Ranch Rodeo World Championships more than just a rodeo
December 10, 2008
The 13th annual World Championship Ranch Rodeo was recently held in Amarillo, Texas, and it was a huge success. Twenty-two championship teams and a total of 127 cowboys from as far away as Florida came to Amarillo to compete for the title of World Champion Ranch Team.
Ranch teams compete all year long to qualify for the World Championships. To qualify, a ranch team must have won one of the 24 sanctioned Ranch Rodeos held throughout the year. Team members must work full time on the ranch or be day-workers who have made at least $1,500 working on the ranch in the previous year – and members have to be able to prove it! There are also qualifications that the sponsoring ranch has to meet.
The Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) was started by 16 men who felt that the working ranches, their cowboys, and their way of life was being lost to American history. The mission of the WRCA is to preserve, protect, and promote the heritage of working ranches and working cowboys in this country.
As Randy Whipple, President of the WRCA, puts it, “Our whole focus, as far as the WRCA and the Working Ranch Cowboy Foundation (WRCF) is concerned, is to keep our heritage strong. Our families are the heritage. It’s all about the entire family – it’s not just about the cowboy out there on the horse.” There are competitive working horse events for the kids. Families and children are welcome and encouraged to attend everything that goes on at the Championships.
The WRCA wants to not only preserve the working ranch tradition, where a lot of the work goes on much as it did 100 years ago, but to look to the future by sending ranch kids to college through grants from the WRCF. There is no curriculum stipulation for the grant recipients, but the WRCF feels that many of the ranch vets, equine professionals, and ranch managers of the future will come through this program.
“Part of our mission has an educational side to it.” Whipple said, “We feel that we should not only help educate our own by sending ranch kids to college through our scholarship program but also to educate those kids that don’t know anything about ranching or cowboys. They think that hamburgers just show up at McDonalds.”
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The WRCA does that in a big way during the World Championships. They have an educational team of cowboy entertainers that, over the four days of the rodeo, go to all 36 elementary schools in Amarillo and put on a program for the kids.
This is definitely a ‘team sport’. Each team consists of up to six members, with no more than four competing at once, depending on the event. Events for the World Championships were Ranch Bronc Riding, Stray Gathering, Team Penning, and Team Branding. All of the events were directly related to every day working life on a ranch.
Saddle Bronc Riding differs from Pro Rodeo in that the rider uses the same saddle that he uses on the ranch every day. A successful ride is 8 seconds, “ride as ride can.” Style counts but not heavily and the rider can use two hands.
Stray Gathering is kind of like Team Roping except that two full size cows right off the range are in the arena at the same time and have to be caught and tied. There are four cowboys, two to a cow.
In Team Penning, three cowboys have to sort three numbered animals from a herd at one end of the arena and drive them into a pen at the other. This is a timed event and teams receive a ‘no time’ if too many animals leave the herd.
Wild Cow Milking can get pretty ‘western.’ A team consists of four cowboys, one mounted and three on foot. The cow is roped and held in place while she is milked into an empty longneck bottle. Only enough milk to pour from the bottle is required for a time. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
Team Branding works just like a traditional ‘rope and drag’ branding, except the ‘brand’ is chalk coated and the fire is a bucket of chalk.
There is plenty to do in addition to the rodeo. The World Championships traditionally kicks off with an art show and party to meet the teams and to present awards. The Best of Show Award went to Oklahoma artist, Mikel Donahue. This was the second time Donahue has won the award.
Western Horseman Magazine presented its prestigious Western Horseman Award to Craig Haythorn, of the family owned Haythorn Ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills. The Haythorn was established in 1884 by Craig Haythorn’s great-grandfather and is one of the leaders in Quarter Horse breeding with foundation bloodlines such as Driftwood, Joe Hancock and Poco Bueno.
There are enough exhibits to keep you busy for at least a day. The Ranch Expo is a ranching trade show featuring exhibits such as trailers, cattle chutes, feeds, animal health products, and much more. The Cowboy Trade and Trappings Show is nirvana for the working cowboy. There are literally thousands of bits and spurs on sale by some of the best craftsmen in the country. There are vendors for boots, tack, saddles, ropes, rawhide whips, hats, chaps, and so much more. If the working cowboy had even the remotest need for an item, he could find it there.
The World Championship Ranch Rodeo had something for everyone. If you can’t make it to Amarillo next year, there will be at least three sanctioned ranch rodeos in Colorado in 2008. There will be one in Denver in conjunction with the Denver Horse Expo, the Colorado Championship in Hugo, and the famous Ride for the Brand Ranch Rodeo in Colorado Springs over the 4th of July. Bring a friend and show them what it really takes to get that hamburger to McDonalds.