ber. Rid­ing in the grand en­try with my brother and friends will be the re­al­iza­tion of a dream I never thought was pos­si­ble.

The Big­ger Pic­ture

Of course, be­ing on a ranchrodeo team isn’t the only way to en­joy the plea­sures of team­work. If horse shows are your scene, you, your horse, and your trainer are a team work­ing to­ward a goal. Or, maybe it’s just you and your horse work­ing to­gether to ac­com­plish a ma­neu­ver or mas­ter a skill. With the proper per­spec­tive, it’s all team­work, be­cause the end re­sult can’t be achieved alone whether you’re work­ing a rein­ing pat­tern, cut­ting a cow, rop­ing a steer, or even rid­ing a bronc. Rid­ers need the horse and the horse needs the rider to be­come some­thing more than the sum of their parts.

But the con­cept tran­scends horses, too. In this world, we need one an­other to get through. We need friends and fam­ily bring­ing a di­ver­sity of skills and work­ing in uni­son to ex­pe­ri­ence the true joy of ac­com­plish­ing any­thing worth­while.

Bob Welch has spent his ca­reer writ­ing and think­ing about horses, rid­ers, and the West. When not sit­ting at his com­puter work­ing through writer’s block, he and his fam­ily en­joy be­ing horse­back, work­ing cat­tle, and com­pet­ing in ranch horse shows and ranch rodeos.

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